Writer and Director: Maria Pateli
With themes of self-improvement, procrastination and the external pressures individuals face every day, Maria Pateli’s 35-minute show Reverb is still finding its feet. This work-in-progress performance at the Etcetera Theatre is an opportunity to explore the structure of a show that uses a reverse countdown from Day 1 through Day 0 to Day -1 and places its characters in a variety of reflective scenarios. Is this a woman unravelling or a fragmentary journey through the 15 years of Pateli’s life? Reverb is certainly not an easy show to pigeonhole.
There are three stages to Pateli’s show and the first is arguably the most engaging and more obviously satirical than the subsequent scenes. Its focus is an influencer called Emerald who naturally has selected green as her ‘colour’ and is the face of a number of social media vlogs which Pateli performs with verve. The analysis of these kinds of self-improvement videos filled with platitudes and affirmations is skewering, and Emerald is starting to develop into a fine comic creation with little self-awareness.
The stage performance is well managed, mixing a ludicrous advertorial segment for a hydrating saline bag in between different vlog editions, while Emerald’s throwaway honesty about the end of a “polyamorous triad relationship” is well timed. But Pateli applies a mixed-media approach that sometimes confuses more than it clarifies, creating a backdrop of butterflies in some kind of hothouse that has little association with Emerald’s own online presence or even the subject matter she discusses.
Beyond this point, the show begins to lose focus and needs a little more narrative to build its themes and meanings around. The second section is largely silent as Pateli creates a small tower out of flat-packed boxes while a video of a rooftop plays in the background. After some time, the actor stops to tell a story about a party she doesn’t want to attend but there’s little in this act of physical creation that connects the theatre and film together, or obviously links to Emerald’s opening act.
Day -1 is the least visually developed but has more to say on Pateli’s state of mind at different points in time from 2007 onwards and especially the calm that lockdown created in 2020. Here Reverb returns to the notion of self-care and the possibility of escaping the pace and endless social expectations that impact on the character’s mental and emotional health. It ends abruptly but offers a clear link back to the opening segment.
Pateli’s show is abstract and inventive, bringing together different forms of expression in ways that could be very meaningful, but the show needs to decide what it wants to say and try to find ways to bring the different scenes together. Emerald’s mantra may be “the mind only knows what you tell your mind” – by extension the audience only knows what you tell them as well.
Reviewed on 22 September 2023