This is not the first time director Paul Osuch has taken on a uniquely Brisbane-based Stephen Vaag script, nor the first time he has managed to score a hit with the audiences. Friday Night Drinks is the latest to come from the Borderline Defamation Productions team, and like past Stephen Vaag plays (All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane, Dirty Caff) Osuch seems to have found himself a production with all the hallmarks of another Cement Box hit.
Friday Night Drinks comprises four short plays, all centred around well-known Brisbane drinking holes and all taking place on a Friday night. All four have a romantic context or sexual sub-theme, involving relationship break-ups, start-ups and renewals with a bit of sex for the sake of sex thrown in for good measure. The four stars of the show each play three or four different roles, presenting them all with the opportunity to shine. Not to mention the diverse assortment of characters, such as drama-queens, “fag-hags”, Christians, lawyers, social workers and jealous ex’s that ensure that the laughs keep coming.
The four plays all have their roots in comedy, some achieving this with more success than others. The first of the four, centering on Jonathan Brand as Terry, provides plenty of laughs and familiar names and places to get the audience hooked, but unfortunately fails to cash in at the end, finishing rather unsatisfyingly on what seems to be an unfinished note. Likewise, in the third play the transition between drama and humour gets a little bumpy and instead feels more like an awful lot of ups and downs. The sexual tension between the two characters burns and at the end of the long dramatic build up of the relationship, the flippant “comic” conclusion leaves the audience feeling, if not cheated, then at least disappointed and certainly confused as to the point of it all.
The set design is simple; just enough to indicate the change of location, and the synchronised music and floor lighting sequence between the scenes give the production a subtle professional touch. Between scenes the changeovers seem to drag on a little (although out of necessity I imagine) and watching crew members rearrange props is a little distracting, but otherwise the technical side of things seems to run smoothly and efficiently.
Jonathan Brand gives consistently solid performances across the four plays; Alex McTavish really hits the mark in the final play of the show as the cigarette-rolling Caro, while Greg Eccleston is adequate if not especially groundbreaking in his four roles. Cindy Nelson steals the scene more than once, showing a talent for comic timing and characterisation as lawyer Chris in the second play and drama-queen Janine in the last. But by far the most admirable feature of the cast is their ability to work as an ensemble, demonstrating a rare talent for maintaining believable character interaction even in different roles and different scripts.
All in all, Friday Night Drinks is an enjoyable and very watchable piece of theatre. Brisbaneites will appreciate the little local idiosyncrasies Vaag litters throughout the script and the self-deprecating sense of humour that goes with it, while for the outsiders out there, the universal theme of having one too many ensures it will be a memorable night out for all.