When Fringe first-timers Tim Monley and Katy Houska come onto stage, introduce themselves and announce they’ll be putting on a play, they have the bashfully excited air of third-graders doing show and tell. They seem a little dewy-eyed about being on stage at all. It’s an act of course – both prove to be confident and versatile performers – but then, this show asks, what isn’t an act?
Play Actually is all about the way people represent and, on occasion, misrepresent themselves. Billed as a “non rom com”, a romantic comedy which they are determined will not end in a happy coupling, it focuses specifically on dating and the myriad of foolish games and little fakeries that entails.
We have a woman looking for love, obsessed with the “rules” as defined by a self-help dating guide, a wannabe Casanova trying to employ the manipulative seduction techniques of The Game and some good old fashioned nightclub bravado. At its most overt, we have a couple who know each other only as idealised avatars in an online world – a thinly disguised version of notorious electric otherland Second Life – who are about to have a virtual wedding but are shaken up by the intrusive attentions of another girl; or rather, what online you might call a G.I.R.L. (Guy In Real Life).
The satire is both absurdist and accurate. Monley and Houska portray every game as equally ridiculous, every player as both pretentious and vulnerable. With their clowning skills – for all their affected coyness, both have studied at the Philippe Gaulier school – and irrepressible energy, they make every scene zing.
The staging is ingeniously low key. When they go into the virtual world, the actors wield puppets as their avatars, the glossy oversexed look of Second Life represented by these puppets being, in fact, blow up sex dolls. The set, constructed entirely of white cubes, is able to be rearranged into new shapes and the cubes flipped to create backdrops with hidden painted surfaces. Between scenes the two actors remodel it themselves, nattering out of character to each other and the audience. This constant deconstruction includes the artifice of the play itself as another of the games being poked fun at, another level of risible fakery.
But listen to me, sounding all abstract and analytical about it. What do I know? I simply saw the show and giggled myself silly for an hour, an experience which I now need to render into words to make myself sound knowledgeable and arty. Another game, really, another persona. It is a fun game though, you have to admit, and that is one of the great things about Play Actually. In pointing out the foolishness of the ways people represent themselves, Monley and Houska celebrate this foolishness as much as they mock it. Which makes for a great feel-good show, whether or not a couple are going to get together at the end.
Tim Monley & Katy Houska present
directed by Mark Winstanley
Venue: Bella Union, Trades Hall
Dates: September 26 - October 13