A Very Black Comedy Indeed was an odd combination of dystopian fiction and off-the-wall comedy – The Road meets The Mighty Boosh. This is not an idea without merit – the greatest comedy arises from the greatest tragedy, after all, and what tragedy can be greater than a nuclear holocaust which destroys nearly all of humanity? Unfortunately, however, this production does not come anywhere close to delivering on the promise of its premise.
There are two characters in A Very Black Comedy Indeed – upper-class Charlotte and wacky, zany Charlie, who may or may not be completely insane. (I couldn’t tell. I also thought for a while that the two characters were supposed to be the same person, but if this was the case, then it needed to be spelled out a lot more clearly.) The world has ended, the two characters are stuck in a bar together, and the play – which bills itself as a sort of all-female post-apocalyptic Waiting For Godot – goes from there. It’s a classic straight man/funny man comic set up, and straight man Charlotte is actually a pretty decent character. Unfortunately, funny man Charlie is not funny at all.
This play is a classic case of what happens when actors get carried away and are not restrained by direction. Director Marnie Jones needed to employ a much stronger hand. Heather Campbell as Charlie was permitted to indulge in all the worst excesses of acting, employing melodramatic mannerisms and modes of delivery that I’m sure were hilarious in rehearsal but unfortunately do not carry over to the audience, who aren’t in on the joke. For an audience coming to a piece cold, ‘wacky’ and ‘crazy’ do not equal funny (and, by the same token, do not equal theatre of the absurd). To give an example, there were times when Charlie would sit on the bar and click her heels together for nearly a full minute. Perhaps this was supposed to represent the fact the world had come to an end and she was bored? It was hard to tell. At any rate, for an audience, it was tedious, and Campbell’s overacting did not do the play any favours at all. Stronger direction would have been able to pull all of this unnecessary dramatic excess back and actually allow the character to emerge from underneath all the wackiness.
Charlotte (played by Elise Bialek) was a much more nuanced character, and the ideas she expressed and represented were good – for example, the idea of the apocalypse as freedom from social restraint and expectation. Bialek gave a much more restrained performance (even if she did come close to laughing at her own jokes sometimes), and, as such, the character was much more relatable.
The thing I found the most frustrating about A Very Black Comedy Indeed was that there was clearly a good idea underpinning it, but this idea had not been properly explored. The piece is certainly not without promise – however, this particular production of Stephen Davis’s script is not ready for performance. With a stronger director on board to curb the tendency of the actors to go ludicrously over-the-top, I think it could be a decent show. At the moment, it’s nowhere near close to delivering on its potential.
Chalkline Productions presents
A Very Black Comedy Indeed
by Stephen Davis
Director Marnie Jones
Venue: The Hive Bar | 93 Erskineville Road, NSW
Dates: 14 – 30 September, 2011
Tickets: $16.00 – $13.00