Thursday, 10 December 2015

In A Bony Embrace - Curtin's Performance Studies & Hayman Theatre Company (8 December 2015)

April is breaking up with Sam over breakfast because she simply doesn’t find him funny anymore. Sam doesn’t find this especially funny either as they work in the same office. An office where Harry (presumably short for Harriet) and Danny decide to spontaneously be in love. Except Harry is somewhat more intense about this development than one might expect. An office where Matt is interested in April but isn’t particularly well versed in relationships despite the example of his annoyingly in love housemates, Lila and Gavin. 

Then again, Lila and Gavin’s relationship is headed for prickly territory as a cactus called Calamity comes between them, literally and alliteratively. Meanwhile April is keen to “get back on the horse” despite the reservations of practical colleague Sylvia. Her date with Jaxon, a slick dude who isn’t exactly lacking in confidence, ends in disaster. All the while ‘Jimmy’ and ‘Sally’ pontificate about the universe, love, and death.    

If this sounds like the premise for a sitcom you would be absolutely right. These characters, some more grounded than others, intersect and collide in various ways in familiar settings – the office, the shared house, the club. It is very funny, sharply observed, with some bizarre tangents that fit the sitcom format perfectly. The set is predominantly bright pink but full of bold colours that reminded me of the Ewan McGregor, Renee Zellweger movie Down With Love, itself a homage to the ‘sex comedies’ of the 60s.

The script by Gita Bezard is excellent with several sly writer gags (always guaranteed to hook me), cracking dialogue, and interesting takes on familiar devices – a Greek Chorus that narrates actions that a character isn’t undertaking which is a refreshing change; the ten self-aware characters periodically commenting on the emotional state of their collective while jostling for attention in line; and the one actor (Jessica Nyanda Moyle) playing both parts of the Jimmy/Sally tandem while enigmatically clutching an empty glass jar. I took this variously to represent the universe at one point but also the intangible nature of their love.

The play fairly rattles along with slick direction by Adam Mitchell as he keeps the actors hovering in the wings when not featured in what really is a series vignettes that all weave together. The transitions are like cuts to a new scene as actors rotate into the next sequence effortlessly. The sitcom analogy is an apt one in construction, direction, and pacing. One of the actors even offered afterwards that he was channeling a famous sitcom character for aspects of his role.

Which brings us to the ten actors from Curtin University’s Performance Studies. With such good writing and direction their characters were all distinctively drawn and they brought them to life with impressive craft and great comic timing.

Chelsea Gibson is the confident April who dismisses Sam at the start of the play and who carries the main narrative thread. Gibson gives April a sense of self-worth and purpose even when faced with the obnoxiously ‘superior’ Jaxon, played by Sean Guastavino with cringe worthy precision that was funny and infuriating. She also has the key monologue towards the end of the play that reveals the meaning of the title and shows a tender vulnerability that was compelling.

Alexander Gerrans imbues the dumbstruck Sam with recognisable and escalating fury as he tries to comprehend his girlfriend’s decision to dump him. There is a simmering energy to his performance as the anger unfurls only to be casually batted away by April’s indifference. 

Beth Tremlett and Nathan Whitebrook move from clingy couple to something altogether more interesting as the cactus subplot spins them off into strange territory indeed. Whitebrook’s Gavin has a disturbing infatuation with Calamity that he expresses with serene contentment, genuine concern, and irrational outbursts. This only fuels Tremlett’s Britney Spears loving Lila’s incredulity and refusal to change her ways for a plant. They bounce off each other well and the whole thing spirals out of control as relationships can do over the most ridiculous of things.

Anna Lindstedt is the straight to the point Sylvia who plays the office confidant with no nonsense practicality. Daisy Coyle and Tristan McInnes make a dynamic couple in the throes of first love. Coyle allows Harry to unravel in spectacular fashion ending in a triumphantly over-the-top announcement to colleagues at the bar. McInnes deftly exhibits increasing levels of bemusement over Harry’s antics (as if to say 'she’s craaaaazy!') while still committed to the thought of Danny being in love with her. There was a restraint here that was fascinating.

Jessica Nyanda Moyle’s character is the one that sits outside the main story and whose function seemed more to serve a thematic purpose than narrative one. She manages to express both poignancy and humour while inhabiting dual roles with subtle voice and facial changes.

Then there’s Kane Parker as Matt who is the other half of the equation in the main story thread. His character is treated as a bit of a loser but Parker shows him more as someone lacking in confidence and self-esteem who is merely trying to make a connection. His work with Gibson at the end is a quiet highlight amongst the craziness.   

Love, loneliness and connection are certainly foremost in the minds of all these characters regardless of how bizarre some sequences may be; the cactus as surrogate child one of many subversions of usual expectations. The bold set design and lighting was very good in the intimate space and I very much liked the subtle sound design as well.

This was a very well written, acted, directed and presented play with plenty of laughs befitting its sitcom DNA. I have seen plays before that didn’t seem to realise they were actually a sitcom and therefore failed but In A Bony Embrace knows exactly what it is and is expertly executed. It is a late year surprise and definite highlight to cap off Curtin’s 2015.  It is on at The Blue Room until 12 December.

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