Multiple Bad Things

by | Jun 2, 2024

By Ash Cottrell

True to form, I had arrived at my favourite playhouse on Wednesday night without so much as the knowledge of a synopsis under my belt. This is how I choose to receive theatre or any art for that matter. In my experience, it is considerably more thrilling this way and every show is a delightful surprise. It also provides the impetus for a robust research period of discovery post show, where I learn about the derivation of ideas, the cast and crew and of course, the company that brought it to the stage. I also think that for the various purposes of review, it allows for an approach that is as objective as possible, without the weight of a preconceived notion of what’s to come.

Multiple Bad Things is one of the latest productions at, Malthouse Theatre brought to audiences by the internationally acclaimed, Back To Back Theatre. Having premiered last Wednesday night, the show finishes its run at Malthouse on Sunday the ninth, following rave reviews and accolades from the press and its audience alike.

I was intrigued to learn about Geelong’s, Back To Back, a proud theatre group that for the last thirty-something years have been a collective of people who identify as belonging to a neurodivergent group and/or having an intellectual disability. A delightful point of difference that created one of the more unique and inclusive perspectives that I have ever seen at a mainstage theatre.

Multiple Bad Things centred around what was ostensibly a workplace where four individuals engaged in a practical task that required teamwork and cooperation to complete. The workplace was depicted much like most contemporary vocational settings – comprised of complex individuals with competing interests, identities, experiences, and capabilities. Further, it depicted a workplace whereby it was evident that there were varying degrees of interest in the actual task at hand. Against the backdrop of woke postering, these individuals tried to navigate a culture probed by political correctness and self-righteousness as they worked to build something of relative beauty.

While the tone was primarily non-narrative and abstract in nature, there were some traditional narrative notes, culminating in a heart-warming and poignant crescendo characterised by frustration, sadness, and the zeitgeist thematic of emotional disconnection from everything that is supposed to be tangible. This was captured beautifully by the cast member who I believe embodied the heart and soul of the piece, Sarah Mainwaring, a theatre maker who has been working with, Back To Back for over twenty years.

Given the post-apocalyptic tone and setting of the play, the haunting soundscape Peter Monks created, complimented the world in a creepily appropriate way. The costume and set design by Anna Cordingley and set construction by Kinetic Sets provided a visually stimulating audience experience that was both eye-catching, post-apocalyptic and encompassed dramatic reveals in the final moments of the play.

The show’s only downfall, from my perspective, was somewhere in the realm of setting the scene. Because I don’t read a synopsis and choose rather for the play to take me on a journey, I was surprised to learn after the show that the characters were situationally at a workplace. This aspect of the storytelling was not clear to me during the show as I struggled to figure out how the pieces all came together. While the play’s somewhat non-narrative structure lended itself to a more abstract approach, I would have liked to have been more firmly planted on the ground with respect to where we were.

On the other hand, what has stayed with me is something that was felt palpably and conveyed convincingly and uncomfortably by the play. To quote the show’s copy, ‘in a world where self-righteously indignant voices so often drown out the most disenfranchised and vulnerable….’, this show brought to the surface a unique and too frequently, silenced perspective.

In my post-play research, I read that the directors, Tamara Searle and Ingrid Voorendt felt that an individual’s perspective is shaped by boundaries – a concept with which I had not given due thought. They encourage the audience to move into unfamiliar territory and explore something that might be uncomfortable and uneasy. It made me think just how elitist and privileged the experience of the performing arts can be, which can often come at the expense and disenfranchisement of neurodivergence and disability.

I always judge a piece of work not so much by how it makes me feel in the moment necessarily but if the work stands the test of time and manages to capture my thinking and imagination long after the viewing. There is little doubt that, Multiple Bad Things occupies the territory reserved for this kind of theatre. As the days go by, the show continues to pervade my thoughts which in my mind, makes it a powerful piece of theatre.

Image: Ferne Millen

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