at C Nova, Monday 13th August 2012
Should serial killers and extremists be viewed as humans at all? It is a debate which strikes up every time after a mass killing and blood is called for from the friends and family of those affected. “He has no human rights” they say, when we suggest that regardless of their awful acts, they are still of the same species of us and deserve a fair trial and the right to life. In The Economist, the events leading up to the atrocities of Anders Breivik are put under scrutiny and his extremist views put under the microscope in an absurd, tragic and thoughtful production which reminds us that whenever people go awol like this, we are all to blame.
We enter to see a group of six red-jumper-clad people playing music and smiling at us like automatons in a shop window. Part of us wants to laugh, the other wants to look away, but already the scene is set for a semi-absurdist play where men play women, women play men and deer heads suddenly appear at the back of the stage. It’s a smart idea; by creating a strange world like this, the company (under the direction of Van Badham) suggests that mass murders can only occur in a surrealist, dream-like world where strange things happen but are left unnoticed.
The text, written by Tobias Manderson-Galvin, charts the formative years of Andrew Bolt Berwick (just to remind us this is ‘fiction’) very swiftly before plateauing at young adulthood as his views become more pronounced and extreme. An image of a fractured, bizarre world is formed in which it’s no surprise that someone should find themselves with such morally questionable views as Berwick – he is lonely, isolated and feels let down by society, having never been able to feel emotions like love and sympathy.
According to the programme, the text is based on interviews with friends and family of the victims and source material by Breivik himself, forcing a break-down of the line between fiction and reality. We are told this is a “fictional story”, but there is no escaping the fact much of this is based on fact and revolves around a true story. Like Breivik himself, with his World of Warcraft obsessions, we cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not.
Adding to the absurdist-cum-surreal-cum-hyperreal mood, a random assortment of props and instruments are utilised by a cohesive, pitch-perfect ensemble, led by Zoey Dawson as Berwick. The actors manage to play the line between “that’s ridiculous” and “that’s so true” beautifully, taking us through characters who, though not as ‘extreme’ as Berwick, can be just as blind and unkind. And though the acts of Breivik are by no means excused, Dawson’s performance shows them to be a logical consequence of his upbringing, and shows a passionate man who believes wholeheartedly in what he is doing (which is more than can be said of those around him).
The Economist leaves us feeling slightly strange, especially the final terrifying line, jolting us out of the theatrical-induced stupor and mobilising us against forces of hatred. The title also shouldn’t be overlooked, for Berwick, the self-styled “Economist” believes in the sort of extremism that Friedman and Hayek promoted and is unafraid to speak his beliefs while many neoliberalists feel scared to. Within this play, the forces of individualism come up against the forces of community, ending in disaster, concluding with the thought that only one of these ideologies can prevail, and that “lone gunmen” are simply the product of this battle.