Shift Your Paradigm
Reviewed by Lox Dixon

Shift Your Paradigm (No Chairs Required) begins by welcoming us into the Dome space at BATS Theatre, for a chair seminar. The stage is sparse. Two cheap desks are set up, one to either side of stage, and an object (presumably a chair) covered by a sheet, sits atop a Persian rug centre-stage. I take my seat next to an amusing visual gag which is referenced by the actors at several points later in the show, a camera “cleverly” disguised as an audience member.

Colour-changing lights and 80s power ballad rock set the scene for a high energy, high pressure sales event. I am seriously concerned I won’t be allowed out without purchasing something. Zoe (Isabella Murray) takes the stage and immediately lets us in on a big secret via a pre-recorded video phone call with her real boss Caleb (Hamish Boyle). Her character is a journalist posing as a new recruit for Do-Be-Us, the aptly named Multi-Level-Marketing chair company. Shortly after, we meet Eric (David Bowers-Mason), the soon to be Do-Be-Us Senior CEO for the Wellington region.

Eric introduces himself to us through a series of well executed cliches including a Jordan Belfort “sell me this pen” reference. He immediately brings the audience participation we’ve all been expecting from this show, and it works well. As the show progresses, it is made clear that the smiling Eric is not as successful as he has led us to believe.

A few video calls from his clients/victims/downstream sales associates, an accidental call from a hapless elderly woman (Hilary Norris), and a very clever piece of visual work from the projectionist, shatter the thin facade of Eric’s big lie. Every aspect of his life is controlled by Do-Be-Us and its unscrupulous CEO “The High Chairman.” His family is worried about him, and the predatory nature of Do-be-us has left him in crippling debt to the company. The main message of this show is one that resonates in an era of misinformation and prevalent conspiracy groups attempting to gain political traction. When you find yourself isolated from friends and family, and in the midst of a beliefs-based group that frowns upon critical thought, it’s a tough hole to climb out of.

Triumphantly, the show portrays real emotional connection, and the unconditional love of a family member as the key to Eric’s redemption arc. At times, the pacing of this show flattens, but the dynamic presence of The High Chairman (Kevin Orlando) goes a long way towards regaining our full attention. There are moments where from the back of this theatre, bits of dialogue between Zoe and Eric are lost but this is nothing that some concentrated articulation and vocal projection exercises can’t fix.

The use of the projector and the graphics that it displays are wonderful, though I wonder if the pre-recorded video scenes may have been better as live off-stage performances. On the night I attended, there were timing issues, and it was difficult to tell which of these were intended, and which were a mistake.

There is a lot to the plot of this show, and much of it is told to us through heavy expositional dialogue. The writing could use some refining, and perhaps the reduction of a plot point or 3, though I will admit the “faxman” plotline was a nice twist.

Shift Your Paradigm is an innovative bit of new theatre, featuring some very strong acting performances and flashes of technical brilliance. It is a show that with a touch more development could reach the heights of greatness, and one that all involved should be proud of.