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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