Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
A meaningful work about absolute meaninglessness
Q is a well-crafted play by debutant playwright-director Aleksandr Corke. It explores heavy existential questions through absurdist imagery and non-religious projections of life after death. It superimposes an imagined afterlife on top of our present world and attempts to make sense of it all by highlighting the utter meaninglessness of everything.
The play opens with a clean, minimalistic set featuring a backdrop of vertical wooden bars and frosted glass, a single desk and chair, a red case, coat hooks and a wall-mounted telephone. Accompanied by an ominous soundtrack and distinctive lighting, there's an immediate sense of unease in this place, which looks and feels either like an office or a detention centre... perhaps metaphorically both. The performers begin - their movements are precise and rehearsed, their words are measured. They're clearly doing exactly what they're meant to do, exactly what they always do, except this time there's a problem. The case on the desk won't open, and there's no key.
Whose case is this? What's in this case? What's the protocol for dealing with a case of a case that won't open?
Q is a show inspired by Franz Kafka's The Trial, set in the afterlife. It follows the journey of K, a very average and somewhat clueless young man who wasn't prepared to die before he'd properly started to live. He is greeted by two officers of the afterlife, who weren't prepared for the case that wouldn't open. The rest of the play continues on this theme of preparedness (or lack thereof), and how the world (whether this world or the projected afterlife) attempts to persuade the individual that everything is under control, everything is as it should be and that as long as protocol is followed, the authorities will ensure that everything will be fine. There is, of course, no integrity in this assurance and the individual is perpetually in the dark about what lurks around the corner.
Early on in the play, every character that K encounters greets him with streams of corporate jargon and customer service banalities. This draws laughter and eases the audience into a sense of familiarity, of recognizing our world in this vision of the afterlife. Having then established that this world is, in fact, our world, the play then robs the audience of the security they start to feel by questioning the meaning of everything. What is the meaning of life? Is life really better than death? What comes after death? What would the implications be if life turned out to be meaningless, followed by a meaningless eternity? Who has the answers? Can we or will we ever know? Why do we feel entitled to know? What is the basis of our expectation that anything will come of anything? The play systematically unravels everything that people tend to place their hopes in - private dreams and aspirations, relationships, goodwill shared with strangers, inherent purpose, higher powers, processes of appeal - and throws the audience into the depths of existential despair. In this vision of the afterlife, everything is the same as it is on earth. Everything is how it is, everyone's experience of what is, is different, and none of it matters.
Corke's take on Kafka's original text is beautifully balanced and smooth, and it somehow manages to remain faithful to the spirit of the original text without being confined by its limitations. Q translates Kafka's bizarre, incomplete, and frankly frustrating manuscript into a meaningful work about utter meaninglessness. The evenness in the quality of every element of the production is impressive: sound, lighting, stage management, costumes, props, everything feels exactly right and points the attention of the audience to the centre of the action in every scene. The actors' performances were consistently strong, and every character was portrayed persuasively, including the characters played by actors in double roles between the first and second acts.
Q is a play that is rich with relatable scenes and convincing performances. It is sharp, insightful, cleverly written, and does a remarkable job of creating a full, fleshed out experience of meaninglessness.