>TRIPLE BILL by Hotcurrie Theatre

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 18 oct 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: yms auditorium
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>LAUGHTER IS THE NEXT BEST THING

I have to admit that I did not have very high expectations as I took my seat in the YMS Auditorium last Wednesday.

As just about every single audience member seemed to know everybody else in the audience and every member of the cast (yes, I was eavesdropping, that's what journalists do), the impression I had was that this was going to be like watching a performance being put on during a company's Family Picnic: a bunch of friends, none of whom had much experience or training, coming together to put on a show, and who cares if it's going to win any Tony awards so long as their mates in the audience could see one of their colleagues up on stage playing a Patsy Stone caricature with huge, comedy boobies (ho ho ho) or their drinking buddy having to snog his best mate's wife because it's in the script (chortle chortle) or their boss camping it up with feather boas and sequinned tops (tee hee).

And to be honest, that was how it seemed for most of the night (although it turned out that some of the cast actually held rather impressive theatrical credentials, going by the write-up's in the programme) - it was all one big office party. Members of the audiences were casually chatting during the show and generating a few laughs of their own ("Hormones are why there are so many bitches in the world!" snarled a character on stage; "Hear! Hear!" cheered a man in the audience) … and let's not forget the flying shoe that attacked audience members in the stalls (you had to be there). And on stage, what the cast lacked in clockwork comic timing they made up for with oodles of energy, vigour and just plain fun; they were clearly enjoying themselves up on stage and their enthusiasm was infectious. They made us - strangers and friends of the cast alike - laugh many, many times and at the end of the day, isn't that was counts the most in comedy?

>>'Occasionally, the cast were spot on and when they were, it was magic.'

The first two scripts performed that night, David Ives' 'Seven Menus' and 'Loose Tongues' written by Hotcurrie's own Audrey Currie were both strong pieces of comic writing, employing a fine mix of sharp wit, slapstick humour and nudge nudge wink wink below-the-belt humour ("I'll have the breast of chicken" says Jack with a lascivious smile). Currie's farce was particularly impressive for a relative newcomer to playwriting, especially since, like Ives', it worked with a rather large cast within the very tight constraint of a short play. Both playwrights, however, employed their cast beautifully: Ives' script called for a revolving door of characters as the story traced the lives of two romantic couples that eventually came full-circle and Currie's 'Loose Tongues' captured so perfectly the randomness of office gossip that comes with a never-ending stream of characters strolling into the office pantry to talk about characters that have just walked out, that sort of thing.

Although the cast did not always gel together that well for these two 8 to 10-strong ensemble pieces, often not tapping the script for its full comedic potential, occasionally, the cast were spot on and when they were, it was magic. In particular, Jenny Bedford as Barb in 'Loose Tongues' and Ina Hammer in 'Seven Menus', were a tremendous delight as individual performers; Hammer, especially, had brilliant timing and a flair for the ridiculous that would justify a stand-up comedy show all on her own! Others who impressed included Valerie Mullins and Gary Bromley who had less flashy parts in 'Loose Tongues' and 'Seven Menus' respectively but were both strong supporting players, one with her venomous spits (I'll remember her the next time I am tempted to swear), the other by being perfectly droll in playing it perfectly straight.

And if the first two pieces were all fun and flash, then it was Hotcurrie Theatre's last short, Alan Ayckbourn's 'Mother Figure', that showed how seriously the company could take its comedy. The cast of three - Audrey Currie, Malti Lalwani and Gary Bromley - turned in winning performances which teased the script for all its comedic value without losing most - alas, not all, as there were the odd scenes which were played too much for laughs than they should have been if the script was to remain true to its characters and story - of its nuance and subtlety. Currie was particularly impressive as the mother who treats even her adult neighbours like children and Lalwani - who follows her "Painted Stories" (Action Theatre) performance with yet another winner - and Bromley, as the quarrelsome neighbours who are brought under Currie's thumb, were wholly believable, natural and very endearing (drink your milk, there, sonny boy!).

All in all, an entertaining two-thirds which was always tremendous fun and silly if a little messy and possibly under-rehearsed and a last third that was strong, controlled and showed what Hotcurrie Theatre can do when it takes itself a little more seriously. Whether or not they want to - or should - is a different story.