We see a lot of references flying around comparing our current circumstances to post-apocalyptic or dystopian imaginaries like 1984 or Brave New World. In AutoCannibal, Mitch Jones stretches contemporary crises of environmental collapse, the refugee crisis, and poverty to their extreme dystopic conclusion: self-cannibalism.
Structured as a semi-silent glimpse into one man’s lonely existence, AutoCannibal combines circus and clowning to create a physical theatre piece about desperation. Jones is dressed in a decrepit business suit that apes the normality of the before-times when capitalism was “fully functioning”. His home, designed by Michael Baxter, is lined with garbage bags, through which Jones rifles for resources, and features a little kitchen area from which Jones can play out fantasies as a glamorous news anchor or suave mixologist.
The lighting design by Paul Lim is stark and dramatic with frequent use of cross lighting and warm beams that enlarge Jones as a shadow puppet on the walls of the stage. The combination of warm and cool tones directs the atmosphere of the production between Jones’s more lucid moments, when he dissolves into fantasy, and when he seems overrun by the grim surroundings.
Overall the production has a rather mixed tone, swinging between Jones’s shock stunts and more earnest performance of circus tricks. A routine with a Chinese pole, very cleverly topped by a surveillance camera, reads as simple circus entertainment tinted with anti-surveillance commentary whereas Jones’s repeated consumption of inedible substances (ie a smoothie made of various bodily materials like hair and nail clippings or a plastic bag Jones inhales), is viscerally disturbing to watch and carries a deeper criticism of consumer culture. Jones is an accomplished clown for the way he pulls audience attention into such unsavoury sights, pushing disgust into disbelief.
Masha Terentieva’s direction of these aspects, however, presents them as all par for the course, necessary if outlandish problem-solving, a kind of absurd self-deprecating humour. Perhaps that’s what makes AutoCannibal such a grim account, because Jones and Terentieva didn’t need to set it in the future at all; this is already the dire experience of capitalism for many people. The loneliness, starvation, desperation, and the threat of violence that hangs as literal knives over Jones’s head are recognisable for many, and familiar for others.
While focused as an absurdist, gory comedy, AutoCannibal also asks the prophetic question: what would you do if you were all you had left?
AutoCannibal ran at Carriageworks from January 13th – 17th as part of Sydney Festival
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