When: 1 - 16 November 2019
Where: Bluestone Church Arts Space
Written and performed by: Belinda Campbell and Jennifer Piper
Directed by: Kate Cameron
Design by: Chelsea Maron
Lighting by: Jamie Turner
Sound by: Avery Hutley
Stage managed by: Henry O'Brien
|Belinda Campbell and Jennifer Piper - photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn|
Mental health is on everybody's radar at the moment (even the Prime Minister's!) and the Wit Inc team have chosen to take a look at anxiety in their new sketch comedy That Time Everything Went Well And We Were Totally Fine. Waiting for a train at Panic Station, Frankie (Piper) and Gerry (Campbell) manage to miss every train which comes by on their way to see a show in the city.
In between trains we flash to a range of sketches, most of which are TV show parodies such as morning shows and Jeopardy and The Voice. There is one great sketch a little out of the pattern in which we see Frankie trying to get some sleep - if only that annoying little munchkin would stop making her want to pee, turn off a light which wasn't on, etc...
Both Frankie and Gerry have anxiety. Gerry just broke up with her boyfriend. Frankie is bisexual and is having dating problems.
The show bounces around scenarios which are very good at allowing us to see and understand various symptoms of anxiety such as apologizing all the time, crying over everything, and constantly feeling like you've forgotten something. Disappointingly, it gives no strategies on how to deal with the problem - no positive ones, anyway. They do smoke, wallow in their grief, use passive aggression - all the staples.
Although it is a sketch comedy show, Piper and Campbell have created a through line which references the absurdist play Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett. It could have worked it they hammed it up more and committed to the comedy.
The waiting for the train scenes are a bit confusing because they are played with the traditional fourth wall, but then out of the blue in one of them Piper starts doing her responses to Campbell's conversation in direct address to the audience. This is a detail Cameron (director) should have picked up on.
There is also a problematic tonal difference between these scenes and the other sketches and this goes to the heart of the bigger problem. The scripts needs the help of a dramaturg. It feels as if it can't decide if it wants to be drama or sketch comedy although the publicity says it is the latter.
There are also a lot of faults of logic and credibility which become too numerous to slip by unnoticed. For example they miss one train because Frankie takes off her boots, deciding she doesn't want them anymore. Why? And then when the train arrives she has to put them on again. Gerry tells her to put them on in the train but she refuses. Why? The conceit just doesn't hold up.
The morning show cooking sketch is funny and well done. Jeopardy was good too, although predictable and I found myself asking why choose a show which doesn't appear on Australian TV? Surely there would be a greater audience connection if they parodied something like Celebrity Name Game or something like that?
All of the production elements are great - the design (Maron) is strong and the sound (Hutley) is fantastic. There are some really clever lighting solutions by Turner (lighting). There is also a puppet. I don't know why there is a puppet, but Campbell operated it well.
Maybe one of the biggest hurdles for getting more audience laughter is the pace. Piper, in particular, doesn't have the timing right. Comedy needs pace. Witty repartee has to be snappy as well. If you leave too much space between words the jokes fall off the rails because the audience has too much time for their logic to impose itself.
All in all That Time Everything Went Well And We Were Totally Fine has good bones but needs more time in script development with a dramaturg. Decisions need to be made. Questions such as what is the dramatic style and what is the performance style just haven't been interrogated enough. It is a fun show, but I think it's next iteration will be much more fulfilling for audiences.