Review: Distopia @ Adelaide Fringe 2024

Our eclectic team of writers from around Australia – and a couple beyond – with decades of combined experience and interest in all fields.

'Distopia' (Pronounced like 'Dis' in Disney), is a gripping roller-coaster ride of a musical, by talented writer-actor-musicians, Casmira (Cassie) Lorien and David Salter.

From a beginning that (intentionally) makes you wonder if you came to the right show, to an ending that does not disappoint, it is filled with twists and turns.

The show was written during COVID lockdown, which seemed to provide inspiration to the performers, as the characters spend most of the play locked in a house together. In true black comedy fashion, it is entertaining and hilarious despite the dark subject matter. Cassie and David have managed to create a musical that is equal parts camp and disturbing. They also composed an original song, which I would say is the high point of the musical numbers, and original lyrics along with some of the classic tunes.

The performers engage audiences with flawless vocals, spirited acting and a quirky sense of humour that occasionally breaks the fourth wall. There is even an impressive ventriloquist song by David, in the character of a charismatic rat. The musical will likely appeal to both Disney fans and Disney haters alike, with some social commentary included along with a nod to the nostalgia of classic Disney tunes (and other popular songs from the nineties and naughties).

It helps but is not essential to be familiar with the music to enjoy the show, as the writers have put their own spin on the tunes. Apparently David and Cassie were threatened with litigation by Disney if they used their songs, so they ending up writing that into the show, along with their own music and lyrics instead, almost certainly improving the final outcome.

David and Cassie play themselves in the performance, perhaps with a few interesting alterations. They are two (best) friends, who work and live together, and have an unsurprisingly complex relationship. What seems a relatively wholesome friendship is tested when a confusing apocalyptic event occurs in Australia (where the play is set), that seems to roll together all your favourite apocalypse scenarios and more, into one.

A lot of the confusing elements of the play make a lot more sense toward the end, as the tone gradually goes from bright and fluffy to intense and perturbing. The writers do an excellent job of subverting audience expectations, while at the same time subtly foreshadowing certain events. It will make you question your assumptions about the characters, as well as our collective social conditioning by Disney tales. It raises questions about the values instilled in a generation by Disney, and the conflict of trying to ‘follow your dreams’ in times of global crisis.

The performances are energetic, and the choreography is well-crafted, with some action-packed scenes that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Lighting and sound effects are used well to create an apocalyptic disaster vibe – at one point the room is submerged in darkness, which is particularly evocative. Perhaps there could be a few more lighting effects or a more detailed set design, in other parts of the play.

Overall, it's a highly entertaining, thrilling and dynamic performance, and I can imagine it has potential to grow into a bigger show. I certainly hope more audiences will get to see it in the future.

Words: Jade Manson

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