While American audiences are waiting for The Hunger Games to blaze into movie theaters, Filipino audiences are getting a different sort of dystopian theater experience. A theater troupe has adapted Battle Royale for the stage, but there's something uncomfortable about watching teenagers pretend to kill each other before a live audience.
The Sipat Lawin Ensemble, in conjunction with Australian playwrights David Finnigan, Jordan Prosser, Sam Burns-Warr, and Georgie McAuley, have launched Battalia Royale at Manila's Cultural Center of the Philippines. By all reports, the play is a huge hit, with many folks getting turned away from the debut performance, and future performances set Quezon City at an abandoned high school (a rather appropriate setting).
Perhaps I'm just too accustomed to quiet theaters, but this video makes me a bit uncomfortable. As bloodless as it is (especially compared to the film version), the way the piece is staged with the audience sitting on all sides and the yelling from the crowd reminds me more of gladiatorial combat than a theatrical performance. (The shaking body on the ground probably adds to the effect.) Battle Royale is an examination of how different personalities react to a horrifying situation, and The Hunger Games comments on war and brutality as reality television. But at what point are we just getting our kicks watching kids destroy one another?
Obviously, it's hard to make a judgment from a single clip, and perhaps this is just a healthy expression of interactive theater. But it's important to consider why we're watching the things we're watching.