The Court Jesters: SOAPLAND STREET
The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch
07/02/2015 - 28/03/2015
Soapland Street is a late night serialised improvised soap opera and the Court Jesters’ first theme show for 2015.
It will run every Saturday night,
February 7th until March 28th,
Book at www.courttheatre.org.nz
Lights Sean Hawkings
Musician Matt Everingham
Outstanding hammy pathos amid ludicrous situations and medical jokes
Review by Erin Harrington 09th Feb 2015
2015 marks the Court Jesters’ 25th year in operation and last year’s programme shake up has clearly proven itself to be a popular move, for this year the company will continue to present multi-part long form shows on Saturday nights to augment their more game-centric Friday night offerings. This year’s Saturday night season opens with the return of the sell-out Soapland Street, an improvised soap opera that will play out over eight ‘episodes’.
At the end of season one Soapland Street – a hospital noted for its high drama, quick relationship turnover and dysfunctional staff – was levelled in a North Korean missile strike (naturally). As we open we find ourselves in the hospital’s temporary facilities: the marvellous techno-wooden set for mainstage Kiwi sci-fi offering Shepherd, which is appropriated beautifully by the cast and which looks in equal parts like a tool shed and a med-bay.
The regrettable death of half the hospital staff also offers a great, very schlocky opportunity for new cast members, new torrid romances and new high-stakes cliffhangers.
The Court Jesters really excel at long-form storytelling, and the comic, bombastic soap opera format and its episodic structure offer a great degree of scope for character development and escalating silliness, as well as providing an ample sandbox for the talented improvisers. I thoroughly enjoy watching the players actively explore relationships, instigate conflicts, and muck around with storylines, all with a bit of gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) prodding from Brendon Bennetts, who acts as both MC and director, and who deals with some drunk audience members quickly and kindly.
Some initial relationship information is offered by the audience: outdoorsman and herbal remedy proponent nurse Slade McTaggart (Andrew Todd) and patient-of-the-week Ophelia Haem (Alice Canton, offering some great physical comedy), the sickest girl in the world, are designated old school mates, and Cliff Edge (Robbie Hunt), the drug-seeking proprietor of the local bar The Drip, is matched up with orderly and drama graduate Cormac McCormack (Dan Bain).
There is a surfeit of offers in this pilot episode, occasionally to the point of near-confusion, but many key relationships and conflicts spark organically over the course of the performance with a particularly satisfying Shock Twist™ emerging from what had been a smutty throwaway gag earlier in the show.
In between the ludicrous situations and medical jokes there are also some outstanding moments of hammy pathos, such as an outrageously overblown Oscarbait moment from troubled amnesiac John Doe (Derek Flores) as he tells the relentlessly positive but ultimately floundering paediatrician Dr D (Jeff Clark) what an amazing doctor and man he is. It’s these concentrated, histrionic moments that, for me, best milk he potential of the soap opera format by allowing character-centric moments of high drama to push forward the action.
Individual story arcs, such as Ophelia’s hilariously rapid deterioration and John Doe’s appalled recollection of his pre-amnesia transgressions, provide a satisfying shape to the episode, and this structure will ensure that people who come along to individual episodes, rather than binging on the whole lot, have a narrative entry point each week.
The only weak link for me is Regina Fitzpatrick (Rhiannon McCall), the brash hospital administrator and head of surgery, who feels less like a character in development (or even an archetype) and more like a grab bag of gags, affectations and silly costume pieces. I also hope to see more of English cardiothoracic surgeon Lizzie Hartford (Vanessa Wells) as the season progresses, as her misty eyed, romantically troubled character didn’t feature as heavily as some of the others.
Suitably dramatic incidental music is improvised by Matt Everingham on the keyboard. He also accompanies the combined medical staff as they sing the gritty, over the top theme song, which allows the cast to solidify and rearticulate their key plot points in the show’s final minutes.
I have a really good time at this show and it’s obvious that there’s a great thirst for this sort of entertainment: it’s met with enthusiasm and raucous laughter by the packed out crowd.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Editor February 9th, 2015
Erin Harrington February 9th, 2015
So sorry - that should read Robbie Hunt, not Robbie Ellis. What a dick (me).