Q Theatre, May 28
Ever wanted the floor to swallow you rather than be the sacrificial lamb on the altar of audience participation? Having been warned of this show’s extreme level of audience involvement, we wore masks, studiously avoided eye-contact and survived. Many were not so lucky.
But here’s the thing: this eccentric New Zealand troupe, A Slightly Isolated Dog, has found a way to make audience participation much less like legal terrorism. It has to do with intent. Unlike, say, Dame Edna Everage (bless her), these people don’t set out to make the room laugh at the foolishness of the godforsaken victim, they invite you into their playpen, and share their toys. Almost everyone who was picked on – and there were at least a dozen – swiftly overcame their horror and entered into the game. This was audience participation done with warmth rather than malice. The victims were given characters to assume and cue-cards from which to read, and the lines, being funny, earned laughs, so they began rather enjoying themselves. I almost considered removing my mask and making eye-contact. Almost.
Jekyll and Hyde is partly reminiscent of an elongated student revue sketch, partly of Monty Python and partly of The Goon Show (especially in the extravagant and affectionate use of sound effects). But really it’s as original as it is silly, and it’s very, very silly. Devised by the company and directed by Leo Gene Peters, it has five actors putting on John Cleese-style outrageous French accents to be a company of Gallic performers who eventually get around to enacting a zany version of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde (with help from the ze audience).
The performers are Andrew Paterson (as Julie), Comfrey Sanders (Ginger), Jonathan Price (Phillipe), Johanna Cosgrove (Georgette) and Jack Buchanan (Bastien). All are fearless and accomplished, and they pass the roles of Jekyll (designated by a top hat) and Hyde (a black wig) between them like the playthings they are, while others narrate or pluck extras from ze audience.
Not only can they loon about, they can also sing, and their show, which opened in Wellington five years ago, even has the gentlest of messages about being in touch with one’s darker side. Go and see it if it ever comes back – and leave your terror of audience participation at home.