Monday, April 20, 2015

Theatre: Old Love (★★★½)

By Chris Isaacs
Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler
Performed by Nicola Bartlett, Arielle Gray, Nick Maclaine and Tim Watts
Blue Room Theatre
Until May 2

The Last Great Hunt, Perth’s hyperactive little theatre company that can, is back with a sharp, twisted domestic comedy for, and about, all ages.
Meet cool 30-ish couple Jim (Nick Maclaine) and Gabby (Arielle Gray) – he’s a work-from-home software maven, she’s a work-the-phones property developer.
They’re having a dinner party, but there’s tension. He’s been babysitting his niece, and hasn’t tidied up the debris; she’s struggling to choose between all but identical little black dresses. He’s way too relaxed about it; she’s way too uptight.
We know these people well. Let’s see what they get up to.

The dinner party is for their friend Robert (Tim Watts) and his girlfriend Florence (Nicola Bartlett). They’ve been together for all of three months, which for revolving-door Robert is remarkable. This must be quite a woman.
So she is. Speaks four languages. Sails up the Amazon. Financially independent. Affectionate, uninhibited, funny, foxy. And a bit over 60.
Robert is besotted. Jim is amused and a bit fascinated. Gabby? Well that’s another story.
There’s much drinking, a fish tank with a half-dead seahorse and a drowned iPhone, some making out, some shouting, some smashed-up flowers and, eventually, a whole mess of home truths.
The seven Hunters have spread all their talents across their latest property; apart from Watts and Gray, Kathryn Osborne produces, Gita Bezard dramaturges and Adriane Daff co-designs and is assistant director. Jeffrey Jay Fowler directs with a neat sense of humour and a sly wink here and there, and Chris Isaacs has delivered a funny, pointed text that gives them all plenty to work with.
The company makes no secret that their premiere Perth seasons are part of a development process, and Old Love still has a way to go. There’s a satisfying, albeit conventional, form to stuff like this that’s a bit like a game of Twister. Isaacs manages his characters’ convolutions expertly, leaves plenty of room for laughs, and gets them to all fall down on cue in a way you mightn’t have expected but makes sense nonetheless. He hasn’t quite worked out what to do with them once they’re down there yet, so the play feels, literally, unfinished. It’s a small, probably temporary, reservation.
Watts and Maclaine are both on the money as the hapless males in this spider web, but Old Love is all about the two women, and Gray and Bartlett both deliver electric performances. Gray, who’s about the dabbest hand at adorableness we’ve got, shows she can also snarl as she smiles, and Bartlett, who’s on a bit of a roll after her strong Fringe outing in Mikala Westall’s Moving On, Inc., brings plenty of bite of her own to the party.
I wouldn’t mess with either of them.

This review appeared in The West Australian 18.4.15   

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