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So You Think You're Charlie Smith?

Nerida Dickinson

An examination of the manipulation at play in the world of reality television.
So You Think You're Charlie Smith?

So You Think You're Charlie Smith? Image by Jamie Breen.

Charlie, Joe and Gwyn are idealistic contestants on the ultimate reality show, 'The Platform'. Encouraged by The Producer and The Host, they strive to become the best and most watchable versions of themselves – and to change the world. Each of the contestants struggles with the show’s arbitrary demands. The Producer and The Host are always nearby, with an endless supply of polished, meaningless catchphrases. As the realities of the slick screen images and the tawdry compromises made off camera diverge ever further from each other; the contestants discover new depths of despair as the ratings continue to soar.

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The performers shine in the contestant group scenes as an ensemble. Phoebe Sullivan remains closed off as Charlie Smith, revealing little of her past or inner life. Co-writer Ben Thomas takes Joe from initial confidence and bluster to the eventual broken shell of a person in a series of scenes where he fails to cope in different ways – a character given dramatic range and opportunities to appeal to the audience. Holly Hines as Gwyn brings the character’s open naïveté to the stage, capturing her lack of experience and manipulation in the live projected video diary sessions.

James McMillan is well-cast as the ever-smiling, teflon-coated Host, his superficially charming demeanour slipping away only to be revealed as further manipulation. McMillan captures the strut, glib patter and effortless condescension, tapping into awareness of hosts of so many competitive shows in the genre without being derivative of any single one. Megan Hollier stands out in her depiction of The Producer, maintaining a single-minded control of the show and the individuals. Her calculating methods adjust to each situation as it arises, but Hollier has total control of her character’s projections and dominance of each scene.

Co-writer and Director Jackson Used has aimed for a slow burn, but the content is too banal for the 80 minutes taken to achieve the end result. Contrasting scenes demonstrating the gap between the outsized ambition of mission statements by the shows and the contestants – and the inane randomness of the endurance contests – take too long to make an obvious point. The links between the ongoing interviews with contestants for their innermost hopes and dreams and the final punishments and rewards, however, is a smart revelation in the closing twist.

So You Think You’re Charlie Smith? excels in its technical aspects. The screened AV sequences designed by Robert Woods, often played in tandem with slowly unfolding scenes on stage, are tightly produced, and slickly edited to reflect the visual qualities associated with the genre. Woods’ sound design, likewise, has clear connections with reality shows, with many clichés emphasising emotional points. While most creatives try to avoid repetition and predictability, this cements the look and feel of this piece in its stated category. The lighting designed by Rhiannon Petersen works hard, creating distinct spaces in the broad open stage area, allowing full appreciation of the AV moments and also working with the sound to create the proper look.

Many moments of humour are sprinkled through this piece, visual gags and the weird and wonderful collection of prior competitions that Joe has on his CV as a serial reality TV competitor, but they do not entirely compensate for the sensation of drag as Used makes points about the genre and human nature. The scenes are performed competently, but do not mesh with subject matter significant enough for the audience to engage fully. So You Think You’re Charlie Smith? is pleasant enough theatre, but ultimately feels like a glammed up student production. These performers, creatives and sandpaperplane as a production force promise interesting things with hopefully more substantive future offerings.

 

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 

So You Think You’re Charlie Smith?


Presented by sandpaperplane
Co-writer, co-producer and Director: Jackson Used
Co-writer and co-producer: Ben Thomas
AV and Sound Design: Robert Woods
Sound Design: Rhiannon Petersen
Stage Manager: Georgia Smith
Performed by: Ben Thomas, James McMillan, Holly Hines, Phoebe Sullivan and Megan Hollier
The Blue Room Theatre, Perth Cultural Centre
11 – 29 April 2017

 
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.

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