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Theatreview, April 28th 2010

posted Apr 27, 2010, 7:48 PM by Merrilee McCoy   [ updated Apr 27, 2010, 7:49 PM ]




You can’t beat Wellington (on a good day)
By Josh Samuels and Merrilee McCoy
Directed by Merrilee McCoy
Breaking the 5th Wall Productions

at Espressoholic, 136 Cuba St, Wellington
Until 1 May 2010
[1hr 15mins]

Reviewed by Mel Camp, 28 Apr 2010

Even the Wellington weather seemed to get the joke. Out of the wind and rain, inside cosy and buzzing Espressoholic cafe, the opening night audience are snuggled up with their flat whites and slices of Silk Cake as the play opens with a recording of the Jerome Chandrahasen poem that shares its name and tone with this show, You Can’t Beat Wellington (On A Good Day).

We are then introduced to four people who work in the cafe. There are the two co-owners Kenny (Wiremu Tuhiwai) and Owen (Steven Youngblood), Donna (Karen Anslow) who may or may not be a barista (she seems to object to making coffee) and Doug (Josh Samuels), the American, who is Donna’s cousin and lives in a room above the cafe.

The program notes mention that the writers have been strongly influenced by the TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm and that is clear from the get go. It has pre-planned story structures, but the dialogue is unscripted. This makes for some interesting and unpredictable times, as improv is wont to do. Luckily, this is funny.

There is a bit of a slow start, as the cast find their feet, and find the laughs, but after the first few minutes they are away, and so are we. The characterisations of all four are warm and natural and soon the story unfolds and the audience ‘clicks in’ to this style of comedy.

There are two different episodes in this season that play on different nights.* On opening night, the need for the cafe to pay a sizeable debt provides the central dilemma of the play, and the attempts by the four to solve the problem provide the comedy.

The bribery scene is an absolute highlight. City official Simone de Bier (fantastically underplayed by Jennifer O’Sullivan) is engulfed by the unsubtle efforts of Owen and Kenny to get her to write off their debt.

The Mayoral debate scene is another gem, and really showcases the improv talents of Wiremu Tuhiwai and Josh Samuels. I won’t go into detail as I have a feeling it will be different every time they do it.

On opening night, the delivery of the storyline didn’t have a lot to do with being in a cafe and could have been set in just about any small business. I would love to see them acknowledge and use the patrons surrounding them (a potential goldmine of comedy right there).

Considering the title, the references to Wellington are minimal and are overshadowed by those of a more generic Kiwi nature, but they are still the gags that get the biggest laughs. And perhaps the Wellingtonness is found more in the style than in the content.

This kind of performance seems to suit us and our sense of humour. Breaking the 5th Wall have created a show that is funny, intelligent, warm and self-deprecating and comes complete with a flat white. You can’t beat that on a good day. Or a crap one for that matter.