Modern-day deadbeat Simon (Eli Kent) would rather natter to his mum, objectify his girlfriend, and play video-games with a pothead gorilla than think about the recent death of his father. But there are people behind the scenes who won't rest until he learns something from the experience.
For a show so often surreal, it's also markedly down-to-earth.
All Your Wants & Needs Fulfilled Forever rides in on the back of well-earned praise for a New York run and sweep of awards at Auckland Festival in New Zealand. The main shake-up for this show is The Playground Collective's new member, producer Molly O'Shea, a longstanding collaborator on You Me Bum Bum Train – and the influence of immersive theatre stands out clearly. Though no demands are made on the audience, the central character's story is guided and manipulated by a team of three stage managers all trying to stop his character trajectory going off course. The result is a haphazard millenial's take on The Truman Show, creating a patchwork of pop-culture references and literary wisdom to nudge him towards a fitting emotional climax: "the solution".
The team of supervisors (Joel Baxendale, Victoria Abbot, and Hamish Parkinson) lead him through heartbreak, gunfire, and Stephen Hawking to fit the script they've written of his future, sacrificing his happiness for the sake of a thorough emotional arc. It's a whip-smart critique of generic storytelling in film and theatre, calling out Titanic and Forrest Gump for ridicule, but one that insists on a light-hearted and feel-good tone. Victoria Abbot, particularly, stands out as a highly accomplished comedian, able to rip into the Hollywood notion of the 'supporting female role' for huge laughs.
For a show so often surreal, it's also markedly down-to-earth. The metatheatrical questions at the heart of this piece are underpinned by a furious silliness, full of mind-games, droll office politics, flashy action sequences, and call-centre gags – not to forget the question block from Super Mario Bros., embodied in glorious cardboard. Even a break-up scene with a mannequin manages to be tear-jerkingly tender while deploying some brilliant slapstick. Tragicomedy is rarely done this well.
The sardonic narrator overseeing the process steps straight out of the video-game lore of Portal's GLaDOS or The Stanley Parable, both of which used disembodied voices to toy with their human lab-rats. It's a fitting tribute, even if this show's narrator can't always match the wit of their source material. Occasionally the team seems content to eschew subtlety for blatant irony, or prop up its punchlines with pop-culture references that don't quite do the work. But the weaknesses in the script are completely overshadowed by The Playground Collective's strengths, especially their stunning stage design.
Swinging torches, flashing screens, confetti massacres – the show jumps between controlled choreography and bewildering set-pieces to great effect. It's not always clear what's going on, which, for a show about instilling order, can dilute the message they're going for. But the sequences are unquestionably dazzling and show a group of performers at the height of their powers, deftly dealing with love, grief, and the chaos of life with a masterful puppeteer's touch.