Presented by The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
Reviewed Saturday 3rd November 2012
The current production from The Guild, by playwright D. C. Jackson, begins with a new employee, Tom, being shown to his office by a young woman named Sasha, settling in and meeting other workers over the course of his first week and, ultimately, being invited to join the rest of them for a Friday night drink after work. If you have seen the film Alfie (the Michael Caine original, not the awful remake), then this first scene will have a familiar feel, as he continually turns to directly address the audience, briefly freezing the action in the play, while he expresses his true thoughts. He drinks too much that night and ends up breaking the cardinal rule of never getting romantically or sexually involved with workmates. He ends up going home with Amy, one of the women from the office, and sleeps with her. The next morning he finds that he has woken up with what has been humorously defined as “the worst STD in the world; a relationship”.
The second scene is the same, but this time it is seen from the Amy’s point of view, with her now stopping the action to address the audience instead of him. The collection of plays, The Norman Conquests, springs quickly to mind, where the first play is presented focussing on, and from the point of view of Norman, who seduces several women in the group. The other plays then focus on each of the women in turn, and see the encounters from their viewpoints. This play was then interrupted at that point by the interval, and one could be forgiven for wondering if the next act would find us seeing the scenario once or twice more from the viewpoints of others in the office, or perhaps their individual friends, continuing in the style of the aforementioned plays. Jackson is not so predictable.
The second act changes considerably from what appeared to be the direction that we were going before the interval. The playwright now cleverly moves on, having provided both viewpoints, and reveals the ensuing changes of attitude that they go through as they are forced to face and deal with the consequences of their actions, and their failure to earlier communicate clearly how they each felt about their ongoing affair. We also get to see a lot of the ‘emotional baggage’ that they are each carrying, with flash-backs to earlier times and their more formative years, as well as discovering where key people from their pasts have ended up today, juxtaposing the reality against the glorified memories.
Having a good script to work with is a distinct advantage, but that is not enough. We know that Shakespeare was one of the greatest playwrights of all time, but we have all seen some truly disastrous productions of his plays. A good script needs a good director and the Guild is fortunate in having John Wells to direct this piece, with Karen Burns as his Assistant Director. Wells knows that the way to make a comedy work is to direct it like a drama. He has focussed on casting the production well and drawing fully developed characters from his cast, and making their situations and interactions appear real.
The comedy then comes naturally, and is far funnier if you believe in and relate to the characters, than if a lesser director has instructed his cast to play it for laughs, overact, and push it to its limits, making sure that they emphasise every funny line. Those productions, and we see them all too often, leave audiences cold, or mildly amused at best. It insults the intelligence of an audience when a director thinks that this is necessary for them to get the jokes. Adelaide audiences are intelligent and informed. We can think for ourselves. Because Wells understands this, his production brings forth belly laughs. It also makes the transition to the second act cohesive, as comedy begins to give way to more serious matters.
His selection of Simon Davey as Tom and Bronwyn Palmer as Amy ensures some great interplay as the two create extremely believable characters, so realistic that, at times, you get an overwhelming urge to slap one or other around the head to try to knock some sense into them. The audience is definitely engaged by this production. Their characterisations are spot on and several members of the audience expressed their irritation with the often dislikeable main characters. This annoying quality of the two characters in the first act is essential to allow us to laugh at them, and also to allow them to change and develop in the second act.
These two are long-term dysfunctional singles, and you are sure to recognise people that you know in these seriously flawed characters. He is a player, she is desperate for a lifetime partner before it is too late, and they both try hard to ignore what should be obvious in the other person’s attitudes.
Sasha asks if he would like to hear her playing in a Samba drum ensemble, and he reads into this, through his overactive ego, that she is also interested in him as a casual bedroom partner. As well as the possibility of a sexual encounter, he also sees this as a way to make Amy dump him. He does not realise that she has asked everybody in the office. Justine Gaudreau-Fewster plays Sasha with just the right touch, giving her character a lot of energy and bounce, full of youthful enthusiasm and exuberance, and with a nice degree of naivety, allowing her to completely miss Tom’s intent when he attends the performance.
Alexandra Lopez and Nick Fagan complete the cast, switching from one character to another, sometimes in very quick succession. They encompass a whole range of diverse and very distinct characters, showing a superior degree of versatility in their performances.
The Guild has been responsible for a good many excellent and award winning productions, and this is certainly another in that category. Get a ticket as soon as you can because word spreads quickly in Adelaide and you do not want to miss out on this marvellous production.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Little Theatre, Cloisters, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide
Season: 7:30pm Tues to Sat to 17th November 2012
Duration: 2hrs 20mins (incl. interval)
Tickets: $23 to $28
Bookings: Trybooking here or BASS 131 246 or here