Fringe Review: Gobbledygook

by Jane

In a room sits a woman (Aileen Huynh).  In the same room sits her phone.  It’s them, alone. Just the two of them. Well, them, and everyone else in the world: it’s a phone.  Gobbledygook is a series of short scenes of the perhaps agoraphobic woman, too dependent on her phone, but then, would she actually be better off with out it?

Perhaps it is too easy as an arts writer to expect everything to have a “point”, or perhaps, rather, to expect everything has a theme they are trying to explore or comment on. But: I’m genuinely confused as to if Gobbledygook had this or not.

Their fringe blurb tells us:

A theatre work by Bodysnatchers, ‘Gobbledygook’ examines the apparatuses our lives are filtered through; the mess of signal, frequency and wire. A duet for a lone woman and her iPhone, it irreverently tackles the core of contemporary anxiety: who is listening? Anyone?

And yes, some ways the production seemed to be a commentary on the advent of technology on our lives, but it is overall so specific to this character – and, yes, so unrecognisable from myself – that it felt like one woman’s story.  To try and extricate anything more about us as a society just feels fake.

As a contemporary observation, too, the work seems a bit confused. Most of the woman’s obsession with the phone seemed to be filtered through the lens of the phone as a very traditional object: a verbal communications device.  Yes, she played games; yes, she spoke on the phone about the advantages of having the internet in her pocket; yes, she at one time used the phone’s camera; but much much more often than not the phone was simply a phone.  Add to this the story taking place in a single room, and it is radically uncontemporarised: how long has the telephone been a household object?

Fragmented scenes made the production seem longer than it was.  Without a clear through line or conclusion we were reaching, many of the scenes felt like the logical end to the piece, and each “extra” scene felt like time was building up.

As is the nature of writing, however, these quibbles are blown out of proportion when they hit the page.  I genuinely enjoyed the show. I found it humorous and laughed out loud, with some moments also rather touching or sad. While Huynh occasionally fell into an overly performed delivery, at many times her genuine and slightly vulnerable character was what brought the easy humour to the situations.

The work is most successful when it finds a recognisable obsession with the technology, and builds it to a point of bizzarity.   What is it about phone games that is just so addictive? Ever since the advent of Snake. Here, as Huynh becomes increasingly irritated with Fruit Ninja, she begins to take on the role much more seriously: not content for it to be simply a finger swiping a screen, Huynh squats into position, pulls her hand back, and concentrates. She is Fruit Ninja.

The set is simple: a square cordoned off with white lace curtains, and exploiting all of the advantages of being in an actual theatre venue, Bodysnatchers has the opportunity to show some of the best simple design work in independent theatre this Fringe. Still simple and minimalistic, Joseph Parro’s lighting design – occasionally forecasting the surreal, turning the white box a ghostly green, at other times replicating the soft yellow of a home’s tungsten light – is tight on the square and brings emotion to the white set.

Liam Halliwell and Jordan Thompson’s sound design and composition use of electronic is both slightly odd and at times off-putting, while also being eerily familiar – and in this almost says more about the advent of technology than the rest of the work.

As a series of scenes, some amusing, some sad, some filled with tension, Gobbledygook is successful.  As a commentary on technology, it is less so. Perhaps more than anything, though, Gobbledygook served to create an audience who wants hit anyone with the standard iPhone ring tone. My android and I will be over here.

Bodysnatchers presents Gobbledygook, written and devised by Mark Rogers and Aileen Huynh. Directed by Mark Rogers, Sound Design and Composition by Liam Halliwell and Jordan Thompson (The Ocean Party), Lighting by Joseph Parro, Dramaturg Sanja Simic. Performed by Aileen Huynh. At AC Arts Main Theatre for the Adelaide Fringe. Season closed.