Kerry McGovern reviews IRL (In Real Life) by Lewis Treston – showing at La Boite Theatre until 24 November.
The play opens with a pink vision of loveliness. A fantasy princess in a frock with a tulle skirt, long blonde hair and heels. Despite Steve Cogan’s best effort to welcome us to a culturally safe space, this play is not culturally safe. And yet, it truly is. High-octane performances by Will Bartolo, Byron Lankester Howells and Rachel Nutchey transcend any semblance of derivative Marvel comic characters. With the right touch of seriousness, this play’s fantasy world exposes the innocence of first love amid the uncertainty of a world dominated by capitalist entertainment corporations like Comcast, Walt Disney, Warner Bros, and Netflix.
In maintaining the innocence throughout, this play is authentic. As one character said: “Pretend can be more real than reality”. And In Real Life (IRL) provides lots of pretence with the right amount of magical realism.
The world of Cosplay. Coming out and growing up was mixed up in a fantastic endeavour to make sense of a copyrighted world of our imagination. The tension between inspiration and reality got a highly entertaining workout and, at times, challenging to follow.
Even a postgraduate degree in pop culture wouldn’t help you here. It required a life lived among Marvel characters, gaming and dedicated escapism to fully appreciate the subtleties of the allusions presented.
Slicing the world into what is manipulated, what is play and what is real is daunting, and the complexities were on show throughout.
IRL (In Real Life), image by Morgan Roberts
Brisbane’s 2018 Supernova comic con and gaming event provided the backdrop to this Brisbane play. High school students indulge the boundaries of their imaginations by adopting characters and costumes owned by corporations. The tension is played out as identities emerge through a very human and natural tendency to pretend. Or, said another way, “to lie”.
Working out the difference between playing and lying, the characters of Alexi, Thaddeus and Taylor morph into a series of personas as they struggle with the impost of reality on otherwise comfortable fantasy lives. Even Shakespeare gets a few lines.
This play sets out to redefine culture and succeeds. It’s intended for a new generation brought up in a world dominated by pop culture and possible extinction. Fantasy is a necessary place to hide. And yet, this generation is clear-eyed about the manipulation of corporations and the need to rewrite history to find what’s real.
This play is a clear-eyed look at the world through colour, noise, role play and sheer adolescent energy.
Rachel Nutchey outdid herself in credibly bringing over nine characters to the stage. The days of multiple personality disorder were far from this intentional exhibiting of flexible personae. And, despite the lack of intention, reality was affected.
Will Bartolo shone as Alexi, the Princess and Dash. But underneath all the bravado, he exhibited a tender sensitivity towards his own reaching out for friendship and love. “Sweet” is the word that best describes his creation.Byron Lankester Howells was the foil to Bartolo’s exuberance. He brought maturity and courage to the schoolboy playing different roles for different groups: his parents, school friends and online boyfriend. He made very real the momentous challenge of coming out to family.
Sanja Simic directed this exuberance, keeping energies alive and actors in character. She and her team are to be congratulated for a magnificent effort.
And eventually, fantasy gives way to reality. A sweet, optimistic reality lived in real life (IRL). Taylor resolves her fantasy of fame versus satisfaction. Alexi and Thaddeus find each other, and everyone lives happily ever after.
This is a comedy that breaks the mould.
On at La Boite until 25 November 2023. Book here. School bookings are encouraged.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit laboite.com.au/shows/ir
Cover image, IRL (In Real Life), image by Morgan Roberts.