‘It’s a bit weird when I talk to you, eh?’ says Tim Carlsen’s Moko, the vulnerable and homeless protagonist of this curious one-man-show from New Zealand. He raises a troubling point: there is a widespread tendency to simply ignore those who exist on the very fringes of society, to look away and consolidate their sense of isolation by refusing to engage or reach out.
A thought-provoking and relevant piece
In this piece, however, we are obliged to take note and, given the extent to which the show depends on audience participation, to engage with this lonely figure. It is less a show than a kind of hang-out session with a man generally spurned and ignored by the world around him.
Carlsen inhabits Moko with impressive skill and commitment. His pronounced underbite, intense eyes and manic energy make for a character who oozes eerie charisma. His improvisatory flair is also commendable. He spends long sections of the show improvising offbeat shaggy dog stories about the audience members’ various hometowns and frequently stops the show in its tracks to ask ‘any requests?’ before belting out whatever song the audience throws at him, regardless of whether he knows the tune and lyrics or not (in one case, incognizant of any Bon Jovi lyrics, he masterfully ad-libbed a song about his love for bon-bons). This rambling rhythms and tics of a man who lurks outside the social world are well rendered.
More affecting still is the way in which Carlsen employs the participatory aspect to prompt a kind of self-awareness, to compel the audience to stand in for a society that excludes and persecutes him as he travels around the city in which he loves. At one poignant point an audience member, who he casts in the role of bouncer, is obliged to repeatedly deny him access to a nightclub and elsewhere an audience-member-cum-police-officer is given a torch to shine in his terrified face. Such moments, in which the framework and boundaries of theatre are employed as a parable for the us/them divide, are well thought through and moving.
Less effective, however, are Moko’s forays into narrative. A large portion of the show is taken up with a somewhat meandering, cryptic story about James and Sonia, a couple whose relationship is on the rocks and feels somewhat at a disconnect from the show at the large. More prominent still is the presiding sense that the show doesn’t quite know where to land or what to do with the magnetism of its performer, staying stuck in a kind of stasis which (though quite possibly deliberate) leaves the audience a little unfulfilled. A thought-provoking and relevant piece nevertheless.