It’s tempting to be equivocal or non-committal, in deference to engendering less hate mail and fewer death-threats from disgruntled theatre practitioners who claim I can ruin their careers overnight with nary a harsh word.

But not tempting enough. A Distressing Scenario, at Belvoir, downstairs, is in stark contrast to the inventive, informative, focussed offering from Version 1.0 currently playing upstairs. Their downstairs work is, by contrast, nebulous, despite deployment of exemplary craft: performance; lighting; audiovisual production.

It’s called The Market Is Not Functioning Properly. Regrettably, the theatre isn’t either.

While an attempt has been made at penetrating the distressingly impenetrable GFD scenario and a pisstake is long overdue, this work makes the mistake of fusing the dry, didactic and narrative with more abstract ideas.

Mind you, it does have its strengths. The moving (in a literal, not heartrending sense) portraits of world leaders, repeatedly offering sketchy explanations, warnings and reassurances, a sort of hypnotic, three-pronged mantra, tends to strip them naked of political pretence, revealing them to be none the wiser than us. The trouble is Bush, Kevin07 and Obama almost or actually overtake the live performers (Kym Vercoe and Jane Phegan) as the more compelling and dominant characters. On the credit side of the ledger, too, is their decision to reduce the global to the personal: we can pretty much all relate to month-to-month debt. But where’s the beef? There’s nothing new here. Nice try. No cigar.

But A Distressing Scenario comes in two parts, the first much more distressing than the second.

The first, from Post (Zoe Coombs Marr, Natalie Rose and Mish Grigor), is a 45-minute ramble entitled Everything I Know About The Global Financial Crisis In One Hour, with far too little genuinely comic relief that pretty much lost me at hello. It begins with a dog-ate-my-homework caveat that goes on for minutes, presumably seeking to excuse the pathetic paucity of the script, on the basis of pregnancy, a car accident, an infection, coke-fuelled experiential research and binge-drinking. It doesn’t.

Then into a nonsensical, absurdist rant, introduced and serially interrupted by an excerpt from Korn’s rendition of Word Up!, which segments the performance into a series of groundhog day vignettes, beginning “we all know what went wrong; it had something to do with the banks”. Yes, we know. And that’s precisely the problem.

Other than mock economists (always a worthy pursuit) who, a study apparently shows, have no greater predictive success than monkeys, this overwhelmingly tedious, half-arsed, backfiring piece sheds no new light, offers no new insight, and precious few laughs. I winced my way through most of it, in existential crisis: ‘why am I here?!’ And why are they? Why those hideous costumes? Why the bent-over, constipated postures? Sure, the bespoke blackboard, with its Venn diagrams and homespun conspiratorial tableau proved novel and engaging and, to begin with, the grossly exaggerated depictions of the excessive eighties did too but, as Daryl Kerrigan quoth, “it’s what you do with it!” and, in this case, it wasn’t nearly enough. And novelty quickly wears off; especially if you repeat, labour, or squeeze all the juice out of the jokes, such as they are.

If the financial meltdown didn’t have you reaching for the hemlock, this just might. Yes, A Distressing Scenario proves to be just that. Not funny. Not clever. Not worth the effort. All sizzle, no sausage. All froth, no bubble.


Curtain Call rating: E

The details: A Distressing Scenario plays the Downstairs Theatre at Belvoir Street until December 19. Tickets on the Belvoir website.

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