A powerful non-linear narrative that is presented as a semi-autobiographical dark comedy, Passengers by Vacuum Theatre delves into the story of Max, who never appears onstage, but is instead personified through three (very well-spoken) characters who represent three distinct voices in Max's beautiful and complex mind. Treating us to his subconscious state, we are introduced to Max as someone who was looking for a sandwich one minute and shattering a glass window with his chair the next.
Dressed in eclectic activewear and neon stripes with purple masks covering their faces, we see three very animated and talented individuals who portray Max as a deeply eccentric individual. Giving life to the voices inside his head, we have Justina Kehinde ("the critic" who thinks in a matter-of-factly-kind of way), Neil Chinneck ("the peacekeeper" who avoids confrontation at all costs), and Kit Redstone ("the savage" who is always ready to push boundaries and step far out of the accepted norm). The costumes are reminiscent of an 80s exercise vibe and the soundtrack accompanying their words and movements is sure to make you groove.
Wanting to abandon the society-approved norm of going to university, getting a job, being stuck in a dead-end 9-5 and instead, investing in a van and driving over to that picturesque California sunset, I felt like I was watching a mirrored version of my mind and my life presented before me on stage, which almost made me feel like I was the 'star' of the show! The level of relatability with this show moved me to tears. The yearn to start fresh is real. But alas, life doesn't work that way (not at the moment, at least!) but the three eloquently-spoken performers have perfectly captured that burning desire to be and/or do better. There is an electric atmosphere in the performances of Justina, Neil, and Kit. Their sharp wit and their exuberant charm in connecting with the audience. The delivery of their well-versed narrative was exceptionally flawless, which when coupled with their mischievously playful characters, held our attention effortlessly. Unlike traditional theatre, the spoken word in Passengers had a poetic and symbolic conversation unravel, which was further complemented by their fluid movements around (and through) the metal scaffolding set up on stage, which replicated the look and feel of being stuck in a jail cell. Throughout the show, the three characters intersperse in and out of the scaffolding, as they try to break their way out, but keep getting repressed by their own demons.
This is a great way to explore the topic of mental health, where we can shatter (pun intended) the stereotypes and taboo around discussing what is a very important topic - for our own sanity! We have all been there where we battle with our inner voices and butt heads with them, especially when trying to reach a unanimous decision on how to tackle certain speed bumps and obstacles that life throws our way, so when we watch these characters replicate the thoughts and emotions that Max experiences in these scenarios, we can heavily relate to some of Max's actions through the characters, as they work out (in turns) about what they think of Max's actions and how they cause a ripple effect to friends, family, and the society around him. We go through the different moments of utter chaos and madness, a sense of rationality and logic, and pure empathy and a heart full of hope that forms a tornado of emotions from the collective performance of the trio. Understandably, having these three very different voices in one mind can cause a rift of emotions and, as a result, a series of erratically-orchestrated decisions.
Written by Kit Redstone and developed and directed with Jessica Edwards, Passengers hits several notes of accuracy and relatability, as they explore the voices in our heads that govern our consequent actions and how it affects the society around us. This is a dark comedy, in the sense that it touches on some seriously gruelling topics and life experiences (relationship breakdown, family death, loss of employment, feeling of loneliness) in a way that can make everyone in the audience feel like they are looking at a version of themselves (at one point or another in their life). Breaking down the stereotypes around mental illness and instead providing a thought-provoking insight into the minds of individuals with dissociative identity disorder, each character's progression and growth throughout this process eventuates with a sense of freedom, utter joy, and a form of unity that transpires, after the initial head-on collision that leads to their (temporary state of) demise.
I didn't think that mental health could be personified and delivered with such substance and yet, this show only further proves how important it is to look out and after yourself (because no one else will) and that if you have that inner voice that is nagging you for whatever reason, then instead of ignoring it, listen to it, gain some perspective, and if it all gets a bit too much, seek professional help because there's no shame in wanting to look after your mental wellbeing. It also establishes the point that the voices in your head can be symbiotic, where one cannot survive without the other. Despite them all having their own flaws and reservations, they are monumental as a team to help individuals like Max move forward. Even if he has to go through some unpleasant experiences and fall on the bad side of life, where things just don't seem to be going right, this experimental work encapsulates mental illness and mental health in a positive and nurturing light. There is an exceptional level of talent that provides a marvellous rendition of the inner workings of a complex mind that just wants a life that is free of unfortunate run-ins with panic-infused life experiences and situations.
Being the only theatre show that I've watched this Adelaide Fringe, I am absolutely thrilled to report how much I enjoyed this piece of performing arts (that I had previously sworn off of) and I highly encourage you to catch it before they wrap up for the season this weekend. It is a must-see, especially if you and/or someone you know is a strong advocate for mental health and would like a unique experience that explores the complexity of the human mind. It will push you to evolve in your way of thinking and offer a mix of education and entertainment.
Date attended: 10/03/2020
Overall rating: ★★★★★
Passengers will be performed at the Royal Croquet Club (RCC) as part of Adelaide Fringe till March 15, 2020. Book your tix here.