Meet Simon. Simon’s dad recently died, but he’s distracting himself from thinking about that too much by going jogging, playing video games, caring for his pet rats and worrying about both his mum and his on-off relationship with his girlfriend. But someone – a talking lightbulb, to be precise – has decided that’s not a satisfactory ending to Simon’s story, and with the help of three assistants assumes control of his life, manipulating his every action to ensure he follows the path set out for him. And the goal of all this, it seems, is not to give Simon what he wants or needs, but to entertain and satisfy us, the audience.
All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever is an award-winning show from New Zealand-based company The Playground Collective, and it’s the kind of play I think needs to be seen more than once, because there’s so much going on it’s almost impossible to catch it all first time around. There’s laughter, action, emotion, countless cultural references, original music, a brief exploration of Pavlovian conditioning – and a few moments which, even if it’s not totally clear what’s actually going on, still evoke an almost physical reaction. It’s also something of a sensory explosion; flashing lights, bright colours and chirpy video game theme tunes all contribute to the sensation of being in an artificial environment.
Writer Eli Kent, who plays Simon, spends most of his time alone in the stark, empty box that is his world. But even though he has nothing to work with, we nonetheless always know exactly what he’s doing, whether he’s making a smoothie, feeding his rats or getting caught up in a dramatic car chase. The other people in his life are represented by inanimate objects – his girlfriend is a mannequin, his best friend a cuddly toy and his mum a disembodied pair of washing up gloves. These characters are brought to life through the brilliant voice work of the three ‘players’ – Victoria Abbott, Hamish Parkinson and Joel Baxendale (whose backstage squabbling becomes just as much a part of the story as what’s happening up on stage) and Simon’s interactions with them are no less real; the break-up scene in particular is still devastating, even if one of the characters is a dummy.
The play explores the idea of a ‘perfect story’, one that follows a traditional path and reaches a neat conclusion – just as in a video game we’re required to complete certain stages in order to proceed towards a showdown with the ultimate boss. But it turns out life isn’t always like that. It can be unpredictable, funny, sad, shocking or sometimes just mundane; despite what Die Hard (a perfect movie, according to Simon) would have us believe, car chases are not something that happens to everyone. Each of us is the central character in our own story, and we should take the opportunity to write it in our own way, for our own benefit, rather than for the unseen audience behind the fourth wall expecting a perfectly circular plot with a tidy ending.
All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever is an ingenious and totally unique piece of theatre, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s not so much a play as an experience, really, and one that doesn’t necessarily end when you walk out the door. And it’s also a show that, I suspect, everyone will interpret slightly differently – so in that sense, it’s the very best kind of theatre.