Jack Mann Complex, 53 Solway Ave, Ilam (University of Canterbury's College of Education Campus), Christchurch

16/10/2013 - 26/10/2013

Production Details

Set in London, Kvetch is an outrageously funny adult insight to what people are really thinking; awarded ‘Best Comedy’ by The Evening Standard, in 1991.

KVETCH is a play about sharing with the audience your subconscious thoughts, whilst you’re talking to someone… because, of course no-one really says what they’re truly thinking.

A Jewish husband and wife and the mother in law, at home around the table. He invites his friend to stay. So we see and hear what each of them are saying and thinking as the conversation grows. Introduce the husband’s wholesaler, whom he loathes, but has to suck up to, and let the action begin…

Berkoff’s brilliance lies in his genius with words. He constructs moments like precision machinery that, once set in motion, drives home his points with a dark and furious passion for the comical truths that underlie, tease and torment our daily lives.

This production is advised for audiences of 18+ years. No Nudity or Violence, but Strong Adult Themes.

Kvetch manages to be both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply moving. Perhaps it will also be revealing and comically alarming, as each of us sees a little something in one or two of the characters.

Destined for a sell-out run this is a must-see show, where bookings are essential.

Oct 16th – 26th 2013 
(No show on Sunday) 
Jack Mann Drama Room, College of Education, Solway Ave, Ilam
Show starts at 7:30pm every night (No Latecomers) and runs around 1 hour 30 minutes 
Tickets are $22, available from t-phone: 963 0870

CAST (in order of appearance):
Donna:  Nikki Bleyendaal
Frank:  Derek Doddington
Mother-in-law:  Erin Colonna
Hal:  Scott Koorey
George:  Aaron Boyce

With thanks to Cheryl Anglesey for her directorial assistance as well as Jay Versteeg for her invaluable director's input and concise criticism.

Lighting design:  Mike Friend & Derek Doddington 
Technical:  Frank Connor 
Set design:  Derek Doddington 
Properties:  Diana Hinterleitner 

Theatre ,

1 hr 30 mins approx

Comic schadenfreude and self-reflection could bite deeper

Review by Erin Harrington 22nd Oct 2013

Top Dog Theatre’s premiere production in 2003 was Steven Berkoff’s West, so it is fitting that they return to Berkoff to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

Kvetch begins with domestic claustrophobia: on a whim, salesman Frank (Derek Doddington) brings his workmate Hal (Scott Koorey) home for dinner, surprising Frank’s wife Donna (Nikki Bleyendaal) and her elderly Russian mother (Erin Callanan). As the uncomfortable, stilted evening plays out, the action frequently freezes while the characters kvetch – that is: complain bitterly.

The play’s conceit is that they vent their deeply personal fears, frustrations and anxieties at the audience while the action around them freezes, and the result is sometimes deeply funny. 

Frank, a Jewish East End Willy Loman and a champion moaner, is plagued by a profound (and, to be honest, quite reasonable) sense of inadequacy; Hal has split from his wife and reeks of desperation; Donna is fearful of her husband’s scolding and fantasises about being violated by the dustman; her mother wants to die in peace.

In the second half we are introduced to George (Aaron Boyce), an alpha male who quickly falls on hard times. Their uncensored inner thoughts slide between self-pity, insight, delusion and violence. The refrain of “I’m afraid” asks the audience to consider how much our own lives are driven by fear and anxiety.

After the lengthy dinner party scene we move on to other sites of quotidian misery: a bedroom, a workplace and so on. These shorter scenes, while successful as standalone and interconnected pieces, don’t quite coalesce into a coherent plot. In particular, the way relationships shift at the play’s conclusion doesn’t ring true; the fault of the script more than the acting.

The performances are committed, although occasionally Kiwi accents peek through. Doddington and Koorey in particular embrace the physicality of ‘total theatre’, such that that their movements reflect their tortured inner monologues. The physical shifts between action and inner monologue are clearly rendered.

Becky Dower’s bold, stylised makeup draws attention to the lines and creases on the characters’ faces. This also serves to distance us from the characters, creating tension between the caricatures and their deeply personal, often painful digressions. Frank Connor’s lighting design offers heightened moments that reflect the characters’ fantasies.

The set (Derek Doddington) is sparse, and the performers use the space well. Despite the challenges presented by the play’s structure, the actors maintain a good sense of momentum, although this is sometimes jeopardised by surprisingly blunt blackouts between scenes. 

In his introductory remarks in the programme, Doddington, the company’s founder and artistic director, invokes the term “in-yer-face theatre’”: the sensational and confrontational style of theatre that came to infamous prominence in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. In this sense Kvetch, which premiered in 1987,is almost a period piece. But in a time when atrocities play out on prime time television as a matter of course, its brazenness and particularly its resolution are more titillating than outrageous, especially as in this production the tension between the base cruelty and violence inherent in the play’s lofty language is often defused through broad humour, rather than sharpened by it.

There are two short scenes in the second half that display this sharp edge, both of which are extradiegetic and, given this stated intention and Berkoff’s reputation for confrontational material, I wish that this nastiness and tension had carried through more strongly.

As an evening of comic schadenfreude and self-reflection, Kvetch absolutely succeeds, and it is both funny and entertaining. However, at half-time I overheard someone comment that the characters were horrible people but that once you’d accepted this it was “a bit of fun”. In this instance I would have preferred the sort of challenging balance between bite and fun that has been present in some of Top Dog’s other productions.


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