by Erica Brennan
Dating The World – part of the Sydney Fringe.
I had heard whispers of good things about ‘Dating the World’ for awhile now and I was not disappointed. As I sat for the second time is as many weeks at the New Theatre I gazed upon a mostly bare stage with some cleverly hidden (and some not so, thank you theatre black curtains) objects and waited. Soon Stevl Shefn arrives with a battered suitcase, looking charmingly battered himself and greets us unintelligible language. He chatters away in a convincing manner hoping to get some kind of information out of us. A smile on his face and a nervous click to his voice, he tries again and again to explain what he wants. Finally his translator, Fatima, in full body burqa and just as fluent in Stevl’s language as ours, arrives. The two have a brief flurry of conversation and then she stands demurely to one side explaining that she will translate everything Stevl says.
Stevl has set himself up to give a lecture on love, but it is anything but. He starts to tell stories of what I think are failed love affairs all translated fluently by Fatima, but none of them seem to climax properly. Instead Stevl deviates further and further, distracted by his own delight, until you as an audience member you realise the deviations are the story and it ends. The performing duo of Steve Sheehan and Emma Beech were exceptionally skilled walking the line between understatement and character acting beautifully. You could never quite relax into the situation or become truly absorbed in the story. The effect was an electrifying tension.
As a piece of comedy ‘Dating the World’ is twisty and turny, it doesn’t give anything away. I found myself searching for meaning in every new story, each side tale and deviation. I was trying to decide what words were important, which anecdote was the one at which I supposed to be going ‘ah ha!’ I was waiting for a reveal of some kind, like learning the significance of why Fatmia in a burqua. About halfway through I blushed at my own pompous presumption that there had to be a definite reason for it.
It sounds like a frustrating experience but it was actually just the opposite. I was leaning forward the whole time with a bemused smile on my face and a soft chuckle in my throat. Fatima and her burqua were only small considerations, like many of my other attempts to make meaning, and I quickly found myself letting go and just enjoying this theatrical offering. Now after some time has passed I began to wonder if the crowning jewel of the piece was in acknowledging that people are weird. That we want to connect with others and so we struggle through our weirdness to do this, through dating, friendship, performance, etc. Then perhaps it is our obsession with meaning making that stops us from actually just sitting and allowing that connection to happen without explanation.
Or maybe ‘Dating the World’ was just a truly beautiful deviation from traditional three beat rhythms of performance. It reminded me of British stand up comedian Bill Bailey, a bit less melancholic, but a fine example of the imagination going gently wild. Go catch it if you can.