Titirangi Theatre, Lopdell House, Auckland
13/09/2017 - 16/09/2017
The Classic Comedy Club, 321 Queen Street, Auckland
23/08/2017 - 26/08/2017
When international comedy sensation Carl disgraces himself after a show in LA he goes to ground, holing up in the Auckland flat of Derek and Jules, old friends from his early days in stand-up. However Jules has his own score to settle with Carl, forcing him to answer charges of plagiarism and betrayal, while outside the hounds of the media bay for blood.
Success is a comedy about friendship, rivalry, and the price of fame, by renowned NZ playwright Stephen Sinclair (The Bach, Braindead, Ladies Night).
The Classic Comedy Club, Queen St,
23rd – 26th August 2017, 8pm.
Lopdell House, Titirangi,
13th – 16th September 2017, 8pm.
Carl: Paul Roukchan
Jules: Karlos Wrennall
Derek: Daniel Pujol
Rochelle: Laura Thavat
Lighting designer/operator: Duncan Milne
Stage Manager: Stephen Lyell
Misses the mark
Review by Leigh Sykes 14th Sep 2017
Of all forms of live theatre, comedy is the one that most seems to need the energy and participation of an audience. A comedy about stand-up comedians definitely needs audience energy, since for most comedians, a silent room would be their worst nightmare. Unfortunately for the cast of Success, that audience energy is lacking for much of this performance.
The play begins with a somewhat meta-theatrical moment as Derek (Daniel Pujol) introduces himself to the audience. It takes a moment for us to realise that he is trying out openings for his act, and this is confirmed when Jules (Karlos Wrennall) enters. It’s mid-morning, and the two flatmates pass the time of day fairly innocuously, discussing Derek’s relationship with his (never seen) f**k-buddy, progress with their stand-up routines, and the fact that their former flatmate Carl (Paul Roukchan) is back in Auckland to do some shows, following a super-successful time in the US.
The conversation here sets up the situation and nicely differentiates the two characters, with Derek perennially trying to be positive via the medium of hot beverages, while Jules is more acerbic and easily irritated. Little of the conversation appears to be of great consequence, but we do learn that Jules has a stand-up gig later that day, and this is what we see next.
Wrennall delivers the stand-up section with a nice line in awkwardness and political commentary, but the response from the audience is muted at best. This makes it very hard for any of the stand-up sections of the play to fly, despite the best efforts of the performers.
Inevitably, following Derek and Jules’ discussion of his career, Carl turns up at their flat, and more awkwardness ensues. After some attempts at catching up and some recriminations regarding Carl’s potential plagiarism of comedy material, it becomes apparent that Carl is in real trouble.
I am somewhat troubled by how little time is given to the incident that causes Carl to run back to his former flatmates (the alleged rape of a young woman in New York), beyond Jules’ assertion that it is wrong. Although Carl claims he can’t remember the incident, but would never do something like that, far more time is given throughout the play to the suspicion that Carl may have stolen jokes from his friends, than to the serious nature of the allegations.
The scenes in the flat are quite static, with the characters mainly sitting down to talk to and at each other, and this ultimately diminishes the play’s ability to really grip my attention. We see Derek’s stand-up routine, which Pujol delivers with some energy and good timing, but then we are back to sitting and talking in the flat.
Roukchan plays Carl’s drug and alcohol-fuelled descent into despair convincingly, as the media stakes out the flat and the relationship between the former flatmates disintegrates further.
Laura Thavat has the fairly thankless task of playing a call girl (as well as two other small roles), and her appearance as Rochelle, all sheer negligee and high heels, troubles me in a similar way to the quickly discarded rape allegations against Carl. Women seem to have very little place in this particular world beyond being plot devices or stereotypes, both of which I find somewhat disconcerting.
Ultimately, we get to see Carl’s stand-up routine and Roukchan’s performance deliberately displays much more confidence and polish that Derek and Jules are able to do, since he is the most successful of the three characters. The performance confirms some earlier suspicions and allows Roukchan the opportunity to finish Carl’s story with a bang. With a more responsive audience, I am sure this section would generate many more laughs, but the response at this particular performance is quite sparse.
I’m not sure if it is the performances, the unresponsive audience or the material, but things do not click for me at this particular performance. I admire the performers for the energy they put in, and I feel sorry for the lack of return they receive. It doesn’t help that many of the scenes seem too drawn out and slow, dwelling too much on lengthy dialogue between the characters, particularly in the second half of the play. The climax of the play is Carl’s performance, but no resolution follows it. I am left to assume that all the characters will carry on much as they were at the start of the play.
There is much in the characters and the situation that has the potential to be interesting, but at this performance, this play misses the mark for me.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Historical issues remain
Review by Nik Smythe 26th Aug 2017
One would think that the classic comedy bar that is the Classic Comedy Bar would be the ideal venue for a comedic drama exploring the lives of stand-up comedians … and I still believe one could be quite right, in theory. However, as this rendition of writer/director Stephen Sinclair’s Success illustrates, it’s not quite all that simple.
I was looking forward to revisiting this play, having reviewed the original production two years ago, which I described as a “promising work in progress [in which] the various elements have yet to coalesce into a form that resonates soundly.” Sinclair’s writer/director’s note is encouraging, inasmuch as he comments that “there were some tweaks and improvements I was keen to try out”. Sharing his sentiment, I was keen to observe how it’s developed with this new cast.
Success is the story of a life-altering crisis point in the lives of three men who have been chums since school and all pursued careers in stand-up comedy. Derek (Daniel Pujol) is the nice one, always courteous and conciliatory with umpteen types of tea and two types of coffee to suit any occasion, celebratory or sombre. Jules (Karlos Wrennall) is the political, moralistic cynic, with the biggest chip on his shoulder about his flagging comedy career, supplemented by teaching high school English and drama.
As obnoxious as Jules can be, his and Derek’s eminently successful chum Carl (Paul Roukchan) takes that particular prize hands down. His rise to fame having been fuelled by substance abuse and a penchant for plagiarism, Carl returns all of a sudden for the first time in years for a visit. Before long it is revealed to be a means to escape the law following a damning accusation of sexual assault from a young fan. Tensions rise due to the media stakeout taking place outside; the relationships are tested as insults and accusations fly.
Laura Thavat rounds out the cast nicely, playing three incidental roles, notably Rochelle the accommodatingly kinky call girl, bringing some dubious class into the joint.
In terms of the issues I raised in the previous review, unfortunately I find I’m still faced with them, and/or some variations thereof. Scenes still feel unnecessarily drawn out and certain subplots – such as, once again, Derek’s off-stage offbeat romance – still feel altogether superfluous to what this quietly ambitious play is attempting, it seems, to convey.
Along the way we inevitably get to see their on-stage routines. Interspersed with the domestic scenes it is a little confusing for the audience. It’s clear that Wrennall and Pujol, in particular, play it down deliberately with their characters’ gigs, their awkwardness and mild responses serving the narrative appropriately. Even so, the connection between them and us in both environments is fragmented and uncertain; in the flat there’s an air of mild self-consciousness, on the stage any genuine rapport with the crowd is lacking.
Roukchan fares better in his climactic stand-up piece, as the story demands, yet by this time we ought to be so invested with his journey that his routine should be bringing the house down. Although there are numerous genuine bursts of laughter throughout the play, these moments are not sustained, thus it fails to build as one would hope.
Overall, I think my struggle this time around is more with the overall direction and performances than the script itself, leading me to consider that Sinclair could do well to install a more experienced director to do justice to the generally high standard of his writing. Any reservations about needless indulgences and unessential plot points would be nullified if the performances carried sufficient energy and conviction.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
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