Breaking into the housing market becomes a matter of life and death in Eddie Perfect’s new musical satire, premiering at the Melbourne Theatre Company this month.
Before disgruntled baby boomer Bernard Salt penned his infamous smashed avo rant, Eddie Perfect – composer, writer and performer – was already fascinated by the middle-class mania for home ownership. Or, more accurately, he was fed up with it. “There comes a point where you hang out with friends who are like you, and the conversation always tends to touch on real estate. It’s an obsession, you know?” Not that Perfect wasn’t caught up in it, too; several years ago, he and his wife bought a house in Melbourne’s inner north, endured the renovation process (“the most tragically time-consuming and boring thing ever”), and came up against one particularly awkward situation that sparked the idea for his next show. “My wife and I found this house that we really liked, and at one of the open inspections we ran into some good friends of ours who are like carbon copies of us – married, two kids. We were like, ‘holy shit, what happens we turn up and have to bid on each other?’ There’s nothing like competition over a house to throw into sharp relief who has the money and who doesn’t, and I wondered whether our friendship would survive it.”
Thus came the inspiration for Vivid White: a ruthless satire interspersed with songs that takes the middle class fixation on real estate listings, home loans, architects and colour options (of which Dulux’s Vivid White is one) and amps it up into a bloody battle between two couples for survival on the brink of the collapse of civilisation. “I came upon this idea of setting the whole thing in the apocalypse,” says Perfect. “Everyone thinks about what happens immediately after the apocalypse, but with every dire event that happens on the planet, there’s a really long and boring escalation before it happens – the great analogy is the frog in the pot of water that slowly is cooked alive. We acclimatise to our circumstances and things that would otherwise seem completely ludicrous becomes really normal. So I wanted to set the whole thing in this growing apocalypse: how long could you sustain being middle class? Also, I think it’s fun to have a go at the boomer generation who have completely rigged the system in their favour and shut everyone out.”
The irony that a bulk of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s audience are part of this very demographic is not lost on Perfect. This isn’t the first time he’s gone in for the kill: his 2013 play The Beast (which returned for a national tour last year) was a scathing caricature of morally bankrupt MasterChef-obsessed yuppies committed to ‘living sustainably’. Through Vivid White, Perfect hopes that audiences will “reconsider the way that we see our sense of ownership of property and land, and hopefully to be less ruthless and competitive with each other”.
To get the message across in today’s political climate, Perfect has had to take things to even farther realms of insanity. “We’re living in a world where the most preposterous things tumble out of the mouths of politicians every day. It’s absurd, and it’s almost like there’s no ridiculous extreme you can go to [anymore]. People can’t tell the difference between satire and real life. Can satire do anything about Donald Trump? Can it affect change, and make people consider their world view? I can’t answer that, but I do know that one thing that needs to happen is that theatre plays one part, but then there’s personal responsibility on the part of the audience to go out into the world and change themselves.”