26/10/2013 - 09/11/2013
Push The Envelope
Your job sucks, your boss is horrible and your workmate is a weirdo. Welcome to the post office, trainee, now don’t forget to smile.
This Kiwi black comedy follows three tragic misfits in their desperate search for connection in the worst workplace in the world.
Postal is based on Lucy O’Brien’s experience working for Australia Post. She says, “It was one of the worst working experiences of my life. Part of that was because I had an incredibly overbearing, evangelical boss and part of it was because I was simply crap at the job. The bottom line is – nobody goes into a post office because they want to, not really. They’re always there to pay a bill, do the banking, stuff that’s really just an inconvenience to their day. I couldn’t deal with all the flustered, miserable faces. But I was determined not to give up, so I started writing about it as a kind of therapy, which is where Postal was born.”
Contains Mature Themes
At the forge at The Court Theatre
26 October – 9 November 2013
Show Times: 7:00pm Mon & Thu, 8:00pm Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat.
Tickets from $22 at www.court.theatre.org.nz or 963 0870.
Fanti – Rashmi Pilapitya
Michael – Damien Avery
Celine – Rutene Spooner
Woman – Rebecca Gumbley
DESIGN & CREW:
Director – Melanie Camp
Set Design – Mark McEntyre
Lighting Design – Sean Hawkins
Costume Design – Annie Graham
Sound Design/Operator – Giles Tanner
Properties – Lydia Foate & Anneke Bester
Stage Manager – Jo Bunce
Production Manager – Mandy Perry
Frustrating yet effective entertainment
Review by Erin Harrington 05th Nov 2013
Fanti, the upbeat Sri Lankan manager of a local post office, has been asked to feature in a human resources video. She grins manically for the camera while trying her best to play the part of the ‘good’ immigrant, but she has difficulty hiding her disdain for her colleagues and her anger at the indignities of her new life.
Her trainee, who Fanti keeps calling Fiona but whose name we never learn, is a frustrated, struggling solo mum who craves some adult company and resents being in a dead-end job where she is expected to be an uncomplaining cog in the machine.
Not-Fiona’s workmate Michael is a highly strung stamp collector with few social skills and a bit of a mean streak. Michael is having an ongoing clandestine telephone relationship with Celine, a buxom brunette he’s never met, who has her own secrets and more than anyone else is struggling for acceptance.
These dramas, both petty and profound, for the most part play out at the post office, a claustrophobic and bland workspace that comes to stand for the restrictions and injustices of adult life. The way that these characters interact as they both search for control of their lives and for meaningful connections, all while inadvertently undermining one another, makes for some very uncomfortable and dark humour.
Rashmi Pilapitiya, as Fanti, is exuberant, energetic and increasingly unhinged. Damien Avery’s performance of neurotic, unlikable Michael, while occasionally cartoony, is physically precise and sharply pitched, and Rebecca Gumbley plays not-Fiona with kindness and empathy. Rutene Spooner brings a quiet dignity to Celine without letting her slip into parody or caricature.
The set (Mark McEntyre) and props (Lydia Foate and Anneke Bester) aptly and believably represent the banal workplace while mimicking the inoffensive design of New Zealand Post shops (and shoddy tearooms everywhere). Lighting (Sean Hawkins) and sound (Giles Tanner) are largely environmental, but provide a few excellent tongue-in-cheek moments.
Annie Graham’s costume designs, especially the post office uniforms and NZ Stamp Month promotional shirts, successfully augment (or, in the cases of the uniforms, inhibit) the actors’ characterisations. The scene transitions are efficient and sometimes entertaining, in particular one mess-making running gag.
However, all these individual elements don’t entirely cohere into a well-rounded show, and from a critical perspective this is a very frustrating play. The action is set predominantly in a post office in the lead up to Christmas – and it’s also ‘New Zealand Stamp Month’, an excuse for conflict that feels thoroughly shoe-horned in – yet there are never any customers (or, if there are, and we are more than just the fly on the wall, this isn’t made obvious).
Sometimes the relationships feel forced, and in places it is very difficult to understand logic behind the characters’ motivations or decisions. With the exception of Celine, who is easily the most sympathetic of the four, it doesn’t feel like the characters develop in a satisfying or believable way.
The biggest issue, though, is the framing device: Fanti opens the play by addressing an invisible camera crew, yet the reason for this is never fully explained beyond it being a human resources film featuring an immigrant. Most frustrating of all, this construct is poorly integrated. The staging is such that it is often unclear as to whether the characters’ direct address is to the camera or to the audience or just stagey introspection, and as a theatrical conceit it quickly feels contrived. As such, some of the choices made in terms of script and direction offer more questions than they do answers.
Despite these issues, Postal is an effective piece of entertainment. The characterisations are enjoyable and the performances are energetic and focussed. There is a good balance between humour, pathos and nastiness. There are places where the action flows beautifully, such as an uncomfortable dinner date between Celine and Michael or at the beginning of the staff Christmas party, largely because in these instances it feels like the characters are driving the story and not the other way around.
The play is warmly received by the audience, and at its close the woman next to me takes off her glasses, wipes away her tears of laughter, and says “That was good! That was so good!”
This production of Postal works very hard to transcend the problems with the script, and while for me it doesn’t always succeed, that doesn’t stop it from being a great deal of fun and a keen reminder of how awful it is to be in an environment where you are considered to be less than human.
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Flawed but funny Postal a pleaser
Review by Alan Scott 28th Oct 2013
Postal is a very funny play in both senses of the word. The audience was often in stitches at the antics of the characters and the frequently amusing lines.
Yet, there were odd things going on. The setting is a Post Shop, but there is never a customer to be seen. The supervisor constantly addresses the audience without there being a lot of theatrical sense in this.
A central character is stressed by the boring, repetitive, stultifying work, but it is hard to see this in the context of the shop and none of the characters seem to have moved much at all by the end of the play.
But let us be clear. An academic analysis of a play and an audience’s perception of it are two different things. Thankfully, I am member of the audience, as well as a critic, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was crazy, quirky and frequently over the top and all the more pleasing for that.
At the same time there were moments of real anguish and pathos peeping through the humour, as we saw the effects not just of repetitive work, but of the way life deals to us all.
Interestingly, for a comedy, it is hard to empathise with any of the characters. Playwright Lucy O’Brien thankfully keeps them real, but she manages to makes us laugh along with them and not just at them. Her script, while flawed, is frequently first rate and innovative in its approach.
Actors, Rasmi Pilapitiya, Damien Avery, Rebecca Gumbley and Rutene Spooner do really sterling work here, too, with each of them conjuring up believable if odd characters. They are prone to exaggeration at times, but that’s what makes it funny.
Postal is an unusual but very entertaining play.
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Hamming things up in the interests of raising a laugh
Review by Lindsay Clark 27th Oct 2013
Some people, it must be said at the outset, enjoyed this play and applauded cheerfully. There was even spontaneous applause as telephone sex had its climactic moments. I was not able to see the play, the direction or the playing so positively.
The setting is a postal service centre – wonderfully topical would be a first thought. In fact, it could be anywhere where a trainee is being thwarted in a repetitive and static job. The real action, such as it be, takes place between characters and for me, the evening’s big disappointment lies in the lack of a consistent or believable approach to their development.
Billed as a black comedy, the play can claim the general territory of problem laden communication, sad self-preoccupation and cultural myopia. The supervisor of the service centre is a relentlessly smiling Sri Lankan woman, who, mystifyingly, also does the chores as well as cleaning up after most scenes. Her trainee assistant, who would rather be a painter, is having a hard time coping with the tedium of the scanner, but finds a temporary relief in chatting up her male colleague, an obsessive philatelist, himself in deep thrall to an internet/ telephone relationship – hence the ‘adult themes’.
Scenes are disconcertingly short and it takes a good while for me to find a coherent direction as they skitter by. At times too, actors suddenly swerve into direct address, presumably to flesh out our understanding of their circumstances and feelings, though these are really too shallow and inconsistent for this strategy to amount to more than distraction for me. Their tantrums may be intended as farce. It is difficult to know.
The cast push on regardless, hamming things up in the interests of raising a laugh, and more often than not succeeding in spite of their difficult circumstances. As Fanti, the voluble Sri Lankan, Rashmi Pilapitya is a bright and frankly, puzzling presence as she poses for the closed circuit security device. The desperate trainee is played solidly by Rebecca Gumbley, partnering Damien Avery as the neurotic Michael. Rutene Spooner, the tranny, flashes about as yet another unhappy ‘woman’. S/he settles for a very cute dog – playing only itself.
Not every play in The Court’s studio programme can have the wow factor, or appeal to everyone, but given the time and resources each production swallows up, it remains disappointing to see material fall so far short of usual standards.
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