Anchored by the glossy, well-coiffured Paula Day (Dimity Shepherd), The Day Report is your typical current affairs program. Touching stories on nursing homes, bushfires, and live crosses to ex-pat soapie stars ‘living the dream’ in the UK are all part of the show’s half-hour program. When the camera is rolling, Day is a polished and airbrushed mannequin, simulating actual concern by knitting her eyebrows and frowning in sympathy for the victims of the day’s tragedy. But as soon as the director calls “we’re out”, Day predictably drops the charm and turns into the prissy, permanently-PMS-afflicted princess we secretly believe all current affairs anchorwomen to be. Surrounded by a well-meaning but long-sufferering studio crew – as well as the other strange, often socially inept characters bred by too much time without sunlight – Day aims to captain her program safely to shore each night. Unfortunately, unco-operative interview subjects and ‘technical difficulties’ make her job that little bit harder.
Crossing Live is peculiar in that it aims to combine several different media into one stage production. Opera, music, text and audio-visual enhancements make the stage – like the TV studio it represents – appear busy and chaotic. Dimity Shepherd’s script as Paula Day is actually scored, so that she is sing-speaking the natural rhythms and pitch changes of her character. For the most part this is an extremely effective and interesting device, and one that it is satirical in itself: one can’t help think of Sandra Sully and her deep, anchorwoman voice. None of the other characters sing, though, and somehow their spoken text lacks the punch to compete with Day’s histrionic, diva-esque libretto. Because the show takes place more or less over real time, there are moments of silence or of stillness where the ‘crew’ is waiting for something to happen that the audience, too, sits and waits for some action to take place. This can give the piece a kind of soggy feel: despite its realism – heightened as it may be – it is hard to watch ‘reality’ happen on stage without a strong sense of dramatic tension or conflict. Lacking in any kind of real climax, the show kind of peters out, with no sense of resolution in sight. This is not a problem in itself, but in this production it feels like a bit of a copout.
The highlights are the moments that ring the truest – Chloe Armstrong’s portrayal of an Australian soapie star abroad is hilariously believable, and Dimity Shepherd is at her finest when she is in front of the camera as Paula Day. There are also some lovely moments between the make-up artist and the floor manager that I would have liked to see more of.
With subject matter this rich, there is so much potential for great satire and cunning, astute observations on the nature of the kind of programs that feed us these useless, wishy-washy “human interest” stories that seem to interest very few actual humans. But Crossing Live doesn’t quite fulfil its potential, and thus feels a bit like a work in progress.
A tale of morality for the commercial half hour
Venue: The Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse, Melbourne
Dates: 15 – 22 September 2007