Sunday, 15 September 2019

The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery - Melbourne Fringe Festival review

Winner of the Liverpool Poetry Slam 2018, spoken word performer and poet, Hideto Ambiguous brings his show, The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery to the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Hideto weaves a tale involving immigrants, exploitation and racism as we follow Benjamin, an undocumented immigrant, who is stuck working in a performance venue for an ungrateful employee who takes advantage of his situation. 

With no lighting, sound, set pieces or props, Hideto places everything on his own shoulders to engage the audience and for the most part he manages to do this quite well. His original songs and poems, including "Everyday Dissident", leave you considering the role we play - and have played - in embracing the "other", which is particularly fitting given the multicultural hotspot that is Melbourne. 

The main problem with this performance however, is the portrayal of the characters, with Benjamin and his boss Martin played as highly exaggerated caricatures. While this could work if it were only Martin to emphasise his cruelty, we are never able to sympathise with Benjamin because of this heightened comic effect. With Benjamin taking the role of narrator and this story being partially based on Hideto's own experiences, it feels like The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery is trying to do too many things for a story that relies on truth and simplicity. A more natural depiction of Benjamin would garner the emotional response that it sets to achieve and allow the conclusion to make a stronger statement to the audience.

The audience participation with the spoken word feels out of place with the story, culminating in a word-at-a-time improvisation game rather than the eye-opening exercise Hiedto intends it to be. It appears to be more of an opportunity for Hideto to express the power of poetry and spoken word, but this isn't the story we are watching. It's an interesting idea but it takes us out of Benjamin's story and breaks the world being presented. 

There is plenty of potential for The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery to genuinely connect with audiences and communities and shining a light on important and topical issues, but like its technical design and aesthetics, it needs to strip its character depictions right back and find the heart of its protagonist. 

The Unfolding of Benjamin’s Misery was performed between 12 - 15 September at The Burrow.

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