You Cant Beat Wellington (on a Good Day)

Espressoholic, 136 Cuba St, Wellington

04/05/2011 - 21/05/2011

NZ International Comedy Festival 2011

Production Details

Returning to the NZ International Comedy Festival after a sell-out season in 2010!

Welcome to a satirical comedy where four socially inept friends attempt to operate a Wellington coffee shop – with spectacularly selfish, chaotic and hilarious results!

You can’t beat Wellington (on a good day) is a sitcomstyle show performed in an actual Wellington café (Espressoholic). Following the lives of, The Crew, four unethical, self-centred and devious friends who run a Cuba street coffee shop, this show highlights how people can be motivated by pride, selfinterest, and instant gratification while trying to “help” sort out social issues that affect Wellingtonians.

Last year, you fell in love with Owen, Donna, Kenny and Doug, now let them lie, cheat and scheme their way into your heart all over again! This year, You Can’t Beat Wellington (On a Good Day) runs throughout the Comedy Festival. Each week features a different, brand new episode with special guests. 

This show will not play in Auckland, and features only 3 jokes about the wind. Espressoholic will be open to ticket holders from 7.30pm for meals and drinks “Funny, intelligent, warm and selfdeprecating and comes complete with a flat white.”

“[They] clearly have talent at performing comedy” – Salient, NZ

Episode One: 4-7 May
Episode Two: 11-14 May
Episode Three: 18-21 May
Time: Doors from 7:30pm, show starts 8.30pm
Tickets: $18 full / $15 concession / $14 groups 8+ (booking fees may apply)
Venue: Espressoholic, 136 Cuba St Wellington  

A flat white with your flat night?

Review by Lori Leigh 07th May 2011

You Can’t Beat Wellington (On A Good Day) is inspired by American sitcoms It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm and billed as “Returning to the NZ International Comedy Festival after a sell-out season in 2010!”. This New Zealand theatrical version follows four individuals whose lives are intricately bound up in the running of a Wellington café. 

Owen Boscawen (Steven Youngblood) and Kenny Awatere (Wiremu Tuhiwai) are the ambitious co-owners of the café, Donna Quigley (Lucy Edwards) is their somewhat apathetic employee, and Doug Rogers (Josh Samuels) is their quirky tenant, an illegal American immigrant who resides upstairs and occasionally cleans the café. The comedy consists of three different episodes which vary from week to week featuring a rotating cast of “Wellingtonians”. 

Josh Samuels, cast member, and co-creator of the project with director Merrilee McCoy writes in his programme note that the show is “a hybrid of planning and improvisation. By that I mean, the story structures are pre-planned, but the dialogue is unscripted.” Like the shows from which it takes its inspiration, You Can’t Beat Wellington features dark comedy, blue humour and improvisational elements. 

The inciting incident for Friday night’s episode was Owen (Steven Youngblood) receiving a $15,000 refund from the IRD (or the IRS as Doug mistakenly calls it) for overpayment of taxes. After a brainstorming session which includes thoughts of turning the café into a house of prostitution, complete with a hilarious riff of names for a would-be café/brothel, Owen and Kenny decide to use the money to make their business into the premiere café for the Rugby World Cup including Astroturf, LCD screens playing different games and a goal post front door, where you “walk in the door and score”.  

The rest of the action follows their (failed attempts) to achieve official Rugby World Cup Status through bribery and seduction, ultimately countered by Donna’s crafty scheming to keep the café as is so she can continue to hit on handsome artsy male customers rather than serve toothless, large-necked rugby fans. 

Given that it is based on televised sitcoms, this show raises the question, “Why live theatre?” When I studied improvisation in Chicago, we were told, “Improvisers are the daredevils of theatre,” so I applaud the cast of You Can’t Beat Wellington for their feats of bravery in performing a largely unscripted show. Likewise, the show is at its strongest when the improvisational elements are utilised to their full potential: spontaneity, listening, complete connection and collaboration with the audience. 

One way audience connection is successfully accomplished is through the choice of venue. You Can’t Beat Wellington is intimately and appropriately set at Cuba Street’s Espressoholic Café, a perfect place for this site-specific theatre. Audiences can enjoy coffee, cake, wine or even dinner as they watch the show, thus literally becoming part of the show as customers in Owen and Kenny’s café. 

Some of the performers are clearly very adept improvisers. Standouts were Josh Samuels as Doug Rogers, who began the show by sweeping around the audience/customers, interacting with them as he cleaned; and also Lucy Edwards as Donna Quigley who takes the time to acknowledge all sides of the audience (a café setting does provide sightline issues) as she seduces Doug by lasciviously licking cupcake icing off her fingers. Finally, in the alternating cast of “Wellingtonians”, Anne Brashier, as Doug’s psychotically jealous ex-lover, is a treat. 

Despite a lovely setting, some enjoyable performances and nice topical, contemporary Wellington themes, the show was not as full of laughs as I expected. At many times, I noticed audience members become more entertained by the Friday night Cuba Street traffic outside the windows of Espressoholic than the performance we were physically immersed in. Some of the performers seem to overtly rely on tired jokes. For example, Owen Boscawen’s (Steven Youngblood) repeated boastful references to his business degree from Massey University, each time falling to more silence from the audience. Perhaps this worked well in another show, but improvisation is all about the “here and now” as this show tries to be. I also find jokes about Wellington weather, already conjured by the title, wearisome after awhile.

Other times the scenarios and characters become too preposterous, forgetting there is always a strong element of truth in comedy. (Kenny’s paying a prostitute to see half of Thor with him.) Furthermore, many of the characters (Donna Quigley excluded) tend to depend upon the ignorance or stupidity of their characters for laughs (or lack of), thus patronising the audience somewhat. 

The show felt lengthy at one hour. (It could be worth noting “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” have 30 minute running times.) Finally, I wonder if the show would be more original if it broke away more from its American inspirations and met the challenge of discovering its own form of humour rather than being confined to easily recognisable, pre-defined types. Most times, it comes across like these types are thrust into a Wellington café rather than us getting the experience of true personalities who work and run local cafés (and there is a lot of interesting material to draw upon there). 

Perhaps the show varies greatly from episode to episode and Friday night was just a flat night. Regardless of my qualms with the piece, I would still suggest it is worth a look for the joy of seeing something that at moments involves the audience in a way that all live theatre should, and has some skilled performers. Additionally, I feel the show with some development could capitalise upon its strengths (more audience acknowledgement) and improve upon its weaknesses (through more listening onstage and more authenticity) to become a very enjoyable piece of comedy. 
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