Fight Night: the battle for votes

Mar 14, 2014
Angelo Tijssens and the contenders in Fight Night. Photo: Sarah Eechaut

Angelo Tijssens and the contenders in Fight Night. Photo: Sarah Eechaut

Baffled by how on earth certain politicians get elected to power? Interactive theatrical “game” Fight Night offers some illuminating – and disturbing – insights.

A co-production by Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed and Adelaide’s The Border Project, the show is like a live election where five actors play the candidates and audience members armed with hand-held electronic devices are the voters.

Cloaked like boxers entering a ring, the contestants – Roman, David, Sophie, Valentjin and Charlotte – converge on a simple stage in the Queen’s Theatre as host/mediator Angelo explains how the process will work.

It all seems deceptively simple; we are asked questions, use the devices to answer these and cast votes, and see the results appear almost instantly on screens on the stage. But there are complex themes and ideas at play which gradually emerge as the 90-minute performance evolves and, one by one, candidates are voted off the stage.

We are, essentially, a micro-nation.

What happens if voters make their initial judgments based purely on appearance? How easily are we swayed by a charming, smooth-talking candidate? Do we prefer strength or fairness? Honesty or humour? Intelligence or bravado? Style or substance? What kinds of statements or actions will make us change our minds? Can we see past media spin?

How much control do we really have?

Many of the questions asked throughout the “game” reveal as much about the voters – including their beliefs and values – as they do about the candidates, and there were clearly plenty of swinging voters among the predominantly 25-45-year-old crowd on opening night.

Director Alexander Devriendt has said the initial idea for the production came from imagining a play in which the audience could vote off actors, but the political theme was developed after two events: an election stalemate that saw Belgium without an elected government for 541 days in 2010-11, and the rise of the nationalist NVA party in the region of Flanders.

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Fight Night – which has been performed in a number of countries – certainly touches on some serious contemporary issues, including dissatisfaction with political processes, and the question of how minorities are represented in a system where the majority rules. But the show also garners plenty of laughs, thanks largely to the dry humour of host Angelo (Tijssens), as well as the speeches of the various candidates, who become more and more transparent as time goes on.

As Angelo says at the outset, there would be no show without an audience, and never is that more true than in Fight Night, where interactivity is essential. But it’s a much more gentle and less confronting type of interactivity than the “intimate” experiences offered by Ontroerend Goed’s shows at last year’s Adelaide Festival (The Smile Off Your Face,  A Game Of You and Internal).

The rustic intimacy of the Queen’s Theatre makes it ideally suited to a show like this, though not everyone will like the rather uncomfortable seating. Nor will Fight Night be to everyone’s taste – one former state politician in the opening-night audience certainly seemed far from impressed. But if you’re prepared to enter into the spirit of the performance and engage with the game, it’s a fun, rewarding and stimulating night out.

It will also give you a few things to think about as South Australia goes to the polls this weekend.

Fight Night is at the Queen’s Theatre until March 16.

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