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Six Short Plays by Thomas Sainsbury

at Te Karanga Gallery, Auckland
From 14 Oct 2010 to 21 Oct 2010

Reviewed by John Smythe, 16 Oct 2010

Afflicted as he is with CPS*, it was perhaps inevitable that Thomas Sainsbury could not observe people in hotel foyers without imagining their stories and making playlets of them. And because his characters and the scenes they inhabit are so well crafted, it is not surprising that so many actors go down with CSNTS*, a condition that's rife among Auckland actors.  

Having mentored a series of monologues (by fledgling writers) most recently, Sainsbury opts for duologues this time: three set in hotel rooms and three set in the foyer, played in the traverse and fluidly blending to flow as one 75-minute piece. He directs them too, which may make him a little blind to how some of the actors could lift their games.  

Steven Maxwell and Aman Bajaj kick things off as Graeme & Sukdeep, both students, who work in housekeeping. That Graeme is a devious slacker while Sukdeep studies hard at economics doesn't stop Graeme assuming superiority … until he gets his come-uppance. A tendency to play the lines more than ‘be' the characters, and unconvincing activity in the cleaning department (spraying and polishing the same bit of furniture over and over) hold this scene back from packing the punch that it could.

As Arina & Kirsty, Virginia Frankovich plays the tolerance-tested American singing star (Kirsty) to Chanel Turner's intensely intrusive Arina: a huge fan and a purveyor of artificial plants who has won ‘an hour with Kirsty' through a promotional competition. When Turner ‘becomes' Arina rather than shows off her comedic acting skills, she'll get more laughs and the well-structured rhythm and flow of the piece will come into its own.

Claire Van Beek and Dena Kennedy counterpoint each other superbly as Nancy & Monique, although I have some questions regarding why Monique (real name Sandra) doesn't ask for payment up front and why she comes on so strong to the buttoned-down Nancy before her client's husband arrives. This is Nancy's surprise birthday present for a sex-addicted Leon …

The touching poignancy in Nancy's desire to ‘liberate' herself is nicely revealed but I wait in vain to discover what's driving Monique's extreme behaviour. This time it's the text that needs a tweak.

Vicente & Olga is poignant in a different way. Sainsbury's producer Roberto Nascimento takes the role of night shift manager Vicente with whom Marina Volkova's Russian mother Olga insists on conversing. This time the work elements and professional behaviour are entirely credible, setting Vicente light years away from Olga's state of loss and alienation. And yet loneliness and emotional disconnection can be a great leveller …

‘Best friends' since school days (like their mothers before them), now travelling together, Lisa & Tannis from Manchester reached a point that many encounter when out of their comfort zones and/or discovering new dimensions to life. In essence Jessica Joy Wood's Lisa is scared of difference while Lee Smith-Gibbons' Tannis welcomes it.

This compelling little comedy-of-anguish allows us to better understand the ‘whingeing Pom' syndrome while putting us on tenterhooks as to how it will end. Or not.

There is a change of style for Annie & Joshua, which takes the true trajectory of an entire relationship – including a ‘pre-nup': the whole catastrophe – and compresses it, with absurdist flair, into 10 minutes. Vulnerable after just breaking up with her boyfriend, front desk Annie is accosted by bellboy Joshua, a fantasist who has long dreamt of winning her love …
Fighting a cold that makes him adenoidal, Jordan Mooney makes a convincing fist of his seemingly impossible mission. It is Christabel Smith, however, who anchors Annie's vacillations from contempt to love and everything in between with such deep-felt sincerity that our willing suspension of disbelief is assured.

As usual I leave delighted at this enterprise and wondering if this is more ‘disposable theatre' from Sainsbury's one-man chain or whether his Hotel will be developed to meet its tremendous potential. Meanwhile it's well worth a visit.
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*Compulsive Playwright Syndrome | Can't Say No To Sainsbury
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