A Trivial Pursuit has a fun concept. There's definite merit in the idea of a comedy set at a pub trivia night, and I think it's something that could definitely be done successfully on stage. This show, however, is not what I would call successful. While it did draw laughs from some of the audience, I found it awkward, unfunny, and at times, excruciating.
The premise is relatively simple. Jesse (Tim Green) and Claire (Verity Smith) have met once, liked each other, and slept together, and now are meeting again for the second time. They're both nervous, so they each bring a friend - Jesse's cocky mate Alex (Xavier Coy), and Claire's too-cool-for-school roommate Francesca (Liana Giurissevich). They wind up at the pub on trivia night and form an unlikely team. Hilarity (in intention, anyway) ensues when the trivia host Stef (Matthew Northover) starts hitting on Claire, while Alex and Jesse encounter the wacky double act bartenders, both named Ben (Brent Lewis and Justin Miltenyi), and Alex and Francesca both start chatting to the security guard Wayne (Jeeves Verma), who turns out to be quite different than either of them expected.
I was divided as to whether the problem was the script or the acting. Both, to be frank, are not great. The only character I genuinely liked both writing-wise and acting-wise was Giurissevich's Francesca, who was witty and sarcastic and likeable. There were some decent performances from Northover and Verma as Stef and Wayne. I felt sorry for Lewis and Miltenyi, who played the Bens - they could have been good if they had better material to work with. Coy, Green, and Smith, however, were all very tentative and unsure of themselves (though, to their credit, they did improve over the course of the show).
Perhaps stronger direction might have helped these actors find their feet a little better, as well as improving the pace of the show, which needed to be much snappier. It felt like it was either under-rehearsed or weighted down with in-jokes (or possibly both). And, if nothing else: slowest. trivia night. ever.
The problem at the heart of it, though, was Daniel Muggleton's script. Leaving aside the parts that bordered on being sexist and homophobic (many, especially the latter), and the dreadful double act material written for the Bens (painfully unfunny), it desperately needed tightening. It was the kind of script that feels like a first draft, with whole segments that had no real point beyond 'being wacky'. Considering that this is the show's second run, I found this surprising. I don't think it's unsalvageable - there are some bits which are genuinely funny, and the characters are solid - but it needs some serious rewriting. At the moment, it's flabby and self-indulgent, neither of which are good in comedy. And the ending needs to be scrapped and completely reimagined. As it stands, it is incredibly uncomfortable and homophobic.
The concept of A Trivial Pursuit is great but the execution is not. It has ideas and moments that I like (as well as a really good set), but the writing, direction, and acting could all use some improvement. If it's reworked and rewritten, it might be worth seeing, but at the moment, I can't recommend it.
Sydney Fringe Festival presents
A Trivial Pursuit
Venue: Sidetrack Theatre, 142 Addison Road, Marrickville
Dates: 14 - 16 September 2012, 8pm