The bright white plastic-coated stage is empty, but the technical team is running round the cluttered wings, knocking over coffee cups and tallying the audience. We discover that this is most of our cast, and they are working on constructing the perfect story, with the perfect ending. We find this out once The Lightbulb descends, and instructs them to start the show, and not to get it wrong this time. All Your Wants and Needs Fufilled Forever is a very self-aware show from New Zealand company The Playground Collective, and it wonderfully focuses its efforts on analyzing motivation and trauma’s effect in a person’s life.
Ostensibly, the show is about Simon (Roth) being unable to deal with his fathers death and being made to come to terms with it through the narrative events. But it’s the manipulation of Simon’s life to be “good for his development” that really becomes the story. It calls into question agency, motivation and reward in stories with a very fresh and entertaining touch. Simon theorises on crisis, struggle and redemption in Hollywood films, and the significance of cheats and power-ups in video games. Choosing your destiny is a central concept in this show where events are openly calculated, and “The carrot is followed by the stick” is the spooky catchphrase of The Lightbulb. There’s a lot of humour because of the “behind the scenes” nature of the show, expertly enacted by the whole company. This can complicate what the story makers are chasing, as their efforts are so comical and frenzied that any serious moments are dampened, and Simon’s mimed interactions are often lost. It’s wonderful having this divide between the two worlds, but it makes the told story much harder to engage with. No character is fully three-dimensional, but performances are strong throughout, if a little simplistic in the final scenes.
Playing the stagehands of Simon’s reality, Victoria, Joel and Hamish all bear their actual names, to further distance themselves from the world that the audience are trying to accept as real. But as the show progresses and we see every event triggered like an experiment we have to accept that this is entirely engineered. Like The Matrix, Simon is unaware of the artificiality of his world, and this means that his world can be symbolised with slick, intentionally depthless brevity. A cuddly gorilla is the laidback housemate, his mother a pair of washing up gloves and his girlfriend a curvy mannequin. These mechanisms function well within the logic of The Lightbulb, and also draw attention to their problematic nature as signifiers within the larger analysis. Women as domesticity or sexuality is a particular sticking point in the dialogues of the stagehands, and leads to some of the funniest and most disturbing parts of the show. The show works much better when it’s sudden narrative changes are small, surreal and uncanny rather than intentionally complex inserts.
The set is utilised well, it’s sterility and symbolism perfectly channeling this lab-grown story, and there is some wonderful puppetry that helps add gravitas to this mostly mimed performance. The lighting is repeatedly fierce throughout the show, too punishing at times but always appropriate, and the sound is beautifully composed and wonderful throughout.
All Your Wants and Needs Fufilled Forever is marvelously entertaining. Its concepts will keep going round in your mind like a rat in a cage, and it carries one of the best looking endings I’ve ever seen. A strong and very complex analysis of motivation in storytelling that is just a bit too clever to be emotionally engaging.