Mediocrity is a play about success. It’s about how we value success—and the inherent clashes of differing modern ideals of what constitutes being successful. The play, as it explores these themes through a mid-twenties couple, is facilitated by a fourth wall-breaking king/wizard character. Adding a certain whimsy to the play, this guy jumps in and out of the central narrative, warming the audience up by addressing them directly at the beginning of the play: “Applaud for me. Good, thank you, that’s the end of the show. That’s it. We promised you mediocrity and we delivered.” And while I was never exactly sure what this character represented, he did add a welcome flavour to an already somewhat surreal play.
The central narrative essentially concerns a relationship, and the collapse brought on when the couple’s ideals of success begin to clash in a variety of ways. We see bouts of aggression, pent up sexual tension, and of course—as with so many relationships in crisis—the collapse of communication. And yet, for all this, the play doesn’t manage to be cliche. There’s just the right amount of surrealism, of physical theatre, of eerie repetition, that I could remain engaged throughout the entire show.
One particularly brilliant moment in the play is when our two central characters, Harvey and Loretta, seem to actually be having an amiable and progressive conversation. It’s all going well for them till our fourth wall-breaking host comes out and begins yelling at the audience, having us perform a Mexican wave. And by the time he subsides, the conversation’s turned sour, and the characters have returned to their default dynamic—passive-aggression. This is an impressive and engaging piece of symbology.
I read this narrator differently at separate times. At some points he seemed to represent each character’s subconscious, or the issues within the relationship, or the entire play’s subtext. I couldn’t tell exactly what though—he seemed to be a stand-in for a number of the show’s themes and whatnot, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At the core of it, he represented something, and he managed not to be gimmicky—he was brilliant.
And what a shame his brilliance ends too soon. Indeed, the whole play just seems to—
The show comes to a grinding halt after a somewhat underwhelming final conflict, and before you realise what’s changed, the characters are reciting a mantra together and walking offstage. And that’s it. It just happens. And I felt a bit lost. It seemed there was still ground to cover, still another level or two their relationship needed to be resolved on—I suppose I was left wanting more, which maybe is a good, albeit corny way to heap onto this play the praise it deserves.
I didn’t know what to expect from Mediocrity, but Magnetic North have really achieved something with their debut here. While the bowls-club staging leaves something to be desired in the context of Anywhere—I believe it’s been compromised from its originally-intended verandah setting—the content we’re delivered still shines through. What I saw last night was a thoughtful, self-aware piece of cinema—equal parts funny and clever, and a success from a play whose title under-promises.