‘F*cking Ancient’ was self-actualising.
Over the past few years, we as a society have gravitated towards virtual interaction. Whether it be attending Zoom meetings with your work colleagues, catching up with friends via WhatsApp, or simply flipping through TikToks, the global pandemic has made us more technologically savvy and adept. The same can be said of theatre, which has embraced virtual storytelling as an innovative and easily accessible way for creatives to share their craft with audiences. This year’s Adelaide Fringe Festival offered a plethora of live shows for patrons to enjoy; however, its online catalogue has also offered an abundance of accessible talent. One such virtual highlight is Maggie McCormack’s insightful one-woman play, ‘F*cking Ancient’.
Conceived by McCormack as a visual memoir of sorts, ‘F*cking Ancient’ comprises of a series of anecdotal stories from her life as a 40-something woman in Naarm, Melbourne. McCormack freely discusses her experiences as a professional podiatrist, a middle-aged single woman looking for romance, and her quest for enhanced physical beauty. While the stories are presented randomly, their shared linkage to the overarching theme of self-acceptance makes them flow naturally.
A real benefit of having ‘F*cking Ancient’ presented virtually is its delivery. Each scene is framed as having McCormack speaking directly to the camera, allowing for an almost unnervingly intimate connection between her and the audience at home. We as an audience are invited to take on the role of confidant to McCormack’s secrets and exasperations. Unlike in a theatre setting, there is no mistaking that McCormack is directing her dialogue to each viewer individually, making it a truly poignant, unrestrictive piece of theatre.
Two of the most powerful moments of the 53-minute production are polar opposites in tone and placement. The first is an almost comical ‘exchange’ with an assistant of a cosmetic surgeon. McCormack, in character, talks to the camera as she evaluates the modifications that are scheduled to be made to her body – while also commenting on additional alterations that would surely improve one’s own sense of self. It is a truly uncomfortable moment that is sure to elicit questions in viewers’ minds as to what constitutes aesthetic beauty and perfection in modern society (and if it can, or should, ever be achieved)?
Contrasting this is a sombre moment towards the end whereby McCormack questions her motives for physical self-improvement after the sudden and untimely death of her 21-year-old nephew (for whom the production is dedicated). McCormack offers raw, unadulterated emotion when retelling the tragic story. The deeply personal tale, and McCormack’s recounting of it, provides ‘F*cking Ancient’ with a nuanced message that being altruistic is just as beneficial for the self as it is for others.
While ‘F*cking Ancient’ is first and foremost a theatre piece, the idea to film it is nothing short of inspired. Much of the success of this is due to the considered direction of Ngaire Dawn Fair. Fair demonstrates a flair for directing individualised stories, having previously helmed such productions as ‘MYLK’ and ‘The Village Bike’. The creative collaboration between McCormack and Fair illustrates a mutual understanding of personal storytelling. Fair herself appreciates the importance of keeping the story as intimate as possible, as it is a one-woman play at its core. Although ‘F*cking Ancient’ is filled with stories from McCormack’s life, it is the collaboration between the two women that make it so affecting.
Rounding out the production is Ben Prendergast. Donning several technical hats including lighting, sound, editing, and cinematography, Prendergast imbues ‘F*cking Ancient’ with a sense of contemporary familiarity. As society has become accustomed to sharing their thoughts online over the past two years, Prendergast frames McCormack’s stories in a relatable way (even down to occasional sound and image glitches – a la Zoom). The collaborative triad of McCormack, Fair, and Prendergast is made all the more impressive when considering ‘F*cking Ancient’ was filmed over the course of three days during the pandemic.
‘F*cking Ancient’ reminds viewers that the realms of theatre are uninhibited. The rich tapestry of theatre is made all the more diverse as festivals such as the Adelaide Fringe integrate virtual performances into their catalogues. This is a truly positive thing for filmed productions as they are free to explore beyond the perimeters of the stage. In the case of McCormack’s one-woman play ‘F*cking Ancient’, its marriage of personal anecdotes with global themes (and virtual distribution) which makes it a truly resounding piece of theatre. Regardless of relationship status, body type, or age – young, old, or even, yes, ‘ancient’, ‘F*cking Ancient’ is sure to resonate with anyone who watches it.
‘F*cking Ancient’ is available to stream online as part of the Adelaide Fringe. For more information about this or other Adelaide Fringe shows, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.