If ever there was a case to answer for pun control, it’s the current Bali Padda and Griffin Independent production, Lighten Up.
Written by Nicholas Brown and Sam McCool, this scatter gun of pun may have some punters wishing for a sawn-off, but the misfires are few and the target is definitely hit.
The genesis of the show came from actor Nicholas Brown’s observation of a benign but systematic racism that was at play in the entertainment business. Never overt, its underlying invisibility made it difficult to call out. A serious subject to be sure, Brown thought the target best tackled by laughter. Partnering with stand up Sam McCool to leaven the heaviness with humour, Lighten Up is a playful mix of jokes, situational and romantic comedy, madcap metaphysics and absurd antics.
Brown plays a character called Green, a brown man born and bred in Greystanes sporting green lenses, an aspiring actor whose abiding ambition is to secure a role in Bondi Parade, a popular national TV show. His mum, Bronwyn, is a bottle blonde with a sinister secret, and his sister, Livvy, is fixated on breeding budgies.
While waiting his shot at soap stardom, Green is “living the dream” as an actor portraying a convict tour guide when he encounters first contact with Sandy, an indigenous woman, who corrects his erroneous narration regarding the First Fleet. It’s love at fleeting first sight.
Green is visited by the spirit of Merle Oberon, now a “half caste” agent, allegedly responsible for the stardom of Anglo Indians, Cliff Richard, Englebert Humperdinck and Ben Kingsley, and ready to do the same for him.
Enter Anil Dixit, big, bold Bollywood director played with flamboyant panache by Sam McCool. Talk about putting the Pun into Punjab! His slick schtick is a session of punilingus from which he hardly comes up for air! He wants to cast Green in his latest Bollywood blockbuster, but Green doesn’t want a bar of it, because “that’s not who he is.” But Bondi Parade doesn’t want him for who he is either, preferring him to adopt a faux Indian accent to match his looks and milk some mirth.
So, instead, he auditions to play an indigenous character – to the shock of his new squeeze, Sandy – and the audience.
In challenging ideas about colour and culture, the playwrights have created a broad channel to navigate the rips and reefs of political correctness and the submerged perils of prejudice.
Nicholas Brown as John Green is hilariously hapless as the man “caught between a rock and a black face”, Katie Beckett is charmingly feisty as Sandy and Vivienne Garrett is decidedly daffy as Bronwyn, bastion of the old bias and discriminations camouflaged by New Age triteness and an obsession for Olivia Newton John.
McCool is marvellous not only as the Hindi helmer but as Sandy's Maori dad.
Julie Goss does double duty as Livvy and Merle Oberon, striking a wonderfully arch theatrical portrayal as the glamorous movie star, once feted, now faded, an exotic bit of ectoplasm.
And in contrast to her recent sensational solo turn in Where Do Little Birds Go?, Bishanyia Vincent revels and excels in a multitude of characters ranging from Green's gormless ex girlfriend to a Cockney tour operator and a series of sophisticates and sillies.
If you quibble over quick fire quips you may need a shot of punicillin – OMG it's contagious! - to survive this show, for Lighten Up is a fantasia of paronomasia, end to end innuendo, but as superficial as an iceberg. Titanic fun.
Bali Padda and Griffin Independent present
by Nicholas Brown & Sam McCool
Director Shane Anthony
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod St, Kings Cross NSW
Dates: 30 November – 17 December 2016
Tickets: $38 – $30
Bookings: griffintheatre.com.au | 02 9361 3817