The cramped space of the Valley Pool change rooms, despite not having a hope of housing a fully-booked audience of thirty, offers in the context of People Piss in Here a welcome claustrophobia. Welcome in that it supports the production well, emphasising the stresses of the anxiety attack that takes centre stage throughout the show’s runtime. For an hour I was bunched up close to the other audience members, feeling their body heat in the cold sterility of the change rooms—and while I was uncomfortable by the end, I didn’t have any real issues with the seating given the show’s thematic concerns.
But the small space does create problems for the actors. It was clearly difficult for the Melbourne-based Crowtown to do the blocking for some of the scenes, what with all of about a metre’s space for the pair to move around in before they’d be tumbling over the audience. Granted, they do have the toilet cubicles they can use, which grants a little breathing room but still offers very few physical configurations.
But in the end the staging works, and so it’s a shame for this unconventional set, which works quite well by only the skin of its teeth, to host a play that doesn’t quite work at all. I wouldn’t go so far as to call People Piss in Here a bad show, because I don’t necessarily think it is one, but I do feel like it’s a show that somewhat lacks any real or meaningful treatment of the mental illness that is so central to its production.
Where the play completely lost me was when the main character’s panic attack took a switch halfway, devolving into a delusional/hallucinatory episode that is somewhat incongruous with the play’s beginning, taking on a weird religious self-help bent that did not work for me at all. The play begins to feel literally preachy, and not in any real or genuine way. Rather, the holy figure that comes down to visit us is a caricature to such an extent that I couldn’t work out if the play was taking the mickey or not, and as a result I found it difficult to navigate the validity of anything being said because it was all so needlessly overacted.
See, all my issues with the play ultimately come down to the fact that it doesn’t really do anything with the topic of mental illness, instead choosing to cheapen itself with a staged hallucination that only works out to be half-funny, if that. People Piss In Here is about a panic attack, but not to any significant degree—instead of a nuanced exploration we’re delivered a play that regularly gets off track (assumedly for the sake of throwaway jokes, given how often the characters laugh at themselves for ‘getting sidetracked’), and a play that, in the end, doesn’t show anything interesting to the audience beyond some bizarre version of an obscure patron saint who declares to us almost dismissively: it’s not the end of the world, so just chill out. And this moral, as with much of the show, really isn’t as profound as the actors want us to think it is.