Double Double Hander: Review of Masterclass and Bad
At the end of last year the Sydney Independent Theatre Company lost control of the Old Fitz Theatre to Red Line Productions. After twelve months of stagnation Red Line promised to revitalize the space and once again make it a viable and vibrant stomping ground for Sydney’s indie theatre makers. Part of their new direction involves back to back shows in the evening, a main production at 7:30pm followed by a late night seating at 9pm. For the past couple of months Red Line has been talking a big game, but do they have the goods? First cabs off the rank are Masterclass and Bad.
Masterclass is Gareth Davies and Charley Garber’s 2011 comedy. The show’s central conceit is ridiculous, but that’s all part of the fun. In this world Davies is the greatest actor who ever lived. He has such intense acting abilities that just one of his performances could power the city of Kuala Lumpur for a month. Through the sheer force of his acting, Davies has the ability to create life, and at times even take it away. But he has fallen on hard times, (after a literally mind blowing performance as John Proctor in The Crucible left 130 people dead) and now finds himself running an acting masterclass, with the assistance Charley Garber. But just who is Charley Garber? Whilst working for years in the chorus line of Les Miserables Davies was honing the perfect character – Charley Garber – and Davies eventually brought him to life, again, quite literally.
The relationship the two shares is absurd – after all isn’t it really just Davies talking with himself – but the two play it straight, which is of course where all of the comedy comes from. One could attempt to draw out some themes; they’re obviously doing a bit of a piss take on the actor’s process, especially when Garber gives us a tour of Davie’s Dream Forge, the place where he works on his creativity, carves out truths and forges emotions. But to try and make too much of the play would be to do it a disservice. Come along for the fun ride that the pair is offering, because they do it to a tee. Ironically Davies demonstrates his acting range in this show, which is quite impressive.
Meanwhile at the late night seating there is another double hander of a different nature. Kate Walder and Penny Greenhalgh have put together a short play based around the art of clowning called Bad. Why exactly the show’s called Bad isn’t clear, but it’s a title that will certainly tempt the critics. If you are at all cynically minded it would probably be best to avoid this show. At an hour in length Walder and Greenhalgh probably have a half hour of material.
To be fair, their clowning abilities are quite adept. This is not surprising as both have trained at Ecole Philippe Gaulier Clown School in Paris. Sporting a red cape over silver lycra, Kate Walder plays ‘Cape Blanchett’, a French version of the actress, though with a slightly smaller repertoire (‘Where is my booket, merm?’) At times Walder channeled the classic white face clown, but played it to the point of a contra-auguste (for those playing at home, the contra-auguste is the clown mediator; one who aspires to be more sophisticated – like the white face clown – often correcting much of what the auguste clown does). As the straight woman, Walder had a difficult job to do, with more plot to further, and less jokes to lean on. Penny Greenhalgh played Augustine, a cross between the character clown and the classic Auguste. Sporting a loose fitting, mismatched suit with a briefcase, Greenhalgh played slow and blissfully ignorant to the point of hilarity. Nevertheless, the show lacked plot, jokes and a certain polish that one requires for a clowning show to be excellent. Whilst it had its moments, the framework was poor and the overreliance on clowning gags exposed the average quality of the self-devised material. The overall feeling was that they just wanted to do some clowning for an hour.
This is still a great start for Red Line Productions. Masterclass is a fun filled show that will bring laughter to all. While Bad is a bit rough around the edges, it does show that this late night spot has the potential to give new artists on the fringe an opportunity to hone their craft. It should be an exciting year ahead at The Old Fitz Theatre.
Both Masterclass and Bad are playing from Tuesday to Sunday until the 31st of January. For more information see: http://www.oldfitztheatre.com/