‘The Townspeople and the Plague’ reviewed by Gordon the Optomby Gordon The Optom March 21, 2014
‘The Townspeople and the Plague’ is a madcap, absurdist play written by Anthony K. J. Smith, a Murdoch philosophy student with a special interest in Indigenous and gender studies. This one-hour, adult, post-modern production is being presented at the Drama Workshop, Murdoch University (near car park 4), 90 South Street, Murdoch each night at 7.00 pm until Saturday 22nd March. There is also a matinee on Saturday at midday.
There is a lockout on this show, sorry no latecomers.
For only $10 a ticket this play is a bargain.
The scene is a typical student’s room. The bedroom walls are black with large cracks forming. There is a large bookcase and a wooden packing trunk stands in the corner. In the centre of the room is a double bed. The floor is strewn with cushions and dice. (Set design John King, Sam Knox, stage managed by Danica Rickard)
A young female student (Cecilia Allen) is sitting on her bed doing her homework. It is an English assignment and she is writing a strange tale that is about to be enacted before your very eyes. A studious librarian, Theodore (Justin Crossley), struts around checking the bookshelves and wondering why no one likes him. A smart, official looking woman, Sylvia (Tess Thompson) starts to give a grand narrative on what is going on in the mind of the student.
Suddenly a man, David (Jordan Holloway – a born comedian) appears in his shirt and boxer shorts. He rolls a couple of dice, examines the massive bulge in his underwear and tells us about his best friend – ‘boner’. David introduces us to Kantkegaard (Rhianna Hall), a bold Scottish warrior, complete with kilt and Braveheart’s best weapon! While Kantkegaard is relating a daring experience, David is making love on the floor – most passionately – to Matthias (Ricky Burrattine).
A hippy girl, Lilian (Kaitlyn Barry) enters shyly. Whilst Lilian tells how we should save the world, Theodore mutters on about being lonely and everyone else gets on with his or her life. Then suddenly, amidst thunder and lightning, enters Thefuckingplot (Maree Stedul) – an impressive stage entry. Thefuckingplot, who goes under the nickname of Imogen, gives us an meaningless, existential dissertation.
A bored stagehand (Mike Casas) wanders aimlessly onto the set, lowers a cut-out moon, and staggers off. A cloaked, wise figure clutching staff in his hand and looking like Moses on a bad night, enters. This is the prudent one, Proxy-Shit (Rachel Doulton) what demoniac guidance will this sage give to the group?
Kate Willoughby directed this exceptionally funny, absurdist play that I found reminiscent of Alfred Jarry’s ‘Ubu Roi’. A few days ago, Kate brought the house down with her hilarious monologue in the ‘Sex and Sensuality 2’, now she has proved her extraordinary skills at directing. This epic theatre style of madness is especially difficult to direct, present and perform; if it does not have the dry, straight-faced delivery, the whole effect can just look infantile. The performers in this show were perfect, as the audience fell apart laughing they continued with the beautifully written script as though it was a major drama.
Suddenly, the stage would light up and a cast would burst into song, do a soft shoe shuffle and Vaudeville chorus line dance (ingenious choreography by Hattie Fettis).
The actors, some of whom are quite shy, have been taken well out of their comfort zone with this fundamental disharmony. This is what being a theatre student is all about, you must try everything – recitations, magic, juggling, stripping, stand-up comedy – anything that you dread or worry about, while you have the support of your fellow actors try it.
The script is very clever, in places written in the style of wartime moralist, journalist and playwright, Albert Camus. The Scots character is a dig at Camus’s sidekick, Kierkegaard who was obsessed with religion and suicide in the search for complete freedom. He thought that anything that was not Absurd was not rational.
The music is straight from the 60s, with crooners such as Nat King Cole. The sound design was impressive for such a simple show, well done Rachel Doulton (operator Daley King). The storm effect, linked with Scott McArdle’s lighting, worked well. The wild costumes (Melanie Buchanan) – what can I say? – Very well thought out, plenty of humour, especially Mac’s quarter pounder!
A simple little play that brought so many laughs. Absurd, no logic to the dialogue – but extremely funny. Congratulations.