Shut Up And Drive

Liam McLoughlin

A diverse, thoughtful and amusing take on freedom under late capitalism.
Shut Up And Drive

Maddy McWilliam in Shut Up And Drive. Photo by Daniela Giorgi.

Imagine a bunker of suited men, 'custodians of the status quo', who gather to deal with climate change as a 'branding problem'. Desperate to ensure nothing changes, they push the obvious benefits of disappearing island nations: more leg room at the UN and shorter Olympic opening ceremonies. They vow to spread climate denial the world over and identify an essential truth of population control: 'Find the right stories and tell them over and over and over again. They’ll tell them to themselves in the darkness. It’s how to put children to sleep; children of all ages.'

From crowd psychology to gendered power dynamics to the many pleasures and delusions of freedom, Shut Up And Drive is about so much more than cars.

The latest offering from Subtlenuance is an unusual mix of skits, music, satire and intellectual depth. Tied together as a journey 'to discover the place of the car in our lives', the production encompasses sing-alongs, monologues about sexual harassment and car fatalities, a satirical ensemble critique of the ruling classes, comic commentaries on reproduction, teen musings on the cosmos and dreamy soliloquies well suited to your favourite piece of erotic fiction.

You could say it’s diverse.

Much of it works well thanks to clever writing and strong performances. The script is richly layered, illuminating the central theme of freedom vs responsibility from many different angles.

Jordie MacKinnon is compelling as a young woman who blames herself when threatened and trapped by two sexually aggressive men in a train carriage, a notionally free public space. Her later observation of a man at a train station who so easily walks away from a screaming woman is a brilliant illustration of comparative freedom between the sexes.

Strong writing is also aided by a gifted comedic performance from Sam Glissan. In a world in which parents must choose between their baby and their car for the sake of the environment, Glissan gets several chuckles as the new Dad who’s a bit pissy at his newborn baby, a 'little environmental disaster' soon to take his first 'little carbon footsteps'. The whole cast does well to meet the challenge of such a wide variety of moods and tones set by writers Daniela Giorgi and Paul Gilchrist.

For all its strengths, the flipside of this rapid fire sequence of diverse modes is confusion. Despite some neat links between scenes, the flicking between comedy skit, dramatic monologue and group dance performance it at times jarring and disorientating.

The marketing for Shut Up and Drive also seems a bit odd. From its advertising I was expecting a linear narrative about the joy of cars. What I watched was a revue with an intelligent critique of power dynamics under late capitalism. But perhaps a play called 'A Critique Of Power Dynamics Under Late Capitalism Plus Songs' would attract fewer Rihanna fans.

Nonetheless, Giorgi and Gilchrist have written a sequence of stories which wake crowds up to the delusions of capitalist freedom and for that they should be congratulated.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of five

Shut Up And Drive

Subtlenuance 
By Daniel Giorgi and Paul Gilchrist
Director: Paul Gilchrist
Lighting Designer: Liam O’Keefe
Music and Choreography: Bonnie Kellett, Tom Nauta and Jordie MacKinnon
Cast: Kit Bennett, Bonnie Kellett, Sam Glissan, Sonya Kerr, Jordie MacKinnon, Maddy McWilliam, Tom Nauta, Robert Roworth, Eli Saad, Michael Smith

Kings Cross Theatre

9-23 April 2016

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

Liam McLoughlin is a freelance writer who is keen on satire, activism and the arts. He blogs at Situation Theatre and tweets from@situtheatre.