Ha Ha Ha! Plop!

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts (Switchboard Arts in association with JWC)


Pro/Am production

If you’re wondering what the title is all about, the JWC brochure enlightens you, “Laugh till your head falls off.” Hmm. Unfortunately it appears to have nothing to do with what the show is about, except as a desired effect of the production by The Banoon Community Players of their Christmas spectacular called 25/12. So, is irony at work here? Is this the ultimate in post-modern voyeurism? Let’s all laugh at the ineptitude of a typical country amateur theatre group in rehearsal. Ho hum!

But there’s some complexity here. 25/12 is subtitled “A Collage Drama Slash Opera Piece in Three Acts” and is the result of a collaboration with the Banoon Community Players with their professional director Jacques Weiss (Daniel Evans) who came second to Mel Gibson at NIDA and dedicates his direction (noticeably not the show itself) to Cate, Toni, Judy and Geoffrey. Monsieur Weiss, who wears a red beret and rather strange plus-fours, has included some rather laborious Director’s Notes in the program which speak at length of his “intensive collaboration” with the amateur Players. A play within a play no less.

I’m desperately trying to make excuses here, and I’m sad that the very talented Daniel Evans might have this as a blot (or even a plop) on his writing career. I think his style can be seen in all the program notes actually. The program is funnier than the show itself. His recent Holy Guacamole and The Reunion were both clever, very funny, and giving evidence of a real grasp of what works in theatre. Evans’s monologue as Jacques Weiss about being a director, which I presume he wrote himself, was really quite absorbing, but he needs to work on his articulation (I haven’t seen him actually on stage before) as indeed do some of the others. Perhaps this show is merely the result of a good idea (after all, who hasn’t suffered through some pretty bad Christmas pageants at this season in years past?) being mangled by a group of workshopping egos, many of whom have worked together before, rather than being left in the hands of a single “Creator.” Not a particularly appropriate allusion, given the topic, I’m sorry. Maybe that’s the point though.

Studio 4 at the Judy is sometimes used as a theatre restaurant and sometimes as a rehearsal space, and for this show it has a sort of transverse playing space in the middle with seats in rows and a few high tables and stools behind them. This was the Banoon Church Hall, and it was bare and grotty enough (just a couple of black boxes as a stage) to be convincing.

Before the rehearsal began, two of the most annoying audience inter-actors I’ve encountered embarrassed people as they arrived. One was a very strangely garbed creature with a Scottish accent and a hooded fur jacket who was perhaps meant to be the resident church hall rodent. She handed out the program. The other was a Manuel-from-Barcelona-type waiter with a moustache who was selling raffle tickets. I’m still not sure whether or not the tickets and, for that matter, the moustache were for real. Manuel then brought out a ladder, climbed to the top of it with a guitar and played 5-second melodies he had composed for various members of his family who had been killed in a car accident, including the dog who had caused the accident. As a solo bit of black humour it was surprisingly unsuccessful.

And so to the rehearsal, which was fittingly chaotic and became increasingly tiresome. The lighting was deliberately messy, with lots of blackouts in the beginning and torches held under chins for gruesome effect, four sexy boy singers, a smoking paedophile Santa, a voice-over Chaser-style spruiker, the Son of God (or Man?) in a disposable nappy and nothing else except reindeer antlers, the hand of God (one of those things you see being held up at football matches) which impregnated the two female “Flaps” — were these vagina substitutes? O dear, what a mess. Shock, horror. And over all this ruled the director who was desperately channelling Mr G — in fact Summer Heights High seemed to have affected the style of a number of the players. Chris Lilley, you have a lot to answer for.

The centrepiece of the rehearsal drama was the late arrival of Stefanny (Daniel White) who had been having trouble choosing the right leotard to wear, and who was desperate to be the main dancer. Mind you, with the enormous phallus bulging at the crotch of her pink leotard, her ambition was always going to be difficult to achieve. Not for Stefanny (nor indeed for whoever was the unseen and unrecorded real director of the show, if indeed there was one) the rock-star, handkerchief-down-the-pants, aren’t-I-a-stud look. This phallus was gi-normous, and it captivated the eyes, deliberately, of all the cast members and, of course, of the audience. Well, at least it brought some easy laughs.

Just before we left at interval, we spoke to the three young Italians in the row behind who had found details of the show on the web and had come along thinking that it sounded like a good night out. They were mystified. There’s enormous energy and loads of talent on display here, but it is such crass and tedious material that it all seems a waste of effort. I marked this as a pro/am production deliberately, partly because that reflects what 25/12 is supposedly about, but also because the production doesn’t warrant the designation of professional, even though many of the people involved have been in professional productions and are obviously hoping to make a career out of treading the boards. I don’t think production this should loom large on their CVs.

Directed by several “Creators”

Playing Tues 11 Dec — Wed 12 Dec, Fri 14 Dec — Sat 15 Dec at 8pm.

Duration : 1hr 45mins, including one 20-minute interval.

— Barbara Garlick
(Performance seen: Mon 10th December 2007)