Imagine drinking two litres of red cordial, hanging upside down and watching the most fantastical opera you’ve ever seen. That’s a bit like watchingThe River Eats– awe-inspiring yet somewhat uncomfortable.

The River Eats is the latest offering from multi-disciplinary artist, Justin Shoulder. Through one hour of heart-stopping solo performance, Shoulder takes the audience on a journey of complete sensory overload.

Opening the show with a deliberately jolty rendition of a ballet, the audience is introduced to the character of Pinky. Wearing little but a diamond encrusted g-string, a wild pink wig and candy-floss coloured skin, Pinky jerks and kicks his way through the ballet recital as the audience chuckles.

The dance finishes and Pinky basks in the applause that follows. Then he waits for more…and more. Next he’s running about the stage desperately chasing the spotlight; this reveals a deeper truth about the character’s insatiable need to feed his ego – a metaphor about what drives contemporary western society. No matter what we’ve got or what we’ve achieved, we are forever trapped in a relentless cycle of searching for more. Pinky’s character reveals just how vacuous and meaningless such a search becomes.

At one point, Pinky interacts with a virtual manifestation of his own face on a giant screen. The two Pinkys speak to one another in abrasively metallic voices, repeatedly asking each other ‘how are you?’ to create a conversation that is disconnected and devoid of real meaning. The exchange is a chilling reflection on the inauthentic nature of digital communication. It rings a sharp bell of truth for anyone who has ever tried to conduct meaningful discussion over a faulty Skype connection or an online dating website.

Pinky’s hyped up techno speed world is supported by a cacophony of digital noise – iPhone sounds, dial-up tones, white noise and house music – which builds until it is almost unbearable. Eventually Pinky’s character gives way to another character who goes by the name of OO.

Based on a butterfly that Shoulder saw while visiting Brazil’s Iguazu Falls, OO has gigantic wings and a body decorated in arresting black and white tribal designs. While Pinky represents all that is synthetic, manufactured and ego-driven, OO is the embodiment of all that is connected with the earth. Indeed, watching this magnificent creature move about the stage gives the same overwhelming sensation that one may feel witnessing a breathtaking landscape or watching a monstrous wave as it crashes to shore.

On a simplistic level, The River Eats is a sensory feast of impressive costumes, enchanting visual moments and striking sound design. Delve a little deeper and the show becomes a thought-provoking reflection on life within the digital age and the battle between living a progressive, technology-driven existence and our connection with the natural and eternal.

3.5/5 stars


The River Eats is presenting as part of Perforance Space‘s Show Off season as Carriageworks until July 13

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