Thursday 2 February 2023

A YEAR OF DATING: Theatre Review

 What: A Year of Dating
When: 3 - 11 February 2023
Where: The MC Showroom (Mainstage)
Written by: Lucy Holz
Directed by: Lyall Brooks
Sound Design & Composition by: Tom Backhaus
Lighting & AV Design by: Gabriel Bethune
Performed by: Emma Jevons and Seon Williams

Emma Jevons and Seon Williams - photo supplied

I am not going to lie. Every year there is a new show (several new shows) about dating across the stages/festivals of the world. You can get jaded by it or you can accept that as a species, every year there are around 5 years worth of youths looking to find love/partnerships/hookups - and that doesn't include the mature, post-divorce crowd! Dating is a part of the human experience so it can be intriguing to see how it shifts and moves as the years roll by. A Year of Dating, written by Lucy Holz, is the current instalment and is being presented at The MC Showroom as part of the Midsumma Festival.

Hannah (Emma Jevons) and Holly (Seon Williams) are housemates. Holly has decided to dedicate the upcoming year to dating in the hope of finding love or at least learning how to avoid catastrophe. Hannah is a 20 year old virgin who appears to be trapped in perpetual celibacy as they wait for true love to come to them. In picaresque style the pair travel across the calendar as Holly recounts horror stories, comedic farces, hopeless despairs, and surreal absurdities - the experiences we all sum up in the simple word 'dating'.

I have seen both of these performers before and they are some of the best acting talent in Melbourne. In fact, Jevons impressed me mightily with their physical comedy and impersonation skills completely in the style of Mad As Hell hilarity. Jevons not only plays Hannah. They also a selection of dating partners Holly interacts with across the twelve months. It was no surprise at all that Williams was able to carry the dramatic and comedic load of a character such as Holly.

Holz's play has been written in the Festival Fifty Format which, in this case, works well. The difficulty with an overt conceit like a calendar year is the audience know what is coming and how it is going to arrive. We know it will start in January and end in December and that is kind of what we want in any show with a title beginning A Year of... 

The theatrical challenges in this circumstance is play structure and direction. Holz's play deals well with the question of structure. The architecture is established (the housemates), and the stories vary in length, energy, and Holz plays with digital devices to break the potential staging monotony and performance rhythms. It is effective and whilst I had a couple of moments of loss of attention, these structural shifts brought me back into the story at crucial points.

Lyall Brooks has directed Jevons and Williams to create a fast and furious comedic assault. Comedy needs pace and the use of stage and bodies is truly excellent. Unfortunately in all of that energy flying around he has forgotten to give the audience a moment to breath. If this was stand up comedy my statement would be absurd. A Year Of Dating is theatre though, and we need to care about the characters. I am not sure we are given the chance which leaves us a bit unaffected at the end.

At this point I need to declare I am familiar with Holz's writing. I was the dramaturg on her pre-pandemic Melbourne Fringe Festival show Our Father. I know her writing and whilst A Year Of Dating is a completely different genre I can tell you her writing gives lots of clues and space to explore deeper aspects of her characters. Sadly, Brooks has missed this and presented Hannah and Holly as quite 2 dimensional. 

It begins with the character of Hannah. As mentioned earlier, Jevons plays many characters and makes them explode with glorious physical sketch comedy technique. I feel Hannah, on the other hand, should have been real rather than a Gwendolen Fairfax cut out. This would have allowed real connection and humanity with Holly and also would have provided a window of opportunity to speak to the A's in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. People forget about the A's. Maybe Holz wasn't thinking this when writing the character but the script certainly doesn't preclude it being suggested in performance. 

This simple shift would have allowed Holly to have a real connection and we could have believed in her chance for real love. The power of this connection within the context of the script would have been almost Hannah Gadsby level powerful. Remember, sometimes great comedy needs some deep despair to really allow the audience to fly to the moon.

Having said this A Year of Dating is an hour of hilarity and perhaps a bit TMI about sex and the dating scene. There is young love, first love, self love, all of it across spectrums you may not even realise exist! A Year of Dating is the perfect festival show and it is sleek and sexy with a great sound (Tom Backhaus) and lighting (Gabriel Bethune) design. The Comedy Festival is coming soon so if we are lucky it will get a second season. Just in case it doesn't though, you should pop down to Prahran and see it now!.

3.5 Stars

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