Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Last Brunch - Theatre Review

What: The Last Brunch
Where: The Studio - Gasworks Arts Park
When: 31 August - 3 September
Written and Directed by: Ben Dowthwaite
Performed by: Mathew Arter, Elizabeth Brennan, Jay haggett, Aidan Niarros, Ben Paine, Patrick Shields, and Jeff Wortman.
Set by; Robert Nightingale
Costumes by: Caillan Souter

MATHEW ARTER, PARTICK SHIELDS, AIDON NIARROS

Stage 6 are a new Victorian theatre company established by Dowthwaite and Arter from a working relationship begun during their studies at Deakin University. The Last Brunch is their second venture, (following Deux Ex Machina which is being restage as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival this year), and continues Dowthwaite's curiosity about the mythos and ritual surrounding religion. The show is currently on at Gasworks in their Studio space.

Dowthwaite has directed this play as well has having written it. I usually rail at this combination because I feel playwrights have difficulty seeing their work with an outside eye. In this case, I think it is a really good idea. Dowthwaite does not have the craft of writing developed enough to be able to hand over his ideas to another person yet. 

The ideas in The Last Brunch are intriguing and strong, but it is the direction and collaboration with the actors which give the story it's life and nuance. There aren't really any rules on how many times 'The Chosen One' can be said before the audience are turned into homicidal maniacs, but if we consider our reactions nowadays to 'stop the boats' you may get a sense of where that line might be, and I think a world record is broken with the use of 'um' and 'er'...

The play deals with important concepts, questioning religion and cults. It asks whether there is a difference, if and why one might be better than the other, how seemingly normal people can become involved, and how contradictions between tenet and reality can be explained. There is much visual humour, with aesthetic nods to da Vinci's 'The Last Supper' as well as a not so subtle stabs at sects such as Scientology. Questions are asked about sanity, madness, gullibility, coercion and corruption: Heavy concepts, yet delivered (for the most part) in a lighthearted and funny evening of jabs, jibes, and jests.

The real heart of The Last Brunch lies in the wonderful ensemble work of the actors. Everyone holds their own in this group of seven, with each character (named after peripheral characters in the Christ story) well developed by the performers. This group of seven, in a smallish acting space, manage to achieve a synergy where every member of the troupe have created characters of great detail and individuality, and none of them drop out for even a single moment.

I am reluctant to pick anyone out because they are all so good but Haggett (Judas) is a craic from start to finish, Arter (Andrew) keeps the energy high and has comic timing to die for, and Brennan (Mary) is mesmerising. It is her amazing gift which allows the one truly horrific moment of story telling to blaze and makes what is generally a light hearted romp tear deep into the soul with a reality almost too painful to experience. This is also the moment Dowthwaite's directing shines as he takes this revelation as far as it can be sustained before it rips the show apart, then brings us all back to calmer waters. Who would have thought a Hamletesque ending would be considered calmer waters?

Niarros as doubting Thomas is beautifully crafted and Shields (James) is a star in the making. He needs to develop vocally, but here is an actor to watch as he develops his craft. Paine (Peter) does a fine job of  controlling the action. Wortman (Simon) probably had the hardest job of all and did a mighty job with a character who probably shouldn't even be in the play. There is little context, need, or script for this character and making him stand out visually as Souter has done just makes this so much more obvious. 

The Last Brunch is a fun night of theatre. It lacks the depth of writing to take it where it needs to go, but the actors are fun to watch and the directing is really strong.

3 Stars

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