Sydney Festival Review: Wild Bore is more than a reviewer’s worst nightmare

Wild Bore is everything that’s wrong with the business of theatre. Or, to be less ambiguous, it is a piece of theatre about everything that is wrong with the business of theatre, wrapped up creatively into an hour of bodily humour. It’s timely, pointed and it’s a lot of fun.

Part of the 2018 Sydney Festival Carriageworks line-up, Wild Bore is about an hour of satirical hilarity from three artists who know how to push buttons from the stage. Those artists also happen to be female and don’t mind getting naked.

Zoe Coombs-Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott have taken the best lines from some of the worst reviews they (and their peers) have received in their theatrical lifetimes and created a biting comedy. What starts as a simple ‘airing of the grievances’ becomes an absurd parody critique of Wild Bore itself. Drawing from the elaborate (read ridiculous) metaphors we critics are prone to using to interpret art, Coombs-Marr, Martinez and Truscott proceed to show us what these absurd propositions would actually look like if taken literally.

But it is the performances delivered by the entire cast that make this show really work.  They are at home with comic material, driving home punchlines with both their voices and bodies. There is not so much a rapport between the performers as a shared lifetime of experience.

Wild Bore has been doing the rounds of festivals across the globe, however, thanks to the artists delivering it to the stage each night, it retains a fresh quality. You could be forgiven for thinking the show is re-written every night, drawing on even more current reviews; maybe it is.

The only area of criticism Coombs-Marr and co fail to cover is the recent proliferation of the unpaid critic. Enabled by the digital universe, anyone can write a review these days. Egged on by start-up media outlets who are unable to pay their writers in anything but free tickets, some criticism critics have bemoaned the reduction in quality critiques now being delivered. But as that would put this little piggy out of a gig, I’m happy to overlook it if they are.

In fact, critiquing this show appears to be a challenge that many reviewers, myself included, have relished. Many seem to focus on the symbiotic (their word, not mine) link between artist and critic, drawing the conclusion that this is a show about the duty of critics to acknowledge the artistic integrity of theatre-makers. These reviewers have focused on the line ‘for no apparent reason’, which is oft-repeated by the cast of Wild Bore, a less than subtle (but clearly necessary) reminder that nothing on stage happens by accident. They also try to squeeze in as many butt puns as possible.

But in my reading of the play, this is merely the start of the commentary. Yes, bad reviews make for amusing dialogue and I’ve often felt that some reviewers are talking out of their own arses. But the second half of Wild Bore elevates (literally) the discourse to highlight the continuing disconnect between the ‘business’ of theatre and the society it is supposed to reflect. Women are still drastically under-represented in the decision-making positions, mainstream media continues to favour the safe ‘hit’ and government funding is diverted to much more important things (refurbished Homebush stadium, anyone?). And don’t get me started on the race debate. To the critics that think this is all about them, I say pull your head out of your own arse and see the bigger picture.

Production-wise, there’s a deliberate base-ness to the set, lighting and costumes. It reeks of a show with no budget – which is, of course, the point; these kinds of pieces rarely get the funding afforded mainstream productions.

One wants to give this show a scathing review, if only for the self-aggrandising hope of being included in tomorrow night’s show. But one can’t be negative – this is clever comedy with a strong message. Even if it is delivered with more arse-based humour than I typically prefer.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Wild Bore is showing at Carriageworks as part of the Sydney Festival. For more details, go here.

The reviewer attended opening night, Thursday 25th January. Photo credit Tim Grey (courtesy Malthouse Theatre)