Review: What the F*ck is This?

It should be noted that the show we saw was plagued with technical difficulties including, but not limited to, RTJ having to use an older version of his multimedia presentation. It seems a bit disingenuous to review someone’s show on the basis of such a slip up, so I spoke to RTJ about this review and whether he was happy with me posting it. For balance, this review from is from a performance of the show at Etcetra Theatre, and might give a better impression of what the show will be like for the rest of the fringe run.

On a high from our first show, I persuaded the Devil we should stay up past our bedtime for Richard Tyrone Jones’ What the F*ck is This?

TIM: Described as the only show at The Fringe where a man stands on stage and says “What the f*ck is this?” for an hour. That’s an apt description. It was also listed in the programme as belonging to the genres of absurdism and multi-media. I was really looking forward to this.

THE DEVIL: Really? And what did you expect?

TIM: Well, I expected some wordplay. I expected “What is this? This is “What the F*ck is This?” is what this is.” And so on. I thought the first five minutes would be witty and entertaining, and that then I’d be bored for ten minutes and that then after that we’d enter some sort of bizarre place of incredible artistry. There was actually slightly less wordplay than I expected, in part because RTJ delivers almost everything in the same high energy, frenetic extreme tone. He uses lots of slides, which range from the surreal to the banal to the comedic to the deliberately provocative. He confronted us with images of terror, abuse. And he engages with the audience a lot, bringing them into the performance.

THE DEVIL: You sat supportively in the front row. Did you expect to find yourself onstage, recreating scenes from fetish pornography while Richard demanded angrily “What the f*ck is this?”

TIM: Not exactly.

THE DEVIL: But you enjoyed it, didn’t you?

TIM: Parts of it I enjoyed immensely. Parts of it bored me. Parts of it made me incredibly uncomfortable – Jones has a habit of making his audiences complicit in some of his most edgey comedy and you could feel the audience caught on the horns last night – We didn’t want to use racially loaded language, for example, but we could tell that if we didn’t play the game, then the show would grind to a halt, that Jones would just stand there, blasting out his mantra, denying us any progression. It was horrible!

THE DEVIL: You could have left. Most of the audience had left by the end. Driven out. You chose to stay. And now you whine about being made complicit. I relished it. It was the Metal Machine Music of spoken word. I relished how painful it was for Richard. I relished how it confused and challenged the few souls who resolved to stay.

TIM: I really liked the ending. That was genius. I was left with the most profound sensation that I had no sense of the limits of the shows, either in terms of audience and performer, but also in terms of when the show was actually over. Jones had left the stage. A few of us, shell shocked as we sat in the front row, were discussing the piece. And then I realised that those at the back were now watching and listening to us. Our deconstruction had become part of the performance. Even outside in what felt a lot like group therapy. Even walking home. I felt like I was still a part of “What the F*ck is this?” A sensation only reinforced because of how hard it is to think about the piece without asking “What the F*ck?”

THE DEVIL: I’m delighted this is on at The Fringe. If you want to boast that you endured something then you should go. If you enjoy discussing a show afterwards more than the actual performance you should go. If you genuinely want to see something different you should go.

TIM: Likewise, if any mention of rape is triggering don’t go. If images of abuse or terrorism are upsetting then you have been warned. If you want to avoid any undertone of racism then it’s not for you. I can’t even say that you’ll leave feeling entertained, which is a shame because the concept is so clever and the moments of genius are sublime. But hey. It’s on the PBH Free Fringe. It’s not like you have to pay to get in.

Tim Ralphs is a storyteller and his show of urban devilry Rebranding Beelzebub is on every night from 2 August 2014 to 24 August 2014 at 9:50pm in The Banshee Labyrinth. A PBH free fringe performance – you only have to pay what you think the Devil is due.


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