Last Tango in Smithfield Plains

Presented by Forge Theatre. Blackbox. Bakehouse Theatre. 30 Nov 2012

What does Last Tango in Smithfield Plains have in common with Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom? Not a lot and certainly not the spaciousness of the film’s dance rehearsal space. No matter. Last Tango’s miniscule dance rehearsal space is the result of ingenious planning and very good design sense. It works. A portable clothes rack of glitzy costumes; sound equipment; a bar fridge; folding screens covered with Art Nouveau Sarah Bernhardt posters; and a red velvet chaise lounge surround the dance floor.

Enter Peter (Bozo the Clown), or in real life Wayne Anthoney (loved for many years by children and adults as Humboldt the Clown), who wants to learn the tango for his one lesson fling. Peter has a spot as clown entertainer on a cruise ship. Enter, startled at this strange clown image of a man in her dance studio, the faded dance instructor Elise, or in real life Jenn Havelberg (Adelaide Centre for the Arts movement instructor to many students). Elise is coming to the end of her dance instructing career and is deep in debt. He has a gun in his bag. She has booze in her fridge. Both have troubled pasts and secrets that are covered up either by clowning or by drink. Somewhere in the middle of this production, the buffoonery and comic one-liners give way to deeper emotional investigation. Peter and Elise begin stripping away their masks, confronting what lies underneath, and realise that they have more in common than they first thought (this includes traumatic experiences in the Vietnam War). A clever recipe for 60 minutes of deft clown work, captivating choreography, lost aspirations and re-kindled sensitivity.

The script is written and performed by Wayne Anthoney and Jenn Havelberg, but at the core of this production are the mature skills of two seasoned performers. To watch Anthoney’s control over comic timing, mime and one-liners and to get a serve of Havelberg’s movement agility is a rare treat.

Director Lisa Lanzi must have walked a fine line between giving Anthoney and Havelberg free reign, and bringing the production to focus. On opening night the pace was a bit down, but the run of shows will solve this. Tricky falls and physical sleight of hand moments have been integrated into the dialogue exchanges. Once these have been embedded, the production should give the audience a run for its money.

Without giving too much away, I have failed to mention two other important characters. Mister Nightmare and the Sexy French Seductress both constructed of nothing more than overcoats, scarves, wigs and the extraordinary puppetry manipulation skills of Anthoney and Havelberg. The moment when these two characters are brought to life is sheer magic. With their appearance, this quirky little production takes on a whole new darker, deeper, bizarre aspect. When they take their bows alongside Anthoney and Havelberg at the end of the show, you applaud because they have been made real.

The enjoyment of being in the audience, for me, was watching two mature performers strutting their stuff so capably. Hopefully this will not be the last time that Adelaide gets to see Anthoney and Havelberg work together. This production made for a delightful ending to this inaugural Blackbox run of shows at the Bakehouse.

Martin Christmas

When: 28 Nov to 8 Dec
Where: Bakehouse Theatre
Bookings: bakehousetheatre.com