In a true blue story of hardship, Australian egg farmers are facing bleak times with the invention of man-made egg replacements. A charity concert fundraiser seems like the best solution until it sparks an uncontrollable urge to give, which threatens conceptions of good and fairness. Taking it back to Hume, We Are the (End of the) World takes on charitable giving as a measure of altruism motivated by self-importance and a twisted promotion of individual sacrifice.
The seedy underbelly of charity has been a point of interest for 2019 with exploration of emotionally manipulative tactics and ethically unsound business models in How to Change the World and Make Bank Doing It. Now, this new musical from Edan McGovern and Aaron Robuck imagines a world where a person’s value is determined by how much they give away as a challenge to the selfish attitudes of those who use altruism for personal gain.
With a cast playing a variety of characters from suffering egg farmers, volunteer music performers, invasive tv hosts, blinged-out orphans, to overly-enthused givers, We Are the (End of the) World tells the convoluted story of a charity concert gone wrong. Instead of raising money for the egg farmers, who don’t seem to need the overwhelming support, the concert, titled Shell Shocked, sets off a catastrophic desire in the Australian public to give away everything they have, which reverses the status quo and puts orphans and those less fortunate in the position of the wealthy and powerful. It’s a premise that stretches the limits of disbelief which is then exacerbated by the broken and confusing manner in which the production unfolds.
The majority of the book and lyrics are spent in the organisation of the Shell Shocked event with some good gags about the Australian entertainment industry and its living legends. In an inordinately drawn-out scene, a producer (Prudence Holloway) and choreographer (Aaron Robuck) audition prospective back-up dancers and unsuspecting audience members for the concert with a good-natured outcome. Once the concert is finally underway, Delta Goodrem’s last minute stand-in (Josh Ridge) offers a surprisingly earnest song reimagining the image of the Australian “working class man”.
The remainder of the production leaves little time to explore the consequences of the concert other than an interrogation of the television host by an unidentified authority in regards to her involvement in the concert planning. Those who were once wealthy live homeless and in poverty in an attempt to bolster their image as conscientious and “good” people. On the other hand, a foreign orphan (Sebastian Nelson) is now accumulating the donated possessions with an entitled indifference as though some kind of natural order of wealthiness has been reversed. This character in particular collects the indicators of this production’s shallow reasoning and oddly tasteless jokes as he repeatedly navigates racist micro-aggressions in the mispronunciation of his non-Anglo name.
In attempting to interrogate the hypocrisies of competitive charity and activism and the deeply complex notion of altruism for self-interest, We Are the (End of the) World takes on too much without a substantial narrative basis to carry all of the criticism and irony.
We Are the (End of the) World is running at New Theatre from September 9th – 14th as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival