What can an aspiring popstar do to get her big break and rise to stardom? Faking brain cancer might not be your first guess, but that is exactly what Simone Hamilton did. With a potentially terminal diagnosis, a provocative new look and a flashy hashtag #thrivingnotsurviving, she is ready to shoot for the stars. But just how much alternative truth is her audience willing to put up with?
a typical story of rise and fall from fame
A Suffocating Choking Feeling is a live Zoom play about an attention seeking starlet Simone Hamilton, who desperately wants to be famous. She is a star, yet nobody else seems to notice. Like all the other influencer wannabees, she binges on celebrity Instagram feeds trying to figure out what makes people famous. As a result, she creates a sob story about her brave battle against brain cancer, falling deeper and deeper into her own web of lies and deceit. She makes fake posts from hospitals, wears a beanie to cover her supposedly bald head and even fakes a seizure, when fans get suspicious of her condition.
Sounds far-fetched? Actually, Simone Hamilton has a real-life role model, the Australian wellness influencer, cancer “survivor”, scammer and pseudoscience advocate Belle Gibson. In 2016, she was sued for false claims concerning her diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, rejection of conventional cancer treatments in favour of natural remedies and the donation of proceeds to various charities, which – you guessed it – she pocketed to maintain her high-flying lifestyle.
The story of Belle Gibson resonated deeply with Tom Halls and Simone French, the experimental performance duo TomYumSim. Their work sets out to challenge conventional notions of performance and rebel against the mainstream, connecting on a desire to interrogate interactive and immersive performance, where the audience’s experience is put center stage. Simone French gives a believable performance as the celebrity-obsessed popstar who believes that the end justifies the means.
As always, the accusing finger points at us. We feed the narcissist social media culture every time we hit the like button. Exploring the world of multiple alternative realities, the play sets our unhealthy social media habits on a crash course with the truth. Composed of shorts snippets of Simone’s life, Instagram lives and music videos, we get to experience the rise and fall of a young popstar desperate to make her mark in the music industry. But a great reward comes at a great cost, as she is bound to discover. A Suffocating Choking Feeling laughs at our shallowness, then forces us to have a look at our values and morals, as we all play an active part in the downfall of Simone Hamilton.
As a theatre performance, A Suffocating Choking Feeling is a typical story of rise and fall from fame. In her performance, Simone French prances for the camera, fusses over makeup tutorials and makes clumsy attempts at imitating her idols. She does all the right things, yet I failed to build a deeper emotional connection with her character. Perhaps I’m just not instagrammable enough.