In one of their most challenging and rich productions to date, Underground Cinema’s Patriot took us to a McCarthy-era America whose paranoias reflect many of modern Australia’s concerns about loyalty and the state. The audience – dressed in an array of 50’s garb from the more formal pearls-n-twinsets to the overalls hard-working teamsters and Cal-State students on the edge of red revolution – were herded up a tight staircase before being packed into an interview room where we were duly interrogated. Questions were poured down upon us by imposing UGC castmembers – speed and being ‘spoken at’ made it hard to respond or think clearly in the rush and hubbub. Mistakes can be so easily made – and even if you understand the language. Everything was so authentic about this interactive part of Patriot – which drew parallels to both the migrant experience that many Melbournites’ forebears likely experienced, in addition to the confusion that speed and ‘foreignness’ would have upon contemporary refugees who would be disadvantaged by similar (if more modern) questions about political loyalty.
After having our completed questionnaires handed back to us, we proceeded into what looked like a very American town hall complete with a courthouse tableau. Despite pretending to myself that I really know Melbourne very well, I could have been anywhere at this time. In reality, we were in the imposing and evangelical Collins Street Baptist Church – a building I’d never been inside before which is quite outstanding in its strangeness and sense of American simulacra.
What would a UGC event be without a drink or two? Georges bar (in Washington, no less!) was ready with champagne and the tinkling ivories of the piano as we waited to be divided into respective groups who were instructed to effectively spy upon one another before handing information over to our ‘team leader’. This was a fun way to play with other participants, but required substantially more of an audience commitment than previous UGC productions which used the audience as colorful backgrounds rather than as points of interaction. The environment did feel genuinely paranoid and occasionally combative – which made Patriot a piece which required far more of the audience than all were willing to contribute. Overall, though – it was an intelligent political piece I thoroughly enjoyed.
As we reached the end of the evening, a McCarthy-style trial was undertaken. Again, the audience’s mildly drunken and boisterous response to the hilling tableau inferred that – although a good time was being had by all – full engagement with the heavy production wasn’t there. The film of the evening was the quietly absorbing Good Night and Good Luck by George Clooney, an historical drama which portrays the conflict between veteran radio and television journalist Edward R. Murrow and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. An excellent, slow-burner of a film starring the very gorgeous David Strathairn, which forces the viewer to focus and listen intently.
Congratulations on another outstanding immersive experience, UGC. The depth and inquiry of this set piece is one that has really remained with me.