Wage Against the Machine
Written by: Matt Harvey
Directed by: Matt Harvey
Te Auaha Cinema, 2nd March 2023
Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds
In contrast to some of the more offbeat shows that the Fringe Festival serves up, Matt Harvey’s Wage Against the Machine is classic stand-up comedy – an hour of humorous stories spoken directly to the audience. Harvey talks us through his experiences working a variety of minimum-wage jobs, from a theme park to a sex shop, with the infuriating struggles of dealing with Centrelink (Australia’s version of Work and Income) in between.
Harvey has brought Wage Against the Machine to us across the ditch after having performed it in Australia already, but Te Auaha’s cinema is less than an ideal venue for a stand-up gig, with fluorescent lights and steeply tiered seats that make us feel disconnected, like we are staring down at Harvey from above. The movie screen behind him is also left blank throughout the show. Despite this, Harvey works well to connect with the audience, spontaneously picking out and commenting on our reactions to his stories, letting us know that he can tell when we have perhaps been through something similar. There is a genuine hopefulness and a sense of camaraderie in the telling of the story, and those with experience in customer service jobs particularly will find much to connect to in Harvey’s tale.
The humour is relatable and engaging as Harvey explains the feeling of being a cog in the machine, working boring jobs for corrupt and exploitative companies. The show digs into this idea, taking a satisfying dive into a powerful anti-capitalist message. Although much of Harvey’s story is centred on Australian politics, he does well to explain the context, such as Centrelink’s Robodebt scheme. In saying that, mistreatment by large corporations is not a foreign concept, and neither is anger at a poorly run social welfare system.
Harvey does well to cover a broad range of experiences, some of them quite bleak, all tied together with authentic, personable delivery that invites the audience in. “It’s okay, you can laugh”, he says. “I’m still alive. It’s fine.”