Left – Julian Dibley-Hall and Izabella Lena. Cover – Charles Purcell and Julian Dibley-Hall. Photos – Pier Carthew
Playwright Ross Mueller has recently completed his MA in Writing for Performance at the VCA. The program for his new play, Lifetime Guarantee, doesn’t tell you if this was his MA project or not, it doesn’t contain any notes about the ideas informing the play or tell you about the story. You go in cold. The set is minimalist and designy in squares with rows of fluoro lights on three levels with an architect’s model of an apartment block downstage. The opening scene sees Danny (Charles Purcell) and Charlie (Julian Dibley-Hall) at odds about how their respective needs for affection.
Plot is thin. Danny has left Chloe (Candace Miles) for Charlie but their new man-love is in danger of being brought asunder all because designer/architect thingy Charlie blabs to TV journalist Danny something weird and confidential about his new assistant, Jody (Izabella Yena in a terrific turn). Danny smells a scoop. Jody hates her name, which seems to cause her deep trauma, more so than her unconventional choices of sexual partners. I didn’t buy it. An odd story is built around a reveal which is hard to invest in, because the stakes … Don’t worry about stakes.
The play is defined by wit, verbal and visual wit, crisp performances and some very funny one-liners. The story is a vehicle for the dialogue to vibrate like an ear drum and arch itself backward into a pretzel, which it does, effectively. Supergloss.The script bristles like a toilet brush with subtext and toilet humour, but there isn’t a lot of substance to the subtext. Wherefore so much tension? Interactions between the characters are routinely loaded; every character is a cocked gun, a hair trigger. The taut-as-a-wire-tightrope dialogue becomes tiring. Added to that the (admittedly funny) sexual word play where every other line is a double entendre or an innuendo means the scenes are weighted with so much frissonage I was wrung out by exhausting banter and could hardly get home afterwards.
Direction is by John Sheedy and the acting is terrific overall, with a possible exception being the scene where Chloe gets meaningful with Danny; she’s not as convincing being sincere as she is being snide. Jody’s Dad, Frances (Mark Constable), fresh out of the can, also gets witty dirty lines (“did I tell you I yoga?”), enough to get him laid.
Happily, the laughs make up for lack of emotional investment or characters to care about, so you don’t care that you don’t care. Lifetime Guarantee is rudely entertaining, a camply shrieking text – ‘I’m so fabulous and clever!’ It’s smartarse, witty, and ultimately heartless. It would be unkind to describe this play as pretentious. But I can’t think of an answer to the one important question – why? So there was nothing missing in the program notes.
Theatre Works presents
by Ross Mueller
Directed by John Sheedy
Venue: Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda VIC
Dates: 9 – 26 February 2017
Tickets: $38 – $30