Sometimes I wonder if the difference between a film audience and a theatre audience is that a modern film audience is geared up to criticize and needs to be won over, and a theatre audience walks in already willing to suspend that disbelief, practically soliciting the actors on stage – come on, entertain me, you know I want it! The common thread of course is that both audiences want to be involved in a story. “It’s the story that counts,” my favourite creative writing lecturer used to say, “It’s all about the story!”
The Pitch, a play about a screen writer, begins with this precept – that the story is what a writer focuses on first and foremost. It’s a clever concept and almost everything about this play is what good theatre is all about: it has action, it has great acting, it has comedy, it uses the stage well, it has pace, it has energy, and it has story (two in fact). The cleverness comes from taking that concept of a play within a play – you know that thing that theatre types rabbit on about, Hamlet and all that – and modernizing it a bit so we have a film within a play. Aye, there’s the rub!
The Pitch, written and performed by Peter Houghton, begins with a down and out Aussie film writer, Walter Weinermann, reminding himself that pitching a script is all about the story. He has a chance to pitch his idea to a panel of big-shot producers in less than an hour, but the problem is he doesn’t have an ending yet. So in order to get his creative juices flowing, he does a quick retelling of the story right up to the non-ending.
This re-telling is the basis of what is a highly entertaining play: one man, a minimal set, 80 minutes. And in this time Houghton plays Clint Eastwood, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sean Connery, Stephen Fry, Chris Tucker, Anthony Hopkins, Jet Li, John Gielgud, Russell Crowe, Bob Hoskins, Rupert Everet, Michael Douglas, Elijah Woods, and does the best damn Robert De Niro face you’re ever likely to see anywhere, possibly even on Robert De Niro himself. Even if you’re not a theatre fan, do yourself a favour and go and see the Robert De Niro face. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Houghton’s energy is remarkable. He says of the show: "I wanted to write something that had the energy and drive of a Hollywood blockbuster… So I decided to write a play about a film complete with soundtrack, guns, car crashes, plane crashes, romances, assassinations, wars, explosions, betrayals, jealousies and revenges.”
You may not believe this, but he does all of those things, on stage, by himself, often all at the same time. And he never gets puffed. Like I said, remarkable. The explosion scene is hilarious and I'm quite sure that every man in the audience was rejoicing in its familiar ‘manly’ delivery, not to mention its duration.
The ‘film speak’ (“we dolly through the crowd” says Houghton, with his hands forming a square in front of his face) is effortlessly interwoven into the film story, which also draws on Walter’s own story, and Houghton cleverly and easily draws us into both stories with equal interest. We want the Hollywood clichés, we’re begging for them, and we laugh when he delivers them. This is the ingenuity of the piece. What becomes humdrum on the big screen is a riot within the intimacy of the stage. We’re drawn into the familiar clichés and formulas of the film story and we’re happily visualising the desert in Afghanistan and the smoky blues bar in Paris with equal clarity, while we have Houghton, with more energy than a pepped-up electron, metres from us and in the flesh, giving us what only theatre can. As I said, it’s highly entertaining stuff.
Houghton’s energy is almost a character unto itself in this piece. There are moments when he is playing several different characters, in several different story lines, and the pace he maintains and the seamless switching from one character to another (with different accents and different genders) is nothing short of astounding. There is nothing quite like the privilege of watching a talented actor work that hard just for you. It really is the true joy of the theatre. The fact that Houghton also wrote the script just makes it more remarkable.
See The Pitch. You’ll laugh, I promise, and you’ll be impressed, of that I’m sure.
Black Swan Theatre Company and Critical Stages
in association with Subiaco Arts Centre present
by Peter Houghton
Venue: Subiaco Arts Centre, 180 Hamersley Road, Subiaco
Dates: Tues - Sat, 22 July - 2 August 2008
Tickets: Standard $35 /Concession $30 / Groups 6+: $28/ Students $20
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133