SBW Stables Theatre, October 12
When it comes it’s as unexpected as a wedge of gorgonzola in a bag of jellybeans. Playwright Nick Coyle leads you into a mad tunnel of laughs, that has jokes, slapstick, silliness and satire jostling you relentlessly from all angles, until you feel pinched and punched into a state of comedic exhaustion. Then he hits you where it hurts with a mouthful of poignancy that leaves a lump in the throat.
Few writers can pull this off. A blow to the heart while being tickled usually prompts an unwanted laugh or saccharine-overdose nausea. But Coyle succeeds, aided by a cast that switches gears as seamlessly as a luxury car. Directed by Ben Winspear (for Griffin), Claire Lovering (as Kimberly), Michelle Lim Davidson, Tina Bursill and Gareth Davies (collectively playing 18 roles) make this world premiere production’s tonal change equally affecting and effective.
And the source of the poignancy? That saddest, most pathetic of situations: unrequited love. Poor Kimberly has not just fallen for Miles (Davies), who is engaged to Lily (Davidson), she’s incapable of conceiving of life without him. Yet all her stratagems to win him merely lead to the torment of being ordered from his life. When, a year later, he still doesn’t want her, what option does she have?
From blank sadness Coyle leads us into the play’s blackest humour, and then to a final (and perhaps unnecessary) dose of woe. I can think of no other work quite like it, because, while sometimes irritatingly silly, it’s more often raucously funny, and yet shrewd signals along the way suggest Kimberly’s story is darkening with the desperation of her obsession. When she attends an improv class, and the teacher (Bursill) tells her, “You’re just a girl standing in a void”, she replies, “I’m way ahead of you” – and she’s ahead of us, too: already aware she’s a tragic character trapped in a comedy.
Sophie Fletcher’s ingenious set is like the evolving backdrop to an animated cartoon, and Winspear’s casting is ideal. Lovering makes the transition from clowning to pathos work; Davies good as the detached Miles, toying callously with the besotted Kimberly. Even better are Bursill (especially as Miles’s no-nonsense mother) and Davidson, the latter hitting the humour and sadness sweet-spots like potting balls in snooker. It could lose 15 minutes, but it’s a wild ride.
Until November 17.