Adelaide Repertory Theatre. The Arts Theatre. 1 Sep 2018
What on earth possessed The Rep, let alone respected director Megan Dansie, to mount a production of this play?
One could ask the same of the UKs National Theatre which premiered the work in 2015.
It is a funny idea, all right. The nightmarish dysfunctional family Christmas lunch to end all nightmarish dysfunctional family Christmas lunches. And, it is embellished by a quirky comic device by which each protagonist is given a behavioural rule, Rules for Living. For example, one must keep cleaning and self-medicate to stay calm, another must sit down and eat to tell lies, and another must stand up and dance to tell jokes. The rules, supposedly some form of cognitive therapy instruction which come and go throughout the play, are crudely projected onto a screen on stage so the audience might know that they exist.
These odd requirements have their funny moments, but not enough to sustain the audience for two solid hours. The play seems very long and these behavioural games become tedious, as does the play which contains a gob-smacking overdose of trivial, quibbling dialogue. It lives somewhere between Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party on steroids and Edward Albee’s Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on speed.
The characters, two lawyer brothers who would rather have been an actor and a cricketer respectively, the harried and alienated wife of one and the ga-ga girlfriend of the other are all having relationship issues while the long-suffering obsessive old mum tries to keep the show on the road while the turkey is in the oven and, oh yes, pervy old dad comes home from hospital after a stroke. There is a lot of drinking and cross-purposes which might have worked up to farce but only makes it to chaos. Indeed, the whole play by Sam Holcroft is a work which tries too hard to do too much and ends up simply exhausting the audience.
The sad thing is that there is a fabulous cast of actors playing this dire play for The Rep. They seem to be word-perfect in the torrents of dialogue and well-rehearsed in the blocking of their crazed action. Penni Hamilton-Smith is at her character-actress best as the hapless, drug-slugging old mum, sometimes hilarious while conducting her obsessive dusting. Jaye Gordon is an outstandingly fine actress up there slurping the wine and having neurotic marital tantrums. Chris Eaton is marvellous as the repressed younger brother and Steven Marvanek also stars as his acrimonious sibling. Norm Caddick has it easy. He just has to sit in a wheelchair and leer.
But what must he be thinking of all this repetitive verbosity and mounting hysterics?
The play builds up to a frenzy of luncheon lunacy with a series of denouements. And there’s the rub. There are so many finalising punch lines which makes one think the curtain is about to come down that, when, eventually, the cast leaves the stage and the stage lights go dark, making a quick exit is a mistake. It seems that the end of this seemingly endless ordeal is not the end. What? Oh, no. There is yet another scene laugh the ushers who have clearly seen this play before.
Having made a break for it, this critic did not turn around and return. So sorry. She simply could not see those terrific actors wasted for a moment longer.
When: 30 Aug to 8 Sep
Where: Arts Theatre
Bookings: 8212 5777 or adelaiderep.com