The notion of staging a story after an apocalypse is hardly new. Nor is the idea of leaving a handful of survivors with the job of rebuilding a utopian society that may or may not turn awry. This is where Delectable Shelter begins its story and what unfolds is a challenging black comedy about white terror.

The production is the latest one from Melbourne’s The Hayloft Project and continues in much the same vein as the other productions they’ve staged. In Thyestes they also pushed the boundaries and thumbed their noses at political correctness. Sometimes this approach works but like anything controversial it also comes with the possibility of offending people and leaving a bitter aftertaste. In this production the digs at Chinese people and the reliance on stereotypes certainly go too far at times.

The play was written and directed by Benedict Hardie. It sees a middle-aged, white-bread couple (Andrew Broadbent and Yesse Spence) stuck in a bunker with their indulged, hapless son (Brendan Hawke) and his wife (Simone Page Jones). This hideous family are also joined by a mad scientist-come-engineer, Tor (Jolyon James) who discovered the way to survive the world’s end.

The solution was to build a tiny bunker for the new family of five to live in. It’s a different world from the comfort and privilege they’re used to. There’s silver fern wallpaper creating a magic eye illusion effect, four uncomfortable chairs and a Van Gogh light box decorating the shelter or five sided container. The set was designed by Claude Marcos and was excellent in that it added a macabre strangeness and an oppressive prison for the family as they take shelter in the Earth’s core.

Delectable Shelter is made up of three acts and spans over 350 years in time. The first two acts are the strongest and are devoted to showing the family as they first enter the shell and a few years after they’ve settled in. The acts are broken up by musical interludes with the five-piece ensemble leaving their colourful prison to don salmon robes and perform a cappella versions of eighties hits by Roxette, Foreigner, Air Supply and Billy Ocean. These were re-arranged by Benny Davis (Axis of Awesome) and proved a real highlight, especially Page Jones’ amazing operatic voice.

The people left behind are stereotypes used to highlight the absurd and ridiculous nature of human beings. There’s the desire to maintain appearances and absolute vanity in the form of a solarium being built as an “essential” room and this serves to highlight some real first world problems. The characters are buffoons and bourgeois but their descendents are worse. The inter-breeding in the gene pool leads to genetic throwbacks and characters that resemble something out of Housos, while the world crumbles amidst fear, cannibalism and chaos.

The whole situation is an illogical one and requires a suspension of your imagination for 90 minutes. At times the long pauses and subtle movements make for mind numbingly slow viewing that should’ve been tightened for greater impact. The script also falters because while it aims to be a mature and sarcastic swipe at people and a critique on humankind, a lot more jokes could’ve been added to highlight the empty vacuousness of these characters and the insatiability of the human spirit.

Delectable Shelter is a play with an interesting premise but it was let down by series of pitfalls in its execution. Although it held up a mirror to modern society and did so with a no-holds-barred approach, this ultimately bold and edgy tale is not for the faint-hearted and it will not appeal to all. It will be enjoyed by those looking for some odd, quirky theatre or for buffs of the genre. But for those that don’t fit into either of these boxes, this “shelter” will prove to be a stifling and claustrophobic anti-haven.

Originally published on 15 August 2013 at the following website:

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