Thursday, 31 October 2019

Thigh Gap - Theatre Review

What: Thigh Gap
When: 30 October - 10 November 2019
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written by: Jamaica Zuanetti
Directed by: Alice Darling
Performed by: Lauren Mass and Veronica Thomas
Design by: Sophie Woodward
Lighting by: John Collopy and Georgie Wolfe
Sound by: Raya Slavin
Stage Managed by: Jordan Carter
Lauren Mass and Veronica Thomas - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn
Thigh Gap is a comically absurdist play showing at La Mama Courthouse for the next couple of weeks. Playwright Zuanetti takes us through a string of moments between two flatmates as they negotiate each others' oddities and obsessions within the cocoon of pop culture stereotypes, pop psychology and pop self-help.

Iris (Thomas) is bored, unfocussed and strapped for cash. She gives up her painting studio and brings in a flatmate, Gemma (Mass). It seems as if things will go off the rails from the very first day when Gemma brings a rabbit she never mentioned in the interview and insists on reading Iris' tarot cards even though Iris is a full blown sceptic. Iris never says sorry and Gemma never stops saying sorry.

The two women survive the teething pains and find common ground in the struggle to meet societal demands  of what a woman should be like, act like, and look like.  Iris has man troubles and Gemma is a focussed career woman who deals with work pressures with OCD-like tendencies such as having specific shoes for each day of the week. All hell breaks loose when she can't find her Tuesday shoes!

Zuanetti has created a really good echo of Sartre's No Exit although the first half played a bit too heavily into the comedy genre for my liking. At first I was worried I was going to be sitting through another comedy routine just like the thousands which haunt the comedy festivals and fringe festivals of the world. 

Thankfully the show moves more strongly into the absurd and a nightmare vision emerges of two women trapped in cycle of self abuse they, in theory, could choose to leave but never will - much like Estragon and Vladimir in Beckett's Waiting For Godot. This is scarier though because Iris and Gemma are the Everywoman which means millions of women fall into this self-destructive cycle and will never get themselves out.

Darling's direction helps get us to the horror gently, scene by scene. You really can't see it coming at the beginning and then the axe falls like a hammer at the end. This is really helped by Collopy's and Wolfe's lighting which switches between the ordinary and haunted regularly but not in any way predictable. In a play where most directors would fall into the trap of endless blackouts, this team avoid it and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Slavin's sound design was also creative and supportive of the ideas in the production although I think there could have been more of it.

Woodward's design is far less successful in my opinion. The set is clever, with all surfaces covered/upholstered in pink yoga mats. Although untidily finished it is clever and works well within the construct of the play. It really resonates in the exercise scene where Gemma is trying to get her arms to look like those of Gwyneth Paltrow because then she will have the life Gwynnie has, right...?

The costuming, however, is appalling. I can live with the incredibly unimaginative black casual attire. Standard blacks are the actor solve all aren't they? The pink evening gowns, though, are atrocious. They should be thrown out and replaced immediately. They do not say what the performance is saying and they look terrible. I mean really, really bad! Seriously, just go to KMart and get anything and it will be better.

As much as I do like Thigh Gap and it is totally up my ally in terms of ideas and content, I will say I wish it had gone a little deeper, The play kind of goes for the easy targets - models, eating disorders, makeup - but it only touches on the truly systemic situations causing the disfunction. These are the symptoms, not the causes. This is what makes the situation Absurdist. You can't cure an illness if you only treat the symptoms. You have to eliminate the cause.

There are some important references. Gemma's work situation shows us clearly how she falls into her OCD and her reliance on mystical predictive devices. It is a lot harder to work out what is going on with Iris. I suspect it is her poverty which causes her to not be able to pursue her art but the script doesn't really let us in on that. All we really know is she is a party girl.

There are fun references (fun meaning scary but true) such as not eating/eating white bread, self-starving, miracle creams which not only moisten your skin but also solve all life's problems, etc. The rabbit is a fun reference to the movie Fatal Attraction but the prop is not used enough as a bunny and is moved around way to much to become other props like a coffee table, etc. It becomes amazingly irritating because of it's size and how it stands out as a big black object in an all pink set. 

At times it is evident they have explored what to do with it too far, such as when Iris is resting her feet on it on the couch. The denouement would be so much more powerful, however, if we got to see a relationship forming between Iris and the rabbit.

Thigh Gap has a lot of laughs and some good, serious conversation. I haven't mentioned it so far, but Mass and Thomas are fantastic actors and they keep us engrossed from start to finish with not a moment of flagging energy or rhythm. It is wonderful to be in the hands of such a capable team, a team you know you can trust to take you on the journey they have promised. (Oh, and the pop video scene will have you falling on the floor laughing!)

3.5 Stars

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