>popcorn by luna-id

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 4 apr 2003
>time: 8pm
>venue: dbs arts centre
>rating: ***1/2

>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.


>>>>>NATURAL BORN COMEDIANS

I've never seen Oliver Stone's 'Natural Born Killers'. All I know about it is that after my brother saw it he shaved his head and took up rugby, and that it sparked off a major debate about the responsibilities of the media in portraying violence, and that it bears an uncanny resemblance to Ben Elton's POPCORN.

Director Bruce Delamitri is up for an Oscar for one of his extremely violent films in which a guy called Chop Chop does as his name suggests, but with style, a la Tarantino. Bruce wins, and returns home to celebrate with wannabe actress Brooke Lee, unaware that his biggest fans, white trash spree-killing psychos Wayne and Scout Hudson are awaiting him with a small arsenal of firearms and an unexpected proposition: he and his family get to remain alive if he admits that the murders they have committed are his fault. But Bruce doesn't want to take the blame any more than they do.

Writer Ben Elton, is a very clever man. Indeed I've often thought when watching his work - for example, his stand-up comedy on British TV or his sitcoms like 'Blackadder' or 'The Young Ones' - that he is considerably more clever than he is funny or talented, although he is undeniably both of these things also. I saw this again in Elton's drawing of his lead character, Wayne Hudson, semi-inbred trailer trash with a penchant for slasher flicks, both viewing and enacting. The problem was that Elton just couldn't resist smattering Wayne's speech, which is generally as hillbilly hick as you can get, with bons mots insults that sounded like Edmund Blackadder at his most urbanely vitriolic: I recall particularly the phrase "you Gucci-wrapped bag of bones". But Hudson was far closer to a Baldrick than a Blackadder and, funny and clever as these lines were, they did rather undermine the character Elton was drawing.

>>'While POPCORN's fluff was fun, more fire would have been fabulous.'


Which was also a problem for Daniel Jenkins who played Hudson in this production. Faced with the task of portraying a Neanderthal occasionally prone to Wildean outbursts of wit, Jenkins did a solid job. His physical presence was heavy, threatening; he spoke with an accent so thick you could spread it; and in his face there were flashes of De Niro in gangster mode. But there were also moments where Jenkins' mobile features made his intelligence shine through the mask of stupidity he had donned, and it was at these times I questioned whether I could truly believe in him. Still, you can't blame the guy for making the same mistake as the writer...

Debra Stych in the role of Scout, Hudson's "best girl" was lucky not to face any such scripting inconsistencies and acquitted herself beautifully, giving her role a real sense of life. If Jerry Springer had an illegitimate daughter, Stych could play her in the biopic; and although I can see how Scout could well have appeared two-dimensional in the hands of a lesser actor, Stych was able to bring out everything present in the writing, producing a character I can best describe as an improbably stupid, innocently brutal ingénue.


Of the rest of the cast, Christian J Lee seemed to be wearing his character, film director Bruce Delamitri, like a suit a couple of sizes too large. I had the sensation that he was shaking around in there, trying to fill up the material - though once I got used to this I liked his alternating wolfishness and whining. Sean Yeo as producer Karl Brezner brought his trademark energy but varnished it over with a jaded bitterness that gave him the sharpness he needed. Carina Jennie Hales as Hollywood ex-wife Farrah Delamitri was both quite amusing and most certainly in the wrong play, since no one else on stage was acting nearly as much as she was. And Beatrice Chia should be shot. I don't mean this cruelly, it's just that she improved so dramatically after her character, model-turned-actress Brooke Lee, got hit in the shoulder that it was well worth the price of the bullet. Prior to her wounding, Chia had been on autopilot, and had clearly missed the accent coaching Christina Sergeant had successfully provided for the rest - but as soon as her blood bag went bang, Chia (paradoxically) came alive and really convinced me of her pain.

Sebastian Zeng's set was notable for its ability to suggest different locations. With a little help from Yo Shao Ann's lights, it implied, without quite transforming into, a cinema screen, a Hollywood mansion, an Oscar podium, etc. It did, however, seem to have lost out to the costumes in the play's budgeting process, and when Wayne and Scout commented on the opulence of Delamitri's mansion, I wondered if they'd ever seen an episode of 'Homes of the Rich and Famous'. But it was certainly practical, and director Samantha Scott-Blackhall used it intelligently, exploiting its height when necessary, and succeeding particularly well in keeping the focus on the important action even when the stage was crowded.

If there was one thing I wanted more of, it was anger. Elton is a very angry performer in his stand-up comedy, and much of the play - especially its obsession with culpability - reminded me of this. Which is not to say that the production was sedate - far from it - but I sometimes wondered what would happen if you took the comedy away: would the play's message stand on its own. Possibly it would, but not on two firm feet. So while POPCORN's fluff was fun, more fire would have been fabulous.