Thursday 14 March 2024

CAR CRASH - Theatre Review

WHAT: Car Crash
WHEN: 11 - 16 March 2024
WHERE: The Butterfly Club (Upstairs)
WRITTEN BY: Gregory Vines
DIRECTED BY: Cassandra McGrath
PERFORMED BY: Elyse Batson, Alec Gilbert, Melanie Madrigali, John Voce, and MJ Wilson

Melanie Madrigali and Alec Gilbert - photo supplied

Here's one for all the Yes Minister fans out there. We all remember that outrageous interview Prince Andrew gave in 2019 about his association with notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. You know the one I mean. The one where he explained his miraculous ability to not sweat. Playwright Gregory Vines has decided to take a peek behind palace doors and imagine what the conversations would have sounded like in his play Car Crash now playing at The Butterfly Club.

The scenario for Car Crash is pretty simple. Two royal advisors (Alec Gilbert and Melanie Madrigali) spin their way through 'family' troubles. They seem to be Prince Andrew (John Voce) specialists and vacillate between boredom and apoplexia trying to manage the Prince's PR. 

The play begins with Gilbert lamenting the toughest decision of the day, trying to choose between a gingernut biscuit and a shortbread for dunking into his tea. Madrigali comes in with the morning papers and the two banter with all of the rhythm and wordplay of that venerable English comedy series I mentioned earlier. Over the course of the hour the two exalt the death of Epstein and ponder the fact that everyone (including themselves) knows/went to school with Ghislaine Maxwell. Then they catch wind of the upcoming interview and their poor little stultified brains whirl into overdrive to plan his interview strategy. We may never know who the brainchild behind that piece of PR absurdity was really, but Gilbert gives a very credible indication it was him!

In their defence, both advisors wanted to pull the plug but then in strides the Prince and all hope of an elegant way out fail in the face of royal obtuseness. Along the way there is a baffling (and not very well crafted) interruption by a professor (MJ Wilson) trying to lobby for a start-up enterprise. That part of the play doesn't really work. I think it was to demonstrate how the real business of the realm gets ignored whilst all the royal shenanigans dominate time and money but it isn't strongly on point and poorly acted so all it does is make the play longer than it needs to be. The show is only an hour long but it feels longer than that because of these scenes and the extraordinarily long blackouts.

Apart from this, the acting across the rest of the ensemble is right on point and Voce brings excellent energy to his cameos as the Prince. Gilbert is perfect as a Sir Humphrey type character. Madrigali's performance is equal to Gilbert's but I do think her character misses it's mark. This kind of writing needs to be played in a Laurel and Hardy style. You need the fool and the straight man (person). In this scenario the show would have had a lot more energy and laughs if Madrigali avoided dropping into fellow foolery with Gilbert. A lot of the humour in a Nigel Hawthorn type of character lies in the 'clear thinking' one being led down rabbit holes in a completely unexpected manner, not in joining in with the crazy. 

This may not be all Madrigali's fault. The show is directed by Cassandra McGrath but I am not convinced she has a lot of experience in stage direction. As lively as Vines' script is, the actual staging of this show is boring. Actors sitting on stage and talking is the absolute death knell of live performance. There is nothing interesting for the audience to see when everyone is sitting and there is little opportunity for actors to communicate their relationship with each other when stuck in a chair. It is even worse when the chairs are on opposite sides of the stage and facing straight out to the audience. The Butterfly Club stages are small but that should incite challenge and innovation in directors, not encourage them to give up.

There is one other actor in the show who I haven't mentioned yet. Elyse Batson plays the quiet, obedient, and disregarded servant Maddison. Batson is a tall woman with a surprisingly imposing presence and a mobile face which speaks volumes even though she speaks very little. I think in the right role, Batson will dominate the stage.

Car Crash is not going to change the world, but it is funny in a retro English way. The characters are archetypes we are all familiar with even though the topic is starting to fade into deep past. Time before COVID seems so much further back than it really is... If sipping tea and dithering about royal foibles is your thing, Car Crash will be exactly your cup of tea.

3 Stars.

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