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LIKE BEING AT A VERY FUN HOUSE PARTY

Print Version

NZ Fringe Festival 2013
RIDDIFORD STREET
Director: Daniel Pengelly
PlayShop

at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 26 Feb 2013 to 2 Mar 2013
[50 mins]

Reviewed by Charlotte Simmonds, 27 Feb 2013


Director and ‘brooding paramedic' Daniel Pengelly, together with his new theatre company Playshop, brings us Series #2 of a devised-improvised ‘medical soap opera drama comedy thingy'. I was present for Episode #1. The show is made up of a rotating cast of fifteen who have each worked on developing strong caricatures with specific roles within a hospital typical to the style of Shortland Street or Gray's Anatomy.

The audience being briefly canvassed at the start of the show for their choice of positive and negative events to take place during the episode (we opted for Christmas Miracle and Infestation), and the names of a few hapless audience members being quickly stolen to serve as non-participatory ‘patients', the cast - James Cain, Jed Davies, George Fenn, Brynley Stent, Lori Leigh, Chris Parker, Jimmy O'Donovan, Oliver Devlin, Callum Devlin, Patrick Carroll, Hannah McDougall, Calvin Peterson, Nathaniel Herz-Edinger, Daniel Pengelly & Phil Lawerence  (Oliver Devlin, “I'm not an actor; I'm a muso,” rustling up dramatic piano tunes) - dive headlong with great deftness, aided by the music and suitably cheesy lighting moments, into utter silliness.

Described in the publicity material as “New Zealand's raciest Medical Soap Opera Drama Comedy thingy”, the idea of spoofing well-known cultural icons with lampoons and slapstick gags is neither new nor tired, and no matter how easy or cheap banana-skin humour and innuendo might be, they never fail to produce laugh-out-louds from their audience.

‘Wet' humour will nearly always produce far higher numbers of these moments than intellectual, finely-honed, crafted, scripted moments of ‘dry' comedy which generally elicit little more than appreciative, admiring nods of approval.

What might be new is the concept of turning the narrative of serialised soap opera into a theatre experience in which the audience is unlikely to be the same from one performance to the next. The key to soap opera scripting is leaving as many tantalising threads hanging as possible, tying up none of your storylines and resolving few of your plot issues, ensuring a repeat audience night after night after night.

For a theatre production in the Fringe Festival, although the guaranteed income from such an audience would no doubt be extremely welcome, the cost of seeing the same show five nights in a row when so many other events are also going on might be a little prohibitive to the individual, and such cliff-hangers are not really possible.

Threads must be tied up, narratives must be closed, plots must be resolved or the audience arrives feeling confused, having stepped into the middle of a tense moment, and leaves dissatisfied, feeling grumpy that it paid $18 for one show but needed to see all five to get the full picture. Fortunately, we are not left with such cliff-hangers in Riddiford Street.

It would be interesting to see this outside of Fringe time, the episodes spaced out over time, as with Public Service Announcements, to cultivate a regular audience, building on the past, developing more inside jokes and creating added payoffs for seeing every episode. It seems PlayShop may have something like this in the works with Friday night shows at the Paramount beginning April 5.

On leaving, I was astounded at the accuracy of the patient release form I was handed, giving my diagnosis as “period pain” and my treatment “amputation xoxo”. How did they know about my endometriosis?! 

I have been bored by, and hated, many improvised shows in the past but I did not hate this one and would even go so far as to recommend it to a non-theatre-goer. Although I knew no one in the cast and few audience members, I came away with the impression of having been at a very fun house party surrounded by hilarious friends, which is really the end effect of television drama: that feeling that the entire cast are your personal friends, although I find television far less entertaining.  
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Comments

Uther Dean posted 27 Feb 2013, 12:51 PM
 

Totally agree with this review, had a great time last night.

It is, however, worth pointing out that WIT have been putting on soap opera improv (titled, I'm pretty sure but can't be bothered Googling, The Bold and the WITless) where the storylines develop over several or many shows. This is not to say that Riddiford Street is, by any means, any less fun because of the pre-existence of the form in the community, just to state that it is not as New an idea as this review posits.

Chelsea Hughes posted 27 Feb 2013, 12:59 PM
 

The WIT soap is called Young and the Witless.

Uther Dean posted 27 Feb 2013, 01:01 PM
 

That is a much better name.