‘7 tiny plays, 70 tiny minutes, take the trip…’
That was the tagline for this intriguing show that debuted at Brisbane’s Metro Arts centre on Wednesday night. Like a series of short films thrust into the arena of live performance, the concept was great and had me hooked well before the evening arrived. However - as is often the case with short films - the end result was a hit and miss sequence of clichéd punch lines, awkward tonal changes and caricatured characters. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of laughs to be had. And it certainly looked fantastic. It just wasn’t quite what it could have been.
Produced by the ensemble team of Nick Backstrom, Delene Butland, Sean Dennehy, Nigel Poulton and Jo Thomas, 'Micro Trip' was created as the first of many shows intended to showcase short plays by Australian creators. Shaun Charles, Daniel Evans (writer of last week’s ‘Ivy Shambitt and The Sound Machine’), Adam Gelin, Brendon Glanville, Stewart Reeves and Sally Rodda joined Backstrom and Dennehy as playwrights, while each of the individual narratives were acted and directed by the cast.
‘Kale & Verona’ was a cheeky piece of sitcom fluff, beginning the night with a promise of mature and topical comedy. ‘It’s Hot’ offered some clever poetic dialogue but fell flat with a punch line that could be seen a mile away. ‘Moving Fast’ took a reasonably charming but ultimately timid stab at political manoeuvring and religious fanaticism. And ‘In The Park’ - said to touch on ‘the horror of being mistaken for a paedophile’ - was really just an ordinary chit-chat between an unlucky-in-love thirtysomething and his neurotic mother friend. With each story averaging around ten minutes - two of them split into episodic form throughout the night - all but one felt a little undercooked.
The highlight was Sally Rodda’s ‘Ten Commandments’, a biting commentary on Catholic hypocrisy. Set in a confessional, a guilt-ridden man gets more than he bargained for when the advice he receives is in direct conflict with the Holy Scripture. A tightly written narrative with the closest semblance to a traditional three-act structure of the night, the performance was fast, witty and provided a satisfactory conclusion. Regrettably, this couldn’t be said for the other stories, which tended to wring their laughs from slapstick or otherwise goofy means.
The centrepiece was a three-part story called ‘Grace’. Listed in the program as a ‘dark comedy’, the narrative revolved around the title character’s awkward celebration to overcome tragic loss. Serving up coloured soft drinks and all the staple snacks of a primary school child’s birthday, Grace enforces a strict no-alcohol policy and makes her guests sit and watch her delve into her sadness via performance art. Jo Thomas was great in her role as the host with more than a few screws loose. However, the comedy fell short when the story took a discomforting turn, portraying as funny an issue that is anything but. I couldn’t help but feel guilty for laughing. After all, the entire show had been set up as comedy.
Closing off the evening was ‘A Trip Down Brunswick Street’, a random assortment of silliness that clearly drew the most laughs from the audience. With its London Bobbies, monkeys and recurring theme of that old chicken crossing the road gem, the plot centred on a young Uni student and his experience in the Valley after having his drink spiked. With the entire cast involved as varying elements of said student’s hallucinations, this segment was nothing if not fun. However, with no real narrative point to speak of, it left me a little cold.
This isn’t to say the night wasn’t enjoyable. It was. The set design was stark yet imaginative. The intervals between each story were even fun to watch, with characters and sets being put in place by cast members in white overcoats. It’s just that the performance as a whole was only enjoyable to the extent that watching a game of charades or witnessing a drunken dress up party is enjoyable - funny people, wearing funny clothes and acting funny. Delene Butland is particularly amusing with her hysterical giggle that could just give you nightmares.
All in all, 'Micro Trip' is like a whirlwind holiday where potential attractions are bypassed and, like the (rumoured) effects of LSD, this trip offered many laughs and visual appeal but little sense or comedic depth.