Modern Prometheus: SUDS & Verge Festival’s Manic Pixie Dream World

Perhaps it’s an indication of our shift in socio-cultural thinking, that a lot of the narrative tropes we take for granted in popular culture are being turned on their head and examined in the theatre, on film, in books and comics and other mediums. Like All About Medea recently, SUDSManic Pixie Dream World (henceforth MPDW) draws on the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope and problematises it like it deserves, making recent filmic forays such as Ruby Sparks look rather mild and clumsy by comparison.  

MPDW is the story of Joe and Sierra. After an awkward meet-cute in an aquarium (“Did you know the glass is bullet-proof?... I used to think it was because the sharks had guns…”), they both realize they like each other, and it seems almost as if they were made for each other. Billed as “part lofty romantic comedy, [and] part horror story,” MPDW is about “what happens when we’re too busy making dreams reality to question whether they should be.”
There is a raw and affecting honesty to SUDS’ functional and economically-frugal Cellar theatre – a couch, table, bookshelf, and sheet-cum-projector screen are the only items of set we need to effectively create time and place, and ensure that the focus is on the writing and the story. Written and directed by Tansy Gardam, MPDW takes the idea of a person creating their ideal girlfriend (or, less specifically, partner), and stretches it, pushes at the boundaries of its normally-saccharine contents, and plumbs it for its darkness and the depths of its logic, and takes the story to some disturbing and quite alarming places along the way.
Along the story’s route, there are several signposts that keep us guessing (and sometimes recoiling in discomfort) which we can choose to pick up on or discard as we please, but together they point to a much darker notion of the ‘ideal partner’ than we would like to be comfortable with. If the characters of India and Charlie seem to be dream-girls themselves, that is precisely the point; it’s only when we hold a character like Beth and, perhaps, Sierra, up to them that we see them for what they are – dreams, dream-like projections of what we want someone to be for us.
With the help of some gentle purple light, Gardam has a neat device of playing two scenes with Joe’s ex-girlfriends India and Charlie twice, in turn, from two different perspectives. The first time we see each scene, we might assume it is the idealised version of the scene (or, in Charlie’s case, the meet-cute), but the second time around, while still using the same dialogue (the scenes are identical in this regard), the mood is very different, and we might consider them to be the reality, considering what we find out in the following scene. There are more echoes here of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein than you might at first think, and further depths to the story that Gardam could consider exploring if she wanted to develop the story further. What would Sierra do to Beth if she really wanted to hurt Joe? Why is Joe very much a modern Prometheus – why did he start? What is it about India and Charlie that prompts Joe to resurrect them as it were? Might we see more of Joe’s relationships with Beth, India, and Charlie? What about Beth and Sierra’s relationship – we are told they get along well, but might we be able to see it in more than the glimpses we are afforded? These are not so much problems with Gardam’s play because it is a rather strong play as it stands (even more remarkable in that it only had its first read-through two months ago), but are rather provocations or nuances that might be explored in any further development of the piece.
Regardless of what Gardam does with it in future, Manic Pixie Dream World is a timely and welcome addition to the exploration of the dream-girl trope, and will leave you reeling at its conclusion. As in Shelley’s Frankenstein, perhaps it’s not our dreams that are the monsters, but us in the first place for dreaming of them…

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