A projector, a table and an unknown number of phones. The basic set dressing for Alice Canton’s MEME LORD at the Basement’s Studio.
A show that is posited as being “a deep dive into the world of meme” isn’t exactly what the packaging promises. Canton doesn’t so much as cover specific memes, but a surface level understanding of the meme genre. She focuses more on the consequences of memes, and the subtext of their use in today’s society as a shortcut for true communication.
Memes wouldn’t seem it, but are a delicate subject to plumb, as the general shelf life of a meme is as long as it takes for mainstream third party audiences to discuss, examine and utilise said memes. Therefore in a theatre show about memes it would be almost impossible to use said memes in a manner which didn’t automatically undercut the comedy, connection and virality of the meme in the first place. Canton avoids a lot of this potential awkwardness, by leaning into it.
Canton’s character is initially almost an exact embodiment of the cringe you would expect from a person leading a seminar on memes. Canton plays the proud Secretary of the Auckland chapter of ‘Meme Lords Anonymous’ – a well-meaning, high strung woman who slowly comes undone throughout the performance.
The show is structured as a repetitive series of these ‘meetings’ where Canton goes through a PowerPoint presentation covering topics such as ‘What are memes?’ in a manner not unfamiliar to a first year media lecture, with entertaining physicalized interludes that bely the clear struggle that this Secretary is hiding behind closed doors.
These highly physical vignettes allow an insight into the dramatized interiority of Canton’s character, moving from ever-inching addiction to a full-blown and hilariously explosive release to a funny, but pathos filled rock-bottom. Canton possesses an awesome physicality, doing so much in these near-wordless moments. She pushes into clowning at points, and elicits a lot of laughter from these moments. Indeed, the moment Canton’s character caves is glorious and couldn’t help but spring to mind another show that had been in the same space just last week. Emma Newborn’s Coral and Canton’s MEME LORD have many similarities – both one-woman shows that play with awkwardness with these very Kiwi and very restrained women who are on the verge of losing it. The moments that both the protagonists do go off the edge are riotous; two women unleashed balancing both ends of the spectrum, with one channeling frenzied empowerment and the other a manic downwards spiral.
The final seminar is instead an emotional apology and message from Canton’s character to us. It is a moment of true sincerity, almost blurring the lines between character and creator as Canton looks us right in the eyes and talks about how she doesn’t like herself sometimes. Canton is an immediately likeable character onstage, almost adorable at times. You’re on her side and want her to find the happiness her character so deeply craves.
As the show ends, it is almost cyclical – a compilation of memes playing on a darkened stage to the disco beat of NZ artist Boycrush’s ‘Song for Alex’ with a gremlin-like Canton peeking out from behind the curtain. However, Canton begins to dance and is soon joined by a group of fellow dancers all unleashing their moves in a quirk filled dance routine. Canton’s character is no longer alone, and that underlying desperation for connection that pervades the show is on its way to being fulfilled. Canton is centre stage and the final seconds of the show are surprisingly powerful – Canton spotlighted in silence, face upturned in joy and relief.
The show hosts an interesting dialogue on connection in the Internet Age. When Canton’s Secretary begins an angry, hateful tirade about the effects of memes – projecting her internal feelings onto the audience, ironically, using a projector – there were actually quite a few relatable, if inflated, effects listed on screen that the young audience surely recognised. The show isn’t exactly the meme-filled bonanza it shops itself as, but is an entertaining and thoughtful character study on connection and loneliness.
Canton exhibited an impressive range and great physicality throughout the show. I would love somehow for her to push her moments of emotional excess even further, with greater highs and lows. Slicker technical cues could have assisted the impact of Canton’s breakdown, as the final spotlighted moment emphasises. In a show that relies on projection and other technical elements, it is keenly necessary for these cues to be perfect. Canton’s performance negates much of that, but it is worth noting as a commonality that has occurred in other Comedy Festival shows this reviewer has seen.
Overall, MEME LORD is a sweet and enjoyable show. Alice Canton as a performer deserves many more audiences for her to play, to experiment and to grow with.
What: MEME LORD
Who: Alice Canton
When: 10PM, 15-18 May
Where: Basement Theatre – Studio
Review by Grace Hood-Edwards