Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts (Bunker Productions)


By Stephen Vagg

Independent production

If people are now having their mid-life crises earlier and earlier, does this mean that they’re going to die young?

For the sad characters in Stephen Vagg’s latest play, you might wonder whether it’s worth living at all, for they are so dejected that their idea of a good night out is the trivia night at the local pub. They’re all single not necessarily wanting to be, but mostly unwilling to commit to anyone long-term they’re all professionals, and they’re all either grinding away at unfulfilling jobs as low-grade conveyancing solicitors, or have given up paid work to write the Great Unpublishable Australian Novel.

Chief character Michaela (played so poignantly by Cindy Nelson that she made me want to weep) is returning to life after breaking both her legs falling off a roof (don’t ask!). The other major break in her life is with her boyfriend, the unspeakable Ben, because he dished her after the accident, and her whole life is now focussed on her team winning the trivia competition. In this enterprise she is joined by Garry, an endearing drop-out played by the wonderful Chris Sommers, who knows all the trivia answers and is perfectly lovely to Michaela in an entirely platonic way which makes you wish she’d just hop into the cot with him instead of languishing after Ben the Abominable (played by Michael Priest, and for those who have never seen him before, I’m glad to be able to report that he’s actually a very good actor rather than having been typecast).

Enter Francesca Gasteen as AJ, a screaming neurotic who may very well have been the reason why all her friends left Brisbane in Vagg’s earlier play of that name. Desperate for the love and sex she’s never going to get, she hangs around Michaela et al, who are far too well mannered to tell her to f-off, and creates more storms in a gin glass than one would have thought possible. The lust-worthy Aram (surely Tom Oakley has been typecast here) floats from one girl to another, totally untrustworthy but eminently forgivable by the women in his life; and Louise Alston has four roles to play, mostly as bitchy ball-breakers of various types, although they are too similar in character to allow her to make them easily distinguishable.

Between them, this little group may know all about cricket scores, movie stars and every other trivial pursuit under the sun, but their lives are as frivolous as their interests, and you want to tell them to get a grip and get over whatever it is that’s blocking their paths. But they can’t, and the appeal of the play is the ambivalent attitude we have towards them, for at one level they’re as genuinely comic as the cast of Friends, but on another as genuinely tragic as any teenager in the throes of adolescence. The trouble is that these people are all 30-something but at least they’re not snorting coke or downing E’s, as far as we know. What really worries me is that in 10 years they’re going to be running the country.

Stephen Vagg’s ear for current jargon, and his ability to create realistic characters, is so impressive that one could wish the play had a more serious sub-text, because as far as the dialogue goes, it’s as good as anything David Williamson can write. Vagg is brilliant at slick commercial comedies so slick that I wonder he hasn’t been grabbed by an Australian television company to write scripts but maybe it’s now time to turn his undoubted talent to something a bit more important than trivial people in trivial situations. I wanted at least a semi-serious theme in Trivia, if only to show that Vagg can give what he has always promised, a comic way of presenting problems that really matter. One day he’ll write his Mother and Son play, and then I know he’ll have come of age.

Directed by Stephen Vagg and Francesca Gasteen

Playing until 8 July 2006: Tuesday – Saturday at 8pm

Duration : 2 hours 15 minutes including interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Fri 30th June 2006)