Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
25/09/2012 - 29/09/2012
I don’t think another drink will make me feel any better . . . Oh, all right then. But make it a small one.”
A speakeasy is a saloon or club where the illegal alcohol ran as freely as people’s tongues. Three of Auckland’s theatre and literary veterans have brought together seven short tales of confessions and vices, desperation and obsession.
“I walked along the street wondering if I could prostitute myself. I was like ‘hey boys’ to a car driving past thinking they might want me for fifty bucks. They yelled at me and threw a can at my face.”
PERFORMED AT THE BASEMENT, LOWER GREYS AVE
Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 September, 8pm
Lively, engaging and surprisingly cohesive
Review by Poppy Haynes 26th Sep 2012
An unlikely pair sinking highballs in a prohibition-era speakeasy; a Chinese prostitute; a Contiki tourist who finds his true place in a monastery; a lascivious sandwich-factory owner: these are a few of the characters whose confessions, confidences and compulsions we encounter in Speakeasy.
The 60-minute performance begins with a vignette of two companions getting drunk and miserable on bootlegged liquor in a speakeasy (he silent and hopelessly awkward; she garrulous and hopelessly lonely). This is the only multi-character sketch, and it sets the tone for the monologues that follow: all the characters are, in one way or another, a little socially marginal, and they all have a tale, or, more often, a confession, to share.
The snug playing space fits this purpose. Tucked into a corner, with a bar and a couple of stools at one side and the audience seating wrapped to enclose the space, the atmosphere is intimate.
Creating a performance out of a string of vignettes presents a particular challenge: how do you give the performance momentum and create a sense of cohesiveness without a central narrative arc? I can imagine how a similar collage of cameos might feel haphazard and scattered. Here, though, we have more than a random collection of monologues.
The same vices and anxieties echo across multiple stories: cravings and obsessions (sex, cigarettes, fame); insecurities and fears (penis size, Voodoo paranoia, the decline of proper Ponsonby, plum-in-the-mouth vowels); attempts at intimacy, attempts at power; self love, self-loathing.
The three actor-writers – Andrea Kelland, Tom Sainsbury and Stephanie Johnson – tag-team to bring out a series of satisfyingly contrasting characters. All the roles are played with energy and commitment: the quieter, understated characters as well as the larger-than-life, slightly caricatured ones. Things are also kept fresh by the varying lengths of the monologues: none is too long (none drags), and the shorter, just-a-few-brush-strokes performances pick up the pace between the longer ones.
Andrea Kelland’s sleezy Kiwi factory owner is wonderfully grotesque – like a Topp Twins’ Ken, but more sinister. This is a great use of cross-gender casting.
Stephanie Johnson’s Auckland-resident Chinese prostitute has a quiet intensity. Johnson navigates the pitfalls of playing a character of another culture well: her halting English is not at all hammed up and her performance is both compelling and respectful.
Sainsbury takes on the most roles, from piss-head OE-ing Kiwi Bradley to Trayson, a fast-talking, narcissistic, very camp wannabe male model. These two are played almost as caricatures, but my favourite Sainsbury role is more nuanced. It’s the confession of a man whose anxiety about his small penis has isolated him from women and from tenderness. Sainsbury could have played this character as a send-up, similar to Bradley and Trayson (who we get the sense the actor is laughing at, along with the audience); instead, in this confession we see a character played quietly and humanely.
If there are things to pick at, they are minor: the odd Kiwi vowel slipping in to an American accent, the odd maybe-just-slightly overplayed moment. Overall, this is an engaging and surprisingly cohesive string of vignettes. Short and sweet, it’s an easy, enjoyable after-work treat.
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