The Irrefutable Truth About Petfood

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

27/07/2010 - 31/07/2010

BATS Theatre, Wellington

28/04/2011 - 07/05/2011

Production Details



The Irrefutable Truth about Pet Food is an absurd, post apocalyptic, musical, solo comedy that runs the gamut from the mundane to the epic. With a style reminiscent of both the low-key realism of The Office mixed with the surreal absurdity of Airplane!, anyone who has ever worked in a dead-end job or seen a Hollywood disaster film will be able to enjoy and identify with the show.

In a pet food warehouse, the day begins as the ‘New Guy’ meets Marcus, an unlucky chump who wants to meet women, despite having never been in a relationship with one.

Working in the office is Dee, a lazy fat South African blonde with a passion for pies and novelty songs, and James, their intense boss, obsessed with pet food after a mysterious incident robbed him of his right eye.

It seems like an ordinary day at the warehouse… until a catastrophic event of global proportions changes EVERYTHING… FOREVER.  

Barnaby Fredric (Song for the Ugly Kids, Le Sud) is a recent Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School graduate, with a bizarre and original sense of the absurd – and a love for performing comedy. In this show he unleashes his imagination to create an energetic, unrelenting one man tour-de-force that will leave you breathless (because you have been laughing so much). Seriously, cancel your gym memberships, because you will have rock-hard abs by the time this show is over.

This modern, kinetic piece of comedy is sure to appeal to the young, those young at heart, and those who watch a lot of youtube.

THE IRREFUTABLE TRUTH ABOUT PET FOOD plays

July 27th to July 31st, 8:30pm
The Basement, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland
Tickets: Adults $16, Concessions $12
Bookings through iTicket – www.iticket.co.nz  or (09) 361 1000

Running time: 50 minutes (no interval)

Tickets also available from the following iTICKET outlets:
Conch Records: 115a Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland
Real Groovy: 438 Queen Street, Auckland   

BATS Season: Thursday 28th April – Saturday 7th May 2011 (no show Sun/Mon) 
Time: 8PM
Price: $20 Full / $14 Concession
Length: 1hr  

Crobar Productions   




1hr, no interval

Random displays of acting

Review by John Smythe 29th Apr 2011

When Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School third year students develop their 20-minute solos, the major objective of the exercise is to showcase their acting skills. But when that piece is expanded into a one hour play the actor needs to be serving something beyond a display of talent.

Barnaby Fredric’s 2008 solo, also called The Irrefutable Truth About Pet Food (the title a parody of the 2000 film The Irrefutable Truth About Demons) scored high as a whimsical vehicle for character versatility. At three times the length, however, it outstays its welcome except, perhaps, for friends and colleagues who love watching acting for its own sake.

[Warning: the writer performer believes what follows contains spoilers. I disagree because the theatrical value is not in what happens but in how it occurs. I would further assert that if what I have written spoils the show for anyone, it didn’t have much going for it in the first place. I cannot reasonably make my pro and con points without citing examples, so the review stands as written.]

Fredric is clearly a talented actor. His opening ‘Good Morning Wellington’ song is entertaining and witty (the best writing is in the song lyrics), touching on Te Papa, the zoo, Blanket Man, Peter Jackson, Wellywood, market researchers in the street …

He delineates his characters well: Marcus the lonely pet food dispatcher at the warehouse where the unseen (until the very end) New Guy has begun to work; James the eye-patched owner whose ever-changing stories about when he lost his eye always end with the puchline; Dee the rotund, pie-loving, South African receptionist whose family dealt in poisons.

Dee dubs the new guy Peekay, which I guess is an in-joke for those who have read Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One, except it is one of many ideas that are set-up and go nowhere. For example James wants a new pet food jingle that will take his brand global, and tells New Guy to create one by the end of the day. But the New Guy never works on it and when James presents his own new jingle – without any reference to the challenge he set New Guy – it’s a non-event.

Lots of whimsical little scenes, some in flashback, set up the characters’ characteristics and satirise things like the Y2K scare. But there is no follow through that rewards our paying attention. Elements crying out to be chemically coalesced are resolutely left disconnected – e.g. the loss of James’s eye involved a dog, he now heads up a pet food empire, the play’s title promises the revelation of some kind of ‘truth’ about it … but no. It all get too sidetracked with its own cleverness in tossing about crazy ideas to no overall purpose.

[Spoiler warning] Having amassed much madness then not known what to do with it, Fredric (as writer) throws in a random apocalypse; a dramatically staged – in darkness – collapse of cartons and pallets. He is at pains to explain this is everything and anything (hurricane, volcano, tsunami) except an earthquake because that would be insensitive. And we are asked to believe human life across the entire planet has been wiped out save for these pet food company employees.

An amusing medley of farewell songs of the kind favoured at funerals follows, but now a dying James tells lonely Marcus he and the paralysed Dee must set about repopulating the planet – cue ‘let’s all laugh at the fat ugly girl’ type humour …   

At this point, when we might hope to sense that the disparate elements are coming together to justify their dramatic existence, a silly song and dance sequence – ‘So Many Ways to Love You’ – seems misplaced. Then God intervenes to decree the planet is best left without humans and we are told the whole show has been a cautionary tale to that effect. As New Guy boards the boat sent by God and glides off into the stygian darkness without a paddle, I am left wondering which God has decreed theatre is best left without playwrights and why so many actors are adrift on that raft. [Warning ends

It is the craft of play writing itself that has deserted this show and left its performer stranded in a tangle of ideas, characters and random displays of acting.

As it plays through the opening week of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival, it may prove attractive as an idiosyncratic alternative to straight stand up shows (the best of which, I hasten to note, are very well crafted writing-wise).
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Comments

Isla Adamson May 2nd, 2011

I thoroughly recommend this show. When I saw it last year it was the funniest thing I'd seen since I don't know what. Somewhere along the line entertainment has been devalued as a reason for theatre to exist, but I personally think its one of the greatest reasons. This piece is a pure ad simple comedy, and Barnaby does it fantastically.

John Smythe May 2nd, 2011

Martyn, I am delighted to stand corrected on my perception of the major objective of Toi Whakaari solos. And I wholeheartedly support BATS’ role as a developmental theatre. If reviews and discussions on Theatreview contribute to that development I am even more delighted. A major objective for Theatreview has always been to contribute to the bigger conversation about performing arts practice. 

Bex, I thought about Monty Python as a precedent and have to say I have always perceived the method in their madness; the purpose that unites what initially looks like random silliness. Much can be classified as absurdist, where a logical premise is taken to an absurd conclusion (The Dead Parrot sketch) or and absurd premise is taken to a logical conclusion (The Life of Brian). (‘Absurd’ is a relative concept, so it is not really possible to take an absurd premise to an even more absurd conclusion.)

Yes, Sam T: the Kuleshov Effect indeed reminds us that content is always affected by the context, that perception is ‘reality’ and that audiences will intuitively add meaning to what they witness. 

Martyn Wood May 2nd, 2011

I'd just like to go off on a little tangent and follow on from what Sophie Roberts said in regards to the extremely arrogant (because he is neither a graduate of the institution, nor has he seen the show in question) comment from Dane about the quality of teaching at Toi Whakaari. John, you have commented on the Toi Whakaari solos a couple of times saying "the major objective of the exercise is to showcase their acting skills." I would dispute this. The purpose of the exercise is to give the students an opportunity to engage with questions around how and why they might make theatre. The days of writing a monologue to showcase yourself in the hope of getting future work are long gone - it is now a much more rigourous investigation into how individual actors might make/devise/write work for themselves - a chance for them to explore their own methodology around creating theatre.

Hence productions such as "Pet Food" and "Aliens of Poverty Bay" are not just "displays of talent" but actual experiments in form - actors actively continuing an exploration into questions posed by their training. With my official BATS Programme Manager hat on I can say that BATS prides itself on being a developmental theatre, and providing a safe space for practitioners to experiment. Personally, I am much more interested in seeing work that is wrestling with a question, that is actively trying to explore or push forward a theatrical form - it's braver and more challenging to an audience than just finding a script and putting it on, no matter how well written that script might be. These works are definitely not just "acting for acting's sake."

I would agree with you that often shows premiere before they are "ready," but in these cases the works develop hugely through the season (for example the closing performance of "Aliens of Poverty Bay" had grown in leaps and bounds from the opening night because Dan was actively applying what he learned on the floor in front of an audience each night to growing and developing the piece). I would see this as part of a greater discussion on treating work as a conversation between performers and audience, as opposed to just a presentation to be "watched."

Bex Harvey May 2nd, 2011

Just a comment on the longevity of this supposed 'new style’.  Random association comedy with larger-than-life characters, seemingly unrelated elements and the odd musical number has been around a while and beloved by many. This show to me was descended straight from Monty Python, and well, they've had a pretty lasting effect on comedy I'd say.
 
I saw the show in Auckland last year and loved it, because it was hilarious. Which when it boils down to it is the point of any show in the comedy festival isn't it?

sam trubridge May 2nd, 2011

In which case I agree with you completely. The show of virtuosity can easily become the content for performance where the body and its tricks are so important to our craft. A really good challenge for all performers to consider. I have always been fond of what is known in film as 'The Kuleshov Effect', because it demonstrates just how significant the composition of all parts in the work are to the reception of a performance. Check it out! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuleshov_Effect   

John Smythe May 2nd, 2011

You prove my point, Chelsie. If style over substance, style as the end rather than the means, style as the purpose, is seen as legit, then I got the point very clearly. And I challenge it. Hence “the theatrical value is not in what happens but in how it occurs”, “Fredric is clearly a talented actor”, “Lots of whimsical little scenes, some in flashback, set up the characters' characteristics and satirise things” and “But there is no follow through that rewards our paying attention” and “[it] left its performer stranded in a tangle of ideas, characters and random displays of acting.”

It’s not just this show – I had the same issue with The Aliens of Poverty Bay: “But in the end I feel as if the major purpose of The Aliens of Poverty Bayis to show off acting skills, which may be valid for a 20-minute solo but not for a Fringe show. Rather than sit and look at the vehicle we’d rather ride it on an interesting journey that takes us somewhere of value.

Sam T, I do not think what you think I think. No way would I say that all dance, live art, performance design, performance art and visual theatre is esoteric and incapable of engaging large numbers of sentient and receptive people. (Nor am I saying large numbers are the be all and end all.)

I’m saying that if any performing arts event of length (the longer it is, the more this applies) engages its audience at no other level than the objective observation of skill and talent, that is a poor result. Something most performing, visual and sound artists realise as they mature is that when audiences are fully engaged in / by / with a work, there are many skills they may well take for granted – e.g. lighting design, sound design, set design, directing, film editing, camera operating … as well as acting.

Even opera singing and ballet dancing is seen more as a means to an end these days, in the quest to attract more than a coterie audience. And yes, when it all comes together, it is part of a critic’s job, in speaking to the value of the work, to recognise and acknowledge the talents of the actors, singers, dancers, designers, director, etc. in creating the whole that is more than the sum of the parts.

I realise there will always be exceptions. But if there is indeed a trend towards presenting acting for acting’s sake, I will most certainly keep challenging it.  

Chelsie Preston Crayford May 2nd, 2011

I'm with Bunkall. Barnaby's style is fresh, unique, unpredictable and exciting. His originality needs to be celebrated and nurtured, not dismissed for being different.

I have to say wholeheartedly John, I think you missed the point.

sam trubridge May 1st, 2011

Yes, I guess we can wait and see. However, I was not positing this 'trend' as you describe it as something that needs to depose whatever it is that you are defending. Instead I am trying to make space within your perception of performance for other modes of operating that do not relegate the performance componentry to the tail end of the dog. Once again I find your attitude to other performance processes slightly derisive, as if it could only be the territory of a 'coterie of aficionados', or 'mutual admiration societies' as if it has no currency elsewhere. I assume you are talking about processes that do not rely on conventional storytelling which must include dance, live art, performance design, performance art and visual theatre. Yes the communities for these disciplines in NZ are small, but also rigorously critical. It is also of interest to note that of the three international invitations I have had this year, they are all concerned with the changing landscape of performance practise and theatre today. It seems to be a real concern. In fact, one in South Korea is entitled 'New Approaches New Audiences' and clearly recognises that conventional theatre has an aging audience. All of this, and I feel that we are talking across purposes a bit. I agree that the effect structure has on circus and comedy can often bring a greater sophistication and depth to the work without ever compromising the spectacle and simple pleasure of the work. My contention is not with this - structure is as important to the work of Janet Cardiff or Akhe as it was to Shakespeare or Brecht. Rather, I would like to see space for a range of approaches to performance practise in NZ reviewing, but your language and attitude seems contradictory to the lip-service that is paid to the idea when confronted with the issue.

John Smythe May 1st, 2011

Hi Sam T – thanks for giving the dog such a good run. And thank you Sam B for defining the random style so clearly.

It was actually in my review of the Capital E production Hear to See that I concluded “Methinks the presentation tail has wagged the storytelling dog” – because in that case it did involve the story of a boy’s transformative experience and I came away feeling the medium had become the message. The other metaphors I used do not imply that story-telling per se has pre-eminent value.

It is a function of being human, however, that people seek meaning in whatever they encounter, no matter how random it may be. And given most performance presentations begin at some point then end at another, with a bit in the middle that can only ever be in the middle, some insidious sense of narrative structure is almost inevitable. Which ever way you look at it, I think it is fair to say that most people get more value from something that transcends the sum of its component parts.

Of course if your target audience is a coterie of aficionados in the more esoteric elements and dimensions of what is being produced / performed / presented, they will perceive it very differently and will happily disregard the commentary of critics who operate from the premise that the only qualification people should need in order to engage with a performance (which of course includes all the design elements) is to be sentient and reasonably receptive. Fair enough.

Having been deeply immersed in alternative theatre in the 1970s (with the Australian Performing Group at the Pram Factory) and felt strongly connected to the many different alternatives it spawned, I have endeavoured to remain alert to evolutionary and breakaway trends in mainstream and alternative practice over the past 4 decades or so.

One thing I have noticed is that contemporary circus groups and many stand up comedians have moved on from making shows out of random displays of skills and gags, finding greater value in using unifying themes to create a gestalt* effect.  

Maybe we are now seeing an equal and opposite reaction to that – and I predict it will be short-lived as a trend. Those who persist will have to be content to play to ‘mutual admiration societies’. But hey, that’s just what I think.  

*The phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts” is often used when explaining Gestalt theory.[1]      

Sam Bunkall May 1st, 2011

I hear you John and to a large degree I agree. The problem is I don't think you agree with yourself. Otherwise why would you have written, in this very review, the following; "I am left wondering which God has decreed theatre is best left without playwrights and why so many actors are adrift on that raft". I knew you would cite Seeyd and Indian Ink as devisers you reviewed favourably. Of course! They are very well-written, often linear narratives with sound structures. They're fantastic, but they're a specific kind of devising that is not really the sort I am talking about. I am talking about pieces using more unconventional structures, maybe more experimental or abstract than what we are used to in mainstream theatre. The kind that you have too often dismissed as "needing a writer" (perhaps you are not conscious of using this phrase as often as you do in regards to devised work?).

I don't want to go on and on about this, my point is that if you review this review you will see a pattern; "ideas that are set up and go nowhere", "...no follow through...", "elements crying out to be chemically coalesced are resolutely left disconnected", "tossing about crazy ideas to no overall purpose". It is clear to me that you wanted the show to be structured in a way you are comfortable with; "chemically coalesced" as you say. More reminiscent of a Seeyd or Indian Ink production. And this wasn't, so you've taken the stance that it is lacking in some way. What I'm suggesting is that this random set-up-go-no-where style is exactly that; a style. A kind of comedy that is popular in modern american comedy right now; Family Guy / Southpark / Simpsons also do this at times, to cite more mainstream examples. Granted, this style may not be to your taste. All I'm saying is to dismiss an unfamiliar, unusual and more abstract structure as being wrong and in need of re-writing, is to miss the point of the show as it was presented.

sam trubridge May 1st, 2011

John, you describe the (canine) anatomy of a show as if the story-telling was the whole dog, and the performance was merely the tail to be wagged. I am sure that most directors, designers and performers would find this objectionable in some way. It is rather a narrow opinion to come from a reviewer of contemporary theatre. Of course story-telling will always have a significant role to play. At the very least it could be seen as the arrangement of the performance experience around a structure or concept, but it is hardly the dog that wags the tail. A dog can do without its tail quite fine. Perhaps it is the dog's skeleton? - a framework upon which sits the living elements of the work, without which it would be just that - a schema or plan of the organism without the specifics, the life, and the animation that flesh, sinew, skin and hair brings to it. I am also attracted to a broader phrase than just 'story-telling', with all its attendant associations, and would by far prefer to consider it as the structure or framework of a performance in order that we are not distracted by the primacy of words, characters, or conventional narratives. Much has changed since Aristotle's 'Poetics' and we demand a greater maturity from our performing arts criticism. I would also agree with everyone's sentiments about writing reviews as 'plot summaries'. As an audience member this kind of writing not only puts me off the review, but often discourages me from seeing the show. As a practitioner I would like to see some greater insight into the work we make other than a simple blow-by-blow account of the work followed by a value statement.

John Smythe April 30th, 2011

Sophie, I realise you are responding to Dane but I just want to correct an impression I may have given by saying, “When Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School third year students develop their 20-minute solos, the major objective of the exercise is to showcase their acting skills.” I do not mean to imply that that’s all any of them ever achieve. 

I concur wholeheartedly that many reach deeply into themselves and their humanity to tell stories, explore themes and manifest ideas that reach well beyond the ‘showcase’ function. And of course by having that larger objective, the showcasing one is invariably better achieved.    

John Smythe April 30th, 2011

Thank you Sam – that’s a lot to respond to.

Haven’t I already said I don’t regard this play as a devised work? Barnaby is credited as the writer. Nor do I assume that just because he is the writer that he created the script simply by sitting down and writing it.

I have always endeavoured to be clear that it is the play-writing craft I feel is sometimes lacking, not a separate playwright per se. I certainly agree there is much to commend the devising process – and note that those who do this well (e.g. Jacob Rajan & Justin Lewis of Indian Ink; Tim Spite et al of The SEEyd Company) follow through each on-the-feet devising phase with a sitting down and writing and refining phase, repeated through a number of cycles.  It’s probably a left-brain / right-brain thing. 

Never have I thought, or intended to suggest, that what a playwright’s consciousness needs to bring to a work is expository dialogue (heaven forbid!). Indeed I can think of devised works that have suffered badly from over-written and over-explanatory dialogue. Almost always the problem lies with the structural organisation of the raw material and the failure to distil it according to a uniting theme so that the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts. Ingredients are assembled and somewhat mixed but a cake has not yet been baked. Molecules are afloat without a nucleus to give them form. A physical body is lacking a vital organ or three.

I have also used the phrases ‘premature performance syndrome’, ‘the performance tail wagging the story-telling dog’ and ‘the How obscuring (instead of revealing) the What and Why’ in my attempts to articulate the problem – none of which imply that what’s needed is more words.

One of my pet hates is the assumption so many people make that all a script writer writes is words to be spoken; that ‘good writing’ is good dialogue. As you note too, Sam, it is about much more than that. Playwrights – be they also devisers or not – create whole lives, communities, universes, parallel realities … and they find ways of sharing them moment by immediate moment with their audiences in ways that, at best, engage all our senses and faculties. The spoken word may not even be the tip of the iceberg (cf. subtext), it may well be the least important component … Enough said?  

Sophie Roberts April 30th, 2011

 Just in response to the comment about " demanding more depth from the 3rd year students". During my involvement with the Toi Whakaari 3rd year students in the Solo process I have witnessed them create courageous work from a deeply personal perspective that deals with their own experiences, communities, politics AND sense of humor. Their voices, points of view and values are hugely varied and thank god for that. Speaking of " depth", I seriously question the integrity of such an ungenerous comment from a person who hasn't even seen the show.

Sam Bunkall April 30th, 2011

I am concerned with what I see as a recurring pattern in your reviews John. I can't remember the last time you reviewed a devised work and didn't conclude that it "needed a writer ". I am concerned because I see part of a reviewer's job as being to educate and to inspire. Therefore, repeatedly inferring that devised work lacks something that can only be provided by a writer is, in my opinion, irresponsible. It gives devising a bad (and misrepresented) name, but more importantly I feel it is encouraging people to view devised work in a certain way; a way that to me is at odds with what devising actually is. Devising IS writing, its just a different method of doing so. A writer (generally) sits at a computer / typewriter / notebook and writes down what they envision occuring on the stage, usually in words. A deviser (generally) works on the floor in a rehearsal room to generate their material in words, movement, spatial geography, use of props, use of sound and etc. I am oviously not suggesting that these kinds of things are not present when somebody "writes", nor would I ever dispute how fantastic are the thousands of theatre pieces that have been "written". Its not about one being better than the other - they are different tools for different purposes, they both have pros and cons.

The beauty of devising material on the floor comes from the fact that you are not just writing words on a page, but you are also writing with movement, gesture, use of space, sound, props, and the architecture of the room itself. These are all means to convey whatever it is you want to convey. Devisers often find that by having a character move in a certain way, or by playing a certain piece of music, you can say what you want to say without actually saying it through dialogue. Too many times I have read your reviews of devised work calling for a writer to come and write some words to save a particular piece of theatre. And more often than not, I see the piece in question and disagree. Because what you want to hear from those missing words, I am already reading from these other elements. It's already being said, just not through words. Don't get me wrong, they are not usually perfect pieces of theatre, but neither are most of the written pieces that I see in this country. That to me is more to do with people still finding their feet as theatremakers and grappling with a new kind of making; as well as a lack of time, money and resources. It's not because devising is a flawed technique.

I encourage you to consider more carefully these other elements; consider them as you would consider the words. Because devisers are writing in more than just words. And when you consider a devised work for just the content of the words, it's no wonder you feel that something is missing. But if you consider the piece as a whole, as it was made; when you recognise that there are devices being used deliberately in lieu of words, then you may start to see "missing" elements begin to appear through different avenues. If they DON'T, then perhaps the deviser needs to get better at devising, perhaps the director was at fault (or not present at all) or maybe it was the performance. Or maybe it's more of a taste thing, John. But what I don't buy, nor will I ever buy, is that the method of devising itself has failed and a "writer" needs to step in and fix everything. This is disrespectful and ignorant of an incredibly sophisticated approach to making theatre, and to those who teach it.

In the case of Barnaby's show (which I found hilarious) you have talked a lot about the words and the plot as if he needs a writer to correct what you see as missing links or fractured structure. I would say, knowing Barnaby to be a very gifted writer, that he is working with a specific style of comedy - one debiberately fractured in the style reminiscent of say "Tim and Eric" or "Stella". Not lacking, just different. Barnaby doesn't need a writer, he IS a writer. If he wanted to fill the plot holes and tie up the loose ends he would have. But given that he didn't, there maybe something in that that is being used as a tool rather than an overlooked mistake...

Nic Sampson April 30th, 2011

It's true we Aucklanders are very forgetful. I just think you could have critiqued the structure of the show without giving so much away, from other reviews of yours I've read you've always been quite good at that. Cheers John.

John Smythe April 30th, 2011

 For the record, my review does not “detail the plot beat by beat”. To say so is more likely to turn potential punters off. Please be clear, there is a great deal more often very amusing content covered by the catch-all: “Lots of whimsical little scenes, some in flashback, set up the characters' characteristics and satirise things like the Y2K scare.” The examples offered are but a fraction of the whole – but to prove it to misremembering Aucklanders would mean giving it all away so I won’t.

Also in fairness to Barnaby, what I describe about the way it ends acknowledges there is a climax of sorts and there is a statement that does purport to draw together all that has gone before. I venture to suggest that anyone who, from the start, knows that what they are watching is evidence for God’s judgement (spoiler? that the planet is best left free of human life for a while –ends) will get a lot more value from what otherwise appears to be random.

In saying this, I still think it’s possible (and preferable?) to work the material in such a way that when the ending comes the audience experiences a collective ‘aha’ moment that sends them away with more than an appreciation of funny acting. 

Dane Giraud April 29th, 2011

I thank John for explaining the plot points. I may have (G-d forbid) gone to see it. It sounds innane and it leaves me wondering if the teachers at Toi shouldn't be demanding more depth of 3rd year students. 

Nic Sampson April 29th, 2011

I went to see this show when it was performed in Auckland last. I have not laughed as hard in any performance in a long time. I am a friend of Barnaby's so my judgement is obviously biased, however I found in the show no 'in jokes' that would require me to know Barnaby personally or what his brand of comedy is at all. What I saw was wonderfully absurd and hilarious, both smart and dumb in the best possible ways. I would say this is a perfect entry to the comedy festival. You may feel that detailing the plot beat by beat in your review doesn't matter, but I disagree. A comedy like this revolves around the unexpected, taking what you think is about to happen and then turning it on it's head. Nik Smythe reviewed the show without giving away the ending, which while maybe not to your taste John, may be to someone else's who would like to go into the show not knowing what the punch-lines are or how it ends.

John Smythe April 29th, 2011

First, I do not see this as a devised work; Barnaby is credited as writer and performer. But the material is not wrought with the craft a playwright might bring to it. Good ingredients are squandered through what seems like negligence rather than an intention to be 'post modern' or whatever.

I can neither raise the issues I have with this work nor praise its qualities without giving some indication of what it is. And if my sketching in the structure and mentioning components is the equivalent of revealing punchlines, then the show lacks more substance than I thought.

As I have now said in the inserted warning, the theatrical value is in how things are done, not what is done, and there is no way I could replicate that in a review. Nor would I want to. 

Interested party April 29th, 2011

I agree with Joseph. This "review" reads more like a plot summary, followed by John's usual judgement on the value of devised works vs works by a playwright. Based on the deliberately random nature of this show, I would put the level of spoilers listed above in the same league as quoting a stand-up comedians jokes.

John Smythe April 29th, 2011

Thank you Joseph. In response to Barnaby I have now inserted a warning and an explanation. 

Joseph Moore April 29th, 2011

 Disappointed by this review. While you are welcome to feel any way you wish about the show, John, I think you have done it a great disservice by explaining the plot beat by beat. I saw the show in Auckland last year and one of the things I loved was the ridiculous unexpected turns the plot continued take. It's fine if you didn't enjoy that, but to go on to explain what each of these plot twists is in great detail is very unfair. I don't think I've seen this level of spoilers on this website before.

Also, since when was an intertextual reference to a hugely popular novel an "in joke"? Weird.

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Triple distinctions in homage to ludicrous and wonderful conventions

Review by Nik Smythe 28th Jul 2010

Barnaby Frederic must love musicals, or if not he’s at least fascinated by their form and structure. Either way, he clearly knows them inside out.  Such a hilarious satire evoking the level of mirth that The Irrefutable Truth About Pet Food achieves could not occur in a merely derisive mindset. 

With direction from Chelsie Preston Crayford, Fredric joyfully and single-handedly demonstrates everything that is ludicrous and wonderful about the classic stage-musical format. 

The opening number is a playful and reverent paean to the mythical city where the story’s setting, a pet-food factory, is located; a mystical and exotic sounding place called ‘Wellington’. The first character we meet, Marcus, greets ‘the new guy’ on his first day and, in showing him around the warehouse area, can’t help but make it more clear than he would surely want to, what a lonely loser in a dead-end job he really is. 

Then Marcus introduces the new guy to the factory boss, James, a one-eyed (literally) boss with a deep passion for pet food manufacturing; a fatherly kind of authority edging ever so slightly toward obsessive lunacy. He in turn introduces Dee, a corpulent blonde South-African lass with angry and demonic under, over and vuvuzela-tones. 

Each character has their own self-defining theme song, performed in a cleverly post-modern context as they might be by simple factory-worker folk.

It’s loveable the way Fredric toys with the established theatrical conventions, such as wearing each character’s distinctive prop – Marcus’ cap, James’ eyepatch, Dee’s blond wig – simultaneously in order to be able to conduct a desperate rapid-fire conversation between the three of them. 

And it’s touching on genius the way the new guy, unnamed besides Dee’s iconically pseudo-South-African epithet ‘Peekay’, is the protagonist of the story though we never actually meet him, except perhaps at the end maybe but again I’ve said too much.

This show and Introducing Anna playing beforehand at 7pm make for an outstanding solo double-feature and, as I alluded in that review, the theatrical language explains itself more eloquently than a written review ever could. 
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