La La Land | Spooky Duck‘La La Land’ by Christopher Johnson is a sharp, very racy, moral tale told in five to ten minute grabs. It could almost be ‘Pilgrims Progress’ on the streets of LA. In English literature ‘Pilgrim’ is the progenitor of all the hero stories in this vein.

Terry Swanton might be a latter day Christian (the character of Bunyan’s creation), performed with great appeal by Sean Lynch. After his first film script won him an AFI award he’s written a follow up called ‘Men of Stone’.

Terry’s agent has arranged for the script to be read by Jimmy Fleishberg, the Guru of La La Land, appropriately played well over the top by Ian Watkin. It was amongst the one percent of scripts ever read by Jimmy and he liked it. The call has gone out and Terry, like the myriad of other pilgrims to cinema Mecca, hopes to make it through the Wicket Gate and on to the Celestial City of Oscars. We find him now in the City of Angels, Hell by any other name. Here he meets up with his best mate and buddy since school, Jason Pegler, played by Sam Smith. Jason is an aspiring actor keen to assimilate with the natives here but can’t master the accent.

At around this point Bunyan in‘Pilgrim’ has Christian encounter Pliable and Help as he gets way laid in the ‘Slough of Despond’. They could well have become an alloy in Teri, played by Octavia Barron Martin. It’s one of several incarnations of Barron Martin who displays great versatility with an array of costumes and accents, the accent being on the accent in this play that’s made clear right from the beginning. She has been dumped from a casting session. She couldn’t motivate to say ‘FELT’ in the way she would have said ‘fuck’ if she’d wanted one because she thought it was a f…ing rape scene. Now she’s going out to get plastered and laid or vice versa.

We find her now discovering Jason but at the same time holding out promise for Terry. Of course like everything else in this town it’s never going to come to anything. That’s the nature of the town, more short change for the author.

Jason introduces Terry to his own agent, Graham McPhee, played by Drew Fairley and McPhee’s side kick, Fiona. Fiona is another Barron Martin original, (how she manages to remember who she is and what accent to use is something to be wondered at). It turns out McPhee loves ‘talented fucking Aussies’, especially Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman because they are so talented.

Despite misgivings Terry signs up.

He eventually arrives at the modern day Wicket Gate, Fleishberg’s office. Its guarded by Fallon, played by Marcus Hamilton who doubles as the coke dealer (he keeps up the supply of the booze and coke). Then it’s on into the chamber of the ‘Great Man Himself’.

It’s not ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’. It just sounds a lot like it as we watch Terry inexorably bewitched by the magic of the promise of millions (3% of the back end of a movie with mega star Vic Chase).

Fleishberg, like Beelzebub in the original, offers the world to Terry ‘because I love your script and Vic Chase loves your script and everything Vic does makes megabucks … he loves your script so much he’s prepared to do it for a reduced fee. You know why?’  Well yes we do but it still bears the telling.

It’s not long before Terry’s promises to his mates have been reworked or dumped and all his shining ideals lie scattered on the streets of LA. It starts to look like that’s where Jason’s little finger might end up too if he can’t find the $70,000 he’s in hock for on account of accent lessons and drugs.

The characters that populate Bunyan’s blockbuster spiritual renaissance story (never out of print since first published in 1678) are all here, renamed to protect the innocent. There’s Christian, weighed down by ‘the book’, Evangelist who sent him out and Faithful, his friend through the years. There are The Shining Ones and there’s Hypocrisy, Mistrust, Prudence, Piety, Ignorance, Envy and The Flatterer. These are the tempters, the challengers and the guides for Terry on his road to the Celestial City of Oscars.

There are countless sub plots woven into the fabric or tacked on later. Finally it all works out for the best. Terry’s movie is made on little more than the casting budget of a major movie. What the heck, it’s five times more than he needed. Everyone’s happy because, Terri, Fiona, Felicity or whoever gets the Oscar and Fleishberg gets ‘God fucked’ again. Well why not, for heaven’s sake? It’s hard enough to pronounce the name let alone remember it. He only put up the money. What’s that compared to talent?

It all sounds a bit mad but it’s Hollywood and that should explain everything.

Johnson’s script is tight for the most part. It drags a little before half time during the introduction of the array of personnel but once into the second half there are no holds barred. It’s zany stuff.

Some of the jokes may be in house but the industry has engaged in public navel gazing for long enough that everyone should be able to pick up on the slights.

It’s a bit meatier than it might seem at first sight. While such offerings perhaps shouldn’t be compared to the likes of Bunyan the message is obvious, if money isn’t the root of all evil it’s certainly fertilizing it.

It’s a very strong cast with Fairley delivering the lewd flattering agent McPhee back to back with the lewd egotist director Van Der Pelt - Scot verses Afrikaans, it’s all a matter of accents. Hamilton is delicious as Fallon, rocking up with a double in A-OK. Smith gives a very appealing interpretation of Pegler and Chase he makes appalling in equal measure. Barron Martin amazingly fills all remaining roles apart from that of the hero and his tempter.

Stephen Hawker has devised an excellent lighting programme to illuminate our way through the maze. The set that provides the rock sustaining everything through the many LA scene changes is an imaginative cubist design by Katja Handt. Music composed by Hylton Mowday provided an accompany medley to a crazy journey.

The whole exciting bedlam in a shoebox was ingeniously brought together under the direction of Michael Pigott. The pace and delineation of what could be described as a complex interface of character and plot is masterfully managed without losing any of the various through lines or jokes. Of particular note was the delivery by Watkins of what must rank as one of the longest threaded gags ever in explaining why a plumber won’t discount and why the likes of Vic Chase will.

The whole play is a whacky swipe at what, by all accounts, is an even whackier industry.


Darlinghurst Theatre Company & Spooky Duck Productions present
La La Land
by Christopher Johnson

Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre Company | 19 Greenknowe Ave Potts Point
Dates: Wednesday 30 April to Saturday 24 May
Times: Tuesday to Saturday evening 8pm, Sundays at 5pm
Preview: Wednesday 30 April 2008
Tickets: Full $30 Concession $25
Bookings: www.darlinghursttheatre.com or (02) 8356 9987

Related Articles

Mr Burns, a post-electric play | Belvoir Mr Burns, a post-electric play | Belvoir
This is a play which is at turns simple yet complex, richly layered yet straightforward, at turns surprisingly deep and yet skimming the surface. Left – Esther Hannaford, Jude Henshall, Brent...
Power Plays | Sydney Theatre Company Power Plays | Sydney Theatre Company
Power Plays is an entertaining exercise in short-form theatremaking along a centralised theme, even if none of the individual pieces are especially memorable. Photo – James GreenWriting short...

Most read Sydney reviews

The audience for any one night is divided into five groups of twelve people, each of which walks...


Intimate and interactive, Ash Grunwald showed us a small part of what he is made of, musically....