There was a time when audiences took comedy very seriously, indeed all theatre. When Elizabeth R chopped off Mary’s head in 1587 the political climate was so volatile it prompted Shakespeare’s hastily penned ‘Titus Andronicus’ as a vindication of her action. Unsubtle propaganda if ever there was.
It obviously worked though as her opponents set about savaging the play for its technical deficiencies. If you can’t fault the man’s argument fault the man, that’s politics. Tragedy, like her sister Comedy, should not offend the sensibilities. Will was so incensed he wrote ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as a rejoinder, his way of saying ‘up yours’ in verse.
The argument still crops up occasionally although the benchmark of what offends has moved. Shakespeare was required to have Lysander lie ‘further off’ from fair Hermia in order not to offend. In the current offering of ‘No Chance in Hell Hotel’ its lovers engage in coital exchange, singing the while, with such determination and in such a variety of positions that had the song been longer we might well have learned something new we could have tried at home.
As it was they finished with the position preferred by Justice Shallow which earned for him Mandrake when he too would engage in 'tunes to overscutched huswives.'
This comedy treat currently offering at the Darlo Theatre fits the classics in more ways than one. While Jack may make more entrances than are generally allowed the play preserves the Aristotelian unities.
Under the tight direction of Jo Turner, founder of White Rhino, it successfully presents itself for the amusement of its audience. Though diction sometimes suffered, its pace and timing was commendable. It drives the plot through twin time lines in a functionally spare set with the aid of imaginative backlighting.
Written by its stars, Kate Smith and Drew Fairley it’s a farce in which a lovelorn crippled cop and a pert, determined sidekick provide the hook on which to hang a tenuous thriller where love conquers all.
The main fun is reserved to a reluctant Lothario, Jack and the ghost of his frequently transmogrified dad who urges him on to action much as Shakespeare did with Hamlet, prompting an equally penetrating climax.
The constant echo of the classics is intriguing and suggests it may have been inspired for a cognoscente more formally versed in drama. Nevertheless it works. It’s a bit of a hoot really, especially when Jack plays his air piano to yet another number that Justice Shallow might have caroused while Diane ‘soars’ on the cello.
It’s the second run for this play at its home in the Darlo theatre, suitably expanded and developed under the auspices of that theatre’s play development programme, In the Raw.
It will be showing until 3rd February then in May it goes to the Illawarra under the Fringe Programme of the Merrigong Theatre for further finishing. After that it’s on tour to thirty six regional venues courtesy of Critical Stages, a national touring manager supported by the Theatre Board of The Australian Council and Arts NSW.
That accounts for its frugality in set and performers. Anything bigger would be a nightmare and according to Aubrey Mellor, Head of NIDA, actors aren’t all that fussed on touring. That may have to change if this initiative eventually replaces the declining number of regional theatre companies that raised such concern at the Australian Theatre Directors’ Conference in Canberra last year.
It doesn’t seem to faze Kate and Drew, however, or their very able technical team who took their earlier piece, ‘Bangers and Mash’, to Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Philadelphia all to good notices.
It provides a means by which new works can be nurtured close to home rather than seeded in the wild. Not that regional Australia is exactly wild but it necessarily suffers from a lack of resources. There’s a far greater likelihood of success if you nurture your offspring through to maturity in the safety of the home rather than leaving them to chance it in a very much more competitive environment outside. It’s no doubt extremely taxing on everyone concerned, however, so let’s make sure the funding bodies stay behind the initiative.
Taking our theatre seriously will mean we will all get a better perspective on ourselves
Smith & Fairley and Darlinghurst Theatre Company present
The No Chance In Hell Hotel
Written by Kate Smith & Drew Fairley
Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre Company 19 Greenknowe Avenue Potts Point
Dates: Thursday 4 January to Saturday 3 February 2007
Times: Tuesday – Saturday 8pm Sunday 5pm
Tickets: Full $30, Concession $25, Preview/Subscribers $20
Bookings: 8356 9987 or online at www.darlinghursttheatre.com