Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland! review

Theatre
3 out of 5 stars
Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland! supplied Melbourne Fringe 2019
Photograph: Supplied

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Satan shows up in a whole new guise in this left-of-centre Melbourne Fringe comedy

You know what to expect from the title if you’re going to see Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland!. It is indeed one of the fringiest of all fringe shows that have ever fringed on the fringe of the fringe. And is all the better for it.

Written by emerging Melbourne playwright Kirby Medway, it’s directed by Lou Wall (Lou Wall’s Drag Race, Romeo is Not the Only Fruit) and Jean Tong (Hungry Ghosts, Romeo is Not the Only Fruit), who have quickly established themselves, together and individually, among the city’s most exciting theatre creators. They make theatre that reminds us how straight, white, middle class and boring theatre can be, and are at the stage of their developing careers where their new work is anticipated, and expectations are high. 

Four friends, or strangers, dressed in pale pinks and reds greet each other with “Hail Satan”. It’s as menacing as a dozing kitten; a kitten who might wake up at any moment and run up your bare flesh leaving only pain and blood. Just as the grass they walk on is fake, nothing feels quite right, and the sense of unease grows as their conversations don’t move past the casual hails.

If your fellow Satanists don’t want to make friends, is there any hope for connection? Maybe chat about Gilmore Girls or socialism or dreams? Except no one cares about them either. Or Marxism or Communism, let alone about people who know the difference. Having an undergraduate arts degree is useful for nodding at the jokes, but there’s a glorious mansplain about the pineal gland and its role in sleep patterns. If that’s what it does. It’s a tiny gland in our brains and even Wikipedia isn’t completely sure of its purpose.  

And Satan really does steal a pineal gland. 

But it’s not at all about cults, religion and beliefs. Except the bits that are. Kind of. Its disjointed logic is as compelling as it is frustrating. At times it feels too much in the heads of the creators and the audience are left out of the joke – which might also be the point because so much of it is about not making connections. 

The structure jumps from scene to scene like a sketch show until it begins to settle into a rhythm. This makes the surreal time and place changes feel natural, even as they become more absurd. And when Satan turns up, it’s easy to accept that they’re as uneasy with people as their followers are. 

Lou Wall is Satan. Lou Wall is Satan in a red-striped black tracksuit and kitten-sharp black fingernails. Lou Wall as Satan sharing a banana bread recipe is almost too much to take in. With comic timing that splits seconds, she has the kind of charisma that cult leaders exploit. 

Without Melbourne Fringe, this kind of new work might never get out of its makers’ heads. This festival encourages artists to take chances and create the kind of theatre and art that they want to make. There are as many empty rows as sold-out signs in the fringe because the only way to find out if there’s an audience, or potential cult, for new work is to get it on a stage. And the only way to find out if you love new work is to see it.

What is guaranteed in Oh No! Satan Stole My Pineal Gland! is that some people will love every second and almost break a rib from laughing, while others will have no idea why the other people are laughing. Which is also kind of what it’s all about.

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