Originally published 26 September 2010

Balance of Power

Things often go wrong on opening night. Performers forget their lines. Half the audience is distracted by the newspaper trivia. Someone steals the CD needed for atmosphere between acts and the audience, asked to fill in as the cityscape sound, can only manage one guy stuttering ‘beep, beep.’ When this much goes wrong right off the bat you need a compelling act.

Luckily for the players in C.J. Jenkin’s Balance of Power, a caustic expose of society’s most endearing stereotypes, they had just that. Tom Middlebrook is the milk-crate lounging busker, thumbing his guitar in the face of middle-class conformity, characterised by corporate cur, Lynn Williams. These two social slogans are stranded on the street together, he’s looking to bum some change, she’s waiting to be whisked back to Toorak. What follows is a venomous assault on both specimens of society where insults and insight are hurled around like a blazing bag of dog shit, burning holes through both their beliefs.

This battle between unguided idealism and jaded realism defines the first act, which saw Tom feeding Lynn her lines and apologizing for their lack of preparation. Forgotten lines can pull you out of a performance quickly, but during the monologues between acts the performers found their feet and settled those opening night nerves.

Tom’s sarcasm soaked rhapsody berates everything from the Beat Generation to punks and airport security. Apparently creativity is shit, Kerouac was a loser and Tom would be emo if he were an emu. Many left leaning pretentions are exposed through a hilariously scathing dissection of drugs, the Beatles, charity, shoplifting and environmentally minded music festivals. By the time Tom’s finished the pretentious hypocrisy of choosing the moral high ground over a secure existence is splayed out like a socialite in a sex video.

Which forms the basis of Lynn’s monologue, bemoaning the sheltered existence of the private school set and the hardships of following in the footsteps of a slutty socialite sister. Somehow being recognized in the tabloids is likened to the persecution of the Civil Rights era, and a campaign to get to the real Lynn is launched through a fictitious Facebook profile. Her solo is more linear than Tom’s, using the satirical tale of trying to escape the nepotism in her father’s company to reveal some funny, honest observations about the cocaine and caviar clique.

Throughout the wit is sharp and thoughtful but at times lingers too close to cliché, especially Lynn gloating over the polo and Tom’s declaration of ‘Fuck Louis Vuitton!’ While the whole point is to pit stereotypes against each other some overused imagery and ideas dilute the irony upon which much of the humour relies. You’ll definitely see someone you know incarnated in each character, and the show’s hilarity comes from a nuanced examination and understanding of these people.

The fifty-minute performance rolls by quickly and by the end these two adversaries are forced to budge their stubborn ideas and make room for a more realistic view of the world. Naval-dreaming slackers and brown-cow curmudgeons alike should see this show. They just might learn a thing or two about themselves.