Hannah Arendt’s theory on the banality of evil has become part of the common vernacular when considering the darker side of humanity; the way the whispers of cruelty seep into people undetected until the unthinkable happens. In the two-part production Morning Star, a group of writers imagine the consequences of pernicious ideas infiltrating otherwise unremarkable narratives.
Inspired by the old stories of the Devil as mischievous, manipulative, and sadistic, the five writers of the First Horn put their characters through uncomfortable, painful, and murderous situations to explore notions of power and suffering. At the same time, the opening monologue performed by Esther Williams introduced and then eradicated the typical coping mechanism, ie the soothing narratives we construct to keep ourselves sane. Morning Star: First Horn and director Paul Gilchrist want to interrogate the sugary coating to get to the heart of human cruelty.
Two pieces chose satire to explore their themes of political denial or submission and the vapid world of fitspo and motivational quotes. In “Numb” by Mark Langham, a campaigner (Sarah Furnari) encountered a high school friend (Zoe Crawford) while door-knocking and she was shocked to learn how timid, isolated, and afraid the woman has become. Inspired by an election experience with his mother, Langham used this encounter to consider the extremes of avoidance people will take to escape “fake news“ or the dangers of the outside world as stirred-up by fear-mongers in media and politics. On the other hand, “(UNLESS YOU) PUKE, FAINT(, OR) DIE(…)” by Peter Maple saw his character (Demitra Sealy) similarly accosted by the world but in the form of slogans, motivational quotes, and buzzwords from hustle culture and fitspo communities yelled by deindividualised voices (Michael Smith and Esther Williams). Simple in premise and execution, this piece was a neat reminder of the emptiness of decontexualised and unspecific advice that swirl endlessly online to generate shame and desire.
Other scenes took a more deadly approach to their pernicious ideas. Catherine Zimdahl’s “the Family Name” imagined a capitalist oligarchy (Cormac Costello, Sealy, and Michael Smith) ironically discussing their social responsibility as a test of their own callousness with threat of death. Costello really carried this scene for his emphatic delivery but the dense, abstracted language muddled his message. Then, “the Golden Drop” by Melita Rowston used inspiration from the case of Jeanne Weber to get inside the mind of an infanticidal mother (Sonya Kerr).
While comprised of a selection of unrelated scenes, there was a single through-line called “the Elephant” written by Shauntelle Benjamin. A young woman (Olivia Suleimon) is merely trying to exist while Black but she can’t get through the day without the elephant of racism (Zachary Bush) cropping up at inopportune times. Over the course of the production, the woman challenged the distracting presence of the elephant and the impenetrable barrier of whiteness that stifles critical conversations about race in Australia. Suleimon’s performance was clear-eyed and engaging as she navigated the hypocrisies and loop-holes of a racist social construct. “The Elephant” contained a pertinent conversation and perhaps introduced new terms to some audience members but there was little narrative or characterisations to scaffold the writer’s theoretical considerations so the scenes fell flat artistically.
The premise of pernicious ideas is rich with nuance and complication but the selected scenes struggled to expand past the introduction of their themes and ideas. As such, the truncation of these characters and circumstances led many of the scenes towards didacticism and uninspired moralising with the audience under no illusions about the villains and heroes of each encounter.
Morning Star: First Horn is running at Flight Path Theatre from June 24th – July 4th
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Hi Night Writes,
I saw this show.
Two quick comments:
A woman who kills her child is guilty of “infanticide” not “matricide”.
Hannah Arendt’s phrase “the banality of evil” was her way of formulating the insight that evil manifests itself in ways that are not charismatic. It was coined in reference to Adolf Eichmann. Arendt’s phrase has little connection with what the program suggests this production was exploring – “ways of looking at the world that initially appeal to us because they appear helpful and positive, but which ultimately just add to the sum of human misery”. Arendt’s phrase certainly does not refer to “the way the whispers of cruelty seep into people undetected until the unthinkable happens”. .
Hi Trudy, thanks for the catch on infanticide, fixed now! Regarding Arendt’s theory, I’m familiar with Arendt’s original work but I was more referring to how the phrase has been translated into common vernacular as evil being unremarkable or unnoticeable until it’s too late. You’re welcome to disagree with that interpretation of the theory and the show. Thanks for reading!
I’m keen to encourage intelligent, generous-hearted responses to art!
Writing theatre reviews is very challenging. There’s always a deadline imposed by the ephemeral nature of the productions, and the reviewer’s single voice will always appear less sophisticated than the multi-voiced form to which it responds.
But you know all this!
Intelligence and open-heartedness is key!
Looking forward to more of your writing.
And Night Writes,
BTW the review ends with the suggestion that this show runs to July 4.
I’m assuming this is an inaccuracy, as it is currently illegal to run theatrical performances in Greater Sydney.