In November 2011, four Australian playwrights travelled to Manila to collaborate with site-specific experimental theatre company The Sipat Lawin Ensemble on a stage adaptation of Japanese pulp thriller Battle Royale.
Battalia Royale was attended by more than 4,500 people, and by the final performance, international media outlets the likes of Reuters, CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera were attending the show and drilling cast and creatives alike with the same question: ‘Has the kids-killing-kids craze gone too far?’
And has it? Was it reckless to produce a piece of glossy, hedonistic pulp-violence in a country where teenagers of the very same age as our characters are being dragged in to a civil war, armed and forced to kill each other? How did the cast feel about being idolised as sadistic mass-murderers? And what happens when a team of naive Australian writers come face to face with an experimental Filipino theatre company?
Kids Killing Kids is a part-narrative, part-documentary dissection of the project by members of Sipat Lawin and their Australian collaborators employing performance and rehearsal footage, interviews, personal stories, open discussion and reenactment to reflect on the qualities of cross-cultural collaboration, contemporary Filipino culture and the nature of onstage violence.
Myself, Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley and Jordan Prosser created Kids Killing Kids in 2013, as an attempt to get to grips with the Battalia Royale experience. (You can read more about the Battalia experience here.)
We were backed by MKA producer Glyn Roberts, who encouraged us to make the work into a full theatre show, and found us funding and support. Director Bridget Balodis came on board and helped us shape our story into a work of documentary theatre, and we presented a season at the North Melbourne Town Hall.
There was a strong response to the show – packed audiences and heated debates, like a much smaller version of the controversy around Battalia Royale itself. You can read a sample of people’s reactions in this review round-up – it was a divisive work, to put it bluntly.
Kids Killing Kids was awarded Best Experimental Performance of Melbourne Fringe 2013, and toured to Sydney and Newcastle.
In 2014, we presented a new version of the work for the Next Wave Festival in Melbourne. This time, we were joined by five members of Sipat Lawin: JK Anicoche, Ninya Bedruz, Ness Roque, Sarah Salazar and Alon Segarra. And once again, the work sold out, and once again, the reactions were strongly divided – see this review round-up from our second season.
Directed by Bridget Balodis
Designed by Melanie Koomen
All images by Sarah Walker.