Consumerist Satire in Belfast - For a Limited Time Only!
Joe Nawaz examines the modern human condition moulded by nonsensical sales speak and skin-deep marketing in new one-man motivational juggernaut 'Hey You!'
Yes, you – Culture NI reader.
If you are fond of laughing and have had your fill of the hard sell in this life then theatre writer and director Joe Nawaz has the comedy show for you.
The festival publicist and former journalist has turned his hand to writing and directing comedy theatre shows in recent years and is bringing Hey You! to the fourth floor of the Wellington Buildings in Wellington Place from November 9 - 11.
The premiere stars local actor Aaron Hickland as American motivational speaker and creature of our times Brad Peelawn. Billed as a biting satire on consumerism, hope and the modern human condition, the show has been created with a view to developing Brad's character online and staging the show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next year.
The idea for Brad Peelawn – male nutrition and men's body shape specialist - came about when Nawaz analysed the late night advertisements and infomercials that popped up on his TV and computer screen, and he decided to explore how people are ‘constantly being told that they aren't happy with themselves’.
He feels we are overrun with infomercials for gadgets and how to ‘eat yourself thinner or think yourself cleverer’ and it got him thinking about ‘the ultra-consumerist norm that we all live under now, it's actually become a kind of terrifying moral cornerstone for modern existence’.
‘Everything has a price and we are constantly bombarded,’ says Nawaz. ‘If we just get enough money we will get this, that or the other, whether it's a product, a sense of well being, a lifestyle, of constantly being told we are not OK as we are.
‘I wanted to tap into the idea of the person who does that and what their psychological drive is and why they are doing that.’
Hey You! is Nawaz's first show since work through Shot Glass productions, with his theatre company partner John Higgins, was put on hold because of financing. The pair staged seven productions over two and half years and gained a reputation for putting dynamic new plays on in Belfast pubs and other accessible environments.
‘People came, drank and drama-d,’ he reflects. ‘It was all self-supporting. It is on temporary hiatus due to 'environmental circumstances'.’
Nawaz studied theatre for a time and loves writing, so being ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ is an enjoyable experience for him as he gets to be part of a festival rather than promoting it from behind the scenes.
‘I love the written word and I love how that translates into performance,’ he says. ‘And working in PR in the arts and seeing a lot of theatre in Belfast I was getting a bit depressed, personally speaking.
‘Theatre seemed to me as something that wasn't letting people into that world and there are all these codes and conditions, very formalised and appealed to a certain group of people.
‘I wanted to make theatre that I wanted to see and spoke to me and involved looking at the world in an interesting way and bringing humour to proceedings.’
Nawaz speaks of the obsession some writers have with a ‘local prism’ and creating shows about ‘Mammy's tattie bread or The Troubles’. He believes there is room for new, intelligent witty writing and hopes this is how his work is viewed.
‘That school of theatre constantly reexamining without learning anything about ourselves,' he explains. ‘I am just tired of it.’
‘We are so much bigger than that. Culturally we look inward too much.’
Joe is an admirer of works by Samuel Beckett, Owen McCafferty, Martin McDonagh, David Mamet, Eugene O'Neill, Dennis Kelly and Jimmy McAleavey.
‘I am a big fan of Jimmy McAleavy. He writes really intricate stuff and it is about here but it looks at our place here and the condition of what it is to be from Belfast and the north of Ireland in a really interesting and unique way. And he sees interconnections between a whole array of things. He is a great writer and very funny.’
Nawaz describes his new character Brad Peelawn as ‘one of those frictionless, all hair and teeth, motivational speakers, three times international bestselling author – whatever that means’.
‘It is the art of saying a lot without saying anything and using buzz words to bring people in. He is there essentially in a room talking to a bunch of people who want to have the perfect male figure and talking to them.
‘It examines ideas of masculinity and this notion that men are quite unreconstructed still in spite of the fact we live in politically, thank god, more politically correct and advanced times.
‘There is still this thing in a lot of men that they have buried that patriarchal sexism beneath it,’ he adds. ‘Brad kind of helps to unlock that.’
Nawaz describes the current ‘pathetic movement’ around male superiority as ‘bullsh*t’ and says Hey You! is satirising this and the idea in America that everything can be sold, that everything has a price.
‘Brad has his on stage life and he has a private existence,’ he explains. ‘There is a whole history in the theatre and the arts of these beguiling messianic snake oil charmers such as Elmer Gantry, who are trying to sell something but inside they are conflicted. Brad has conflicts going on that get exposed during the night.
‘I was sitting with the actor Aaron when we were rehearsing and he said if you look at some of this stuff you could take it at face value, it just sounds like an infomercial. There is people who would go in and think it is real and think 'where do I sign up for this'.
‘That is the terrifying thing about it. You don't have to do much to create theatre out of it because it's so theatrical it is ridiculous.’
He compares Peelawn to US Presidential candidate Donald Trump, ‘a vessel to fill up with whatever he thinks people want to hear from him’.
‘He reflects what people want to see,’ says Nawaz. ‘That is what modern American capitalism is about and it's all pervading and we don't even see it, it's so subtle.’
However Nawaz admits to in some ways falling for the marketing and advertising messages himself, often counting calories and studying nutritional content on packaging.
‘They have been exploiting and deranging women's senses for decades and it was the turn of men. I guess you could call it some kind of equality of the sexes through the liberating force of capitalism!
‘It is good to think about your health but it has been comodified,’ he adds, ‘it should not be something that is sold to us. I put in 'men's diets' in 'The Google' and thousands of different websites are selling the same ideal. For just £19.99 this is the product that will turn your life around...’
People can expect a 'Brad Peelawn Academy of Male Beauty and the Sciences' YouTube channel to emerge soon, but for now you have another chance to catch Hey You! following its premiere.performance at the Belfast Comedy Festival last month.
‘I am very, very excited,’ says Nawaz. ‘I heartily recommend anybody who has had their fill of the hard sell to come down. This is the soft sell but it is a really, really funny show.’
Accidental Belly Laughs presents Hey You! on the 4th floor of Wellington Buildlings, Wellington Street, Belfast at 8pm from November 9 -11. Tickets from £6 can be booked at https://accidentaltheatre.co.uk/box-office/hey-you.