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MUCH TO RECOMMEND IT AS A SHOWCASE AND TESTING GROUND FOR EMERGING TALENT

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BLACK ROMEDY
14 DAYS LEFT
By Jared Kirkwood
Directed by Jared Kirkwood & Richard Finn
FIGHT THE FAT
By Arthur Meek
Directed by Richard Finn

at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 18 Mar 2014 to 22 Mar 2014

Reviewed by John Smythe, 19 Mar 2014


As I understand it Jared Kirkwood's 14 Days Left is presented by recent graduates of the Whitireia's Bachelor of Applied Arts (Stage and Screen) and the team presenting Arthur Meek's Fight The Fat won a senior student pitching competition to gain this Bats double bill season. 

Jared Kirkwood has, with 14 Days Left, crafted a highly entertaining vehicle to showcase his versatile character acting skills in six contrasting roles. It would be romcom lite if it didn't start and end with a young man running on in a heighted state with blood on his hands. A lot of plot content is wrought into the 25 minutes, successfully in storytelling terms.

His central character, David, is a painfully shy office worker who, as the programme note puts it, “is infatuated with office babe Angie.” Yes, the characters are clichés; stereotypes which are not given the scope to register as archetypes. This works better for an actor playing multiple roles but it's a shame Sandra Malesic is confined to a simpering, air-headed giggler who falls instantly for David – as he does for her – with no insight as to why. It's simply a given so the story can build from neither knowing the other is attracted to them. Given the limits, Malesic does what's required of her well.

There is more dimension in the briefly-seen senior office worker Carol, which Kirkwood takes unto himself. The boss, Peter, is highly macho; the egotistical Gavin takes every opportunity to impress Angie with stories of his heroic adventures; Edward the IT geek is, well geeky.

To complete the sextet Kirkwood delineates with impressive skill, David narrates his fantasy version of his conquest of Angie in Raymond Chandler style (without resorting to an overt American accent which is a blessing – see below). There's a dance-off, too, which displays his physical skills.

It all stretches over the titular 14 days it takes for David to pluck up the courage to ask Angie to be his Valentine. And to get blood on his hands. Whether the book-ending device carries a meaningful insight – e.g. it is the ‘quiet, kept to himself' types who commit atrocities – or it's just a ‘gag' with which to package the play is one of the things we are left to decide for ourselves, along with who got killed and why.

Opening night is affected by a desk lamp blowing in the first few minutes. Destined to be creatively used, Kirkwood persists with the rehearsed but now ineffective choreography and even when lighting designer/operator Shaun Martin improvises a work-around, he still fails to find his light. This offers an excellent learning opportunity regarding that percentage of an actor which must remain responsive to the unexpected in the moment of performance.

Under the guise of a simple story about a couple of actors trying to make a go of it in Theatre In Education, Arthur Meek scores some good satirical hits. Fight The Fat is the title of the TIE play within the play, written by Laurel (Hannah Botha), who auditions Ben (AJ Murtagh) to be her co-performer in the low-budget but high-energy show. We get amusing snippets throughout that capture superbly the nature of such shows. 

There's a sad subplot regarding Ben's mum, played by a sock puppet (Botha). A corrupt Commissioner whose hunger for sponsorship from fast food multinationals threatens the integrity of the show, also socks it to us (Murtagh). A point about how much money is spent on dodgy market research studies, as opposed to delivering the show itself, is well made.

All seems set for another entertaining show, very well performed, until Murtagh suddenly brings American accents to various roles, most unaccountably to a bully in a Kiwi playground and a Pukeko in a Kiwi swamp (as part of the TIE play). I could shrug off the dodgy vacuum cleaner salesman being American (in a ‘real world' sequence) but even then I think it is essential to own up to such characters being part of our society too. It is simply banal to make every capitalist American.

As for the schoolboy and Pukeko … Let's say it happened as an ‘instinctive' – for which read knee-jerk cliché – offer during early rehearsals. What a great learning opportunity, in a performing arts course especially, to check that choice against basic principles of why we make theatre: to reflect our world, etc, etc. That the director – who is also Director of Stage & Screen Arts at Whitireia – could allow this to persist through to opening night is hard for me to fathom. (I'd be delighted to hear it was an opening night aberration born of nerves.) 

That aside, Black Romedy – which was greeted with whoops and applause by a highly supportive Whitireia audience – has much to recommend it as a showcase and testing ground for emerging talent.
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