>the last coarse acting show by the stage club

>reviewed by matthew lyon

>date: 18 may 2002
>time: 8 pm
>venue: the drama 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.


Schadenfreude may not be the most attractive of human sentiments, but it is undoubtedly one of the most universal. When the politician goes arse over tit on his red carpet, the supermodel falls off her stilettos or the actor fluffs his lines, we're always ready to laugh. The Stage Club's latest offering, THE LAST COARSE ACTING SHOW (the last at their ancestral home, The Drama Centre) recognises this in celebrating the many cock-ups and calamities that live theatre is prone to. The five short and silly playlets that comprise the production - from a French farce to a Shakespeherian epic - are chock full of lame lines, ridiculous roles, daft direction and awful acting. But of course, the point of THE LAST COARSE ACTING SHOW is not that the actors et al. accidentally get things wrong, but that they pretend to do so, in strict accordance with the script.

Fortunately, it is fun to see good actors pretending to get things wrong, and this was not in short supply: Barry Woolhead displayed reliable comic timing as a myopic doctor, Justin Lee's hapless juvenile lead was so wooden you could see the grain, Terry Jaggers played an unlikely Good Fairy with all the frustration of the horribly miscast, and Cordelia Fernandez Lee embodied the stoicism of the basically competent stuck in a doomed production.

What all of these four (and several others) had in common was that the worlds of their respective coarse playlets remained real for them, and therefore they did not telegraph to the audience that they as Stage Club actors knew they were doing things wrongly. Thus the illusion of schadenfreude was maintained as we could feel for the plights of, if not the actors, then the oblivious characters they were playing. Other actors, however, seemed too eager to show that they were perfectly aware that they were doing things wrongly. Denise Marsh's supposedly premature interruption of a playlet to sell interval snacks was so knowingly overacted that one could never believe she had walked in early by accident, and Sharron Fletcher's supposedly sotto voce gibes at other actors were made so pointedly it was too obvious that the audience was intended to overhear. Such moments worked against the sense of realism - farcical, exaggerated and ludicrous, but realism nonetheless - that the plays managed at their best to sustain.

Still worse was the fact that it is not good fun to see bad actors pretending to get things wrong. It is, in fact, painful to see comic timing and physicality botched as badly as such actors are wont to do. Sadly there was rather too much of this going on, because while the Stage Club has a substantial core of competent and experienced performers, it just doesn't have the strength in depth to assure quality across five playlets, each with a cast of around ten.

>>'THE LAST COARSE ACTING SHOW was a hit and miss affair. Its coarseness came in two varieties: intended and unintentional, and the one was as funny as the other was off-putting'

This problem was particularly endemic in the last two playlets of the evening, 'Cinderella' and 'The Epic of Julius and Cleopatra', where some of the less experienced actors were very hard to watch. They were not greatly assisted by the direction of John Rowles and Jim Hill respectively, who encountered difficulties with pacing and dramatic cleanness that Daniel Toyne and Roy Marsh, the directors of the earlier three playlets, had largely surmounted.

Largely, but not entirely. Only in a very few places did the action on stage achieve the unbroken comic momentum the Stage Club can be capable of, but at least there were moments of genuine hilarity in all of the pieces. And while some conceits became rather repetitive, there was bound to be something around the corner as funny as, for example, Steve Armstrong's pretending to be a hat stand when he found he couldn't leave the set, Justin Lee's checking with the lighting operator that he could leave his spotlight despite being dead, Simon Hardy's baffled reaction upon noticing that his set had been hung upside-down, or, even better, Daniel Toyne's nonchalant attitude, as the wine-sozzled director of the piece, to the very same event.

And now for something completely different, and puzzling. Just as Phua Chu Kang could (before the government sent him for English lessons) render even the most banal of his lines hilarious by speaking them in exaggerated Singlish, so can we Brits get giggles from a line by delivering it in a British Comedy Regional Accent. There is a considerable range of these accents to choose from, with perennial favourites including the Thick Northerner, the Cheeky Cockney and the Belligerent Scot. Two questions struck me as I listened to several actors spouting CRAs for all they were worth: one, are British Comedy Regional Accents actually funny in the first place? and two, what on Earth are they doing in Singapore?

Granted, a large proportion of the audience was British, (should the PAP ever want to rid the island of the last vestiges of colonialism, they need only bomb a Stage Club production) but I overheard a fair few Americans and Australians chatting at the interval, and even the odd local who probably sneaked in round the back. They must have been wondering why some of the actors were speaking so strangely.

On the other hand, there were times when an accent of some kind was actually required by the script rather than being a superfluous superimposition; and Chris Fensom's delightfully twee Victorian old maid, as well as Simon Hardy's positively Etonian squadron leader, deserve particular credit for fitting the bill exactly.

Right - back to something useful. All in all, THE LAST COARSE ACTING SHOW was a hit and miss affair. Its coarseness came in two varieties: intended and unintentional, and the one was as funny as the other was off-putting. But in another respect, the production was wholly a success. In gathering together so many of its members to perform, so many of its supporters to watch and laugh, and in lampooning so much of its long history, this show was the perfect way for a grand old but still frisky institution to bid farewell to its favourite home.