‘Jack Sharpe and The Curse of The Forbidden Fruit’ was confronting.
Presented by Fake Blood, in conjunction with Backbone Festival, ‘Jack Sharpe and The Curse of The Forbidden Fruit’ is a passion project that doubles as a critique of sexism in movies and popular culture from the 1920s to now.
In preparation and creation of the work, Ashlynn Parigi, Jaycob Beven-Delaney, and Eli Bunyoung watched 320-400 films from the 50s to now. As writers, directors and performers, they included many, some 48, quotes from those films in their show.
This is Fake Blood’s second production of this show; ‘Jack Sharpe and The Curse of The Forbidden Fruit’ is a one-act piece following an Indiana Jones-inspired plot. Jack Sharpe and Lady Penelope race against Dr. Invictus to find the Garden of Eden and the Forbidden Fruit. This show appears as a fun adventure from the outside, but the audience is slapped in the face with its core message as soon as the curtains part.
This work is a commentary on sexism in cinematic history, the evolution of the adventure genre, and the effect these movies have had on our society. The plot starts in the 50s – although unclear at first – and audiences are met with Lady Penelope who reveals that the closer the team gets to the forbidden fruit, the further forward they travel through the decades in both situation and quote. The Forbidden Fruit represents the knowledge of sexism in cinema and the world; any character that takes a bite has that realisation and ultimately removes themself from the narrative.
Fake Blood had access to the Ron Hurley Theatre for their production, a nice upgrade from their humble beginnings at BackDock Arts. This time, they had a projector screen and a lot more lighting equipment to access than the previous rendition.
During pre-show, the projector was used to play parodied iconic movie trailers and classic Australian adverts that starred the cast; straight after, it was used to play the story of Adam and Eve, which once again featured the cast as Adam (Bunyoung), Eve (Parigi), and the Serpent (Beven-Delaney). Later in the piece, the projector was used to show an opening credits scene and display the source of the quotes. At the close of the show, it also featured a Tonight Show interview with the cast playing themselves.
The only other technical element used throughout the show was some minor lighting changes, designed by Noah Milne. The most dynamic choice being a slow fade to black during the show’s end scene.
Sound was also minimal in this production. There were sound effects for guns, running water, and slapping/punching, but aside from that, there were only two songs. The opening number, “A Guy is A Guy” by Doris Day, had Ashlynn appear as herself and performed a lip sync dance with Jaycob, which hinted at the journey ahead. The second song, “The Adventure Movie Song” by Bee-Bee Riot, was written for this production. This song was played during the opening credits displayed on the projector.
The show featured minimal set and props; entering the theatre, two skeletons met the audience on either side of the stage’s apron. Each scene featured a table and chairs, a Greek-style podium, or a bare stage with vines and plants on the back wall, all minimalistic but effective choices.
Costuming did not vary much in the show, other than that of Lady Penelope. She changed costumes to match the various decades throughout the show. Lady Penelope starts in heels and a button-up shirt under a black dress; changing each period until she finished in a form-fitting Lara Croft-inspired outfit.
Ashlynn Parigi, Jaycob Beven-Delaney, and Eli Bunyoung wrote, directed and starred in this performance. The trio have done well to create a show that appears as an adventure-style piece of theatre but which tackles the issue of sexism in the cinema industry head-on.
The beginning of the show features Parigi, as herself, addressing the audience on how the show functions. Parigi explained that every time a quote was said in the show, the movie’s name would appear on the projector screen and disappear after the quote was finished. This was an informative way to show the audience the impact of words through the years.
Following this, Parigi and Beven-Delaney did a lipsync performance to “A Guy is A Guy” by Doris Day. The choreography was simple and directly linked to the lyrics, both of which slowly got darker. The first second of that song became a recurring motif throughout the show, played whenever something inherently sexist happened that wasn’t a quote. Having this initial performance of the song become a motif aided the audience in understanding the message being presented.
The trio also used the space very well from the beginning: cast members sitting in the audience for a university lecture scene, Jack Sharpe having intimate relations with one of the skeletons on the side of the stage, and Dr. Invictus using Lady Penelope’s heels to climb the wall on the very back of the stage are just a few examples.
The piece worked well as an adventure show with a prologue/exposition scene that set the tone; the end featured a Tonight Show interview segment featuring the cast as the actors that played their roles. An unseen interviewer asked the cast questions that were direct recordings of those asked in actual interviews. Beven-Delaney and Bunyoung were asked average questions, but Parigi was asked sexist questions such as “Were you able to wear undergarments?” – a question once asked of Scarlett Johansson in a formal interview.
During the interview, Parigi and Beven-Delaney both ate apples, which were also the “Forbidden Fruit” during the show; they are both seen having a silent realisation of how sexist the world they were in is and removed themselves. Although a great concept, it could have been made more evident to the audience. Audience members only fully realised the meaning behind that moment once when it was explained during a post-show Q&A with the cast.
Aside from the unclear moment with the apple, the Tonight Show segment was a great final scene to end the piece. Unfortunately, after the scene ended, the show morphed into a podcast segment, which clouded the ending. The intention of the podcast was clear, showing that sexism still exists in the world today, but the scene might need to be worked on to feel more connected to the rest of the show.
Ashlynn Parigi played Lady Penelope; it was clear from the beginning of the show how much research she had put in to portray the sexist stereotypes in adventure accurately. From the costumes to the characterisation, Parigi made it clear how Penelope changed from decade to decade.
Jaycob Beven-Delaney portrayed Dr. Invictus, who walked a fine line between antagonist and ally. A firm highlight from Beven-Delaney’s performance was when he appeared on the outside of the plane Lady Penelope and Jack Sharpe were travelling on; his physicality convinced the audience that he was outside a plane and received loads of laughs.
Eli Bunyoung was Jack Sharpe, the Indiana Jones-inspired adventurer. Jack Sharpe spends a lot of the show making sexual advances with Lady Penelope, who, most of the time, declines. Bunyoung clearly showed a limited amount of growth in Jack Sharpe compared to Lady Penelope and Dr. Invictus, which reflects the lack of development of some in the world today.
Overall, the trio had fantastic chemistry and made the show entertaining despite the underlying difficult subject matter.
‘Jack Sharpe and The Curse of The Forbidden Fruit’ performed on the 19th and 20th at the Ron Hurley Theatre. For more information, visit the Backbone website.
Photos by Jade Ellis Photography