Tuesday, August 20, 2019


HANG ON A SECOND – A Night of Short Plays (And One Song)

Devised, Written and directed by Nigel Palfreman. Have A Butcher’s Productions. Smith’s Alternative. Civic. August 16 and 18 2019.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

There is nothing more satisfying than an unexpected surprise when on a visit to the theatre. I approached Smith’s Alternative, totally unaware of what was in store for me. My first surprise was the remodelled performance venue at this boho bar, nestled on the downtown side of Canberra’s Civic. Since my last visit, entrepreneur Nigel McRae has expanded the pokey bar and lounge into a convivial and intimate theatre for innovative and low budget theatre makers, musicians, performance artists and interesting initiatives. Stamped at the entrance, I entered a crowded relic of a bygone era, harbouring bric bac and books, naïve expressionistic portrait, hanging lamps and time worn carpets. Every corner echoed the memories of an age of reminiscence and I nestled between two strangers to experience Hang On A Second. A Night of Short Plays (and one song, co-written and performed by Frank Zappia), written, devised and directed by Nigel Palfreman, a staunch stalwart of the Short and Sweet performances in the Courtyard Studio.
Nigel Palfreman
During a thoroughly entertaining evening of five ten minute plays, three monologues and a song, lamenting the teacher’s lot, Palfreman proved himself to be a master of the craft. The ten minute formula of a speedy exposition to hook the interest, a rising conflict and a surprising twist to unsettle expectation is expertly unfolded by Palfreman’s consummate skill and inventive twists and turns of circumstance. In one respect, we have seen it all before as the plays reveal a diversity of oddball characters in absurd situations. A dead brother returns to confront his brother who is having an affair with the dead man’s girlfriend. Hitmen struggle with conscience. The old recorded revelation trick causes an eruption of domestic dinner party disruption when technology turns informant in Hey Sarah! The Four Horsemen find themselves in a quandary when Death wants leave. An amateur theatre company staggers through embroiled shenaningans behind the scenes. 
Jessica Gowing shows considerable promise as Vicky in a monologue by Vicky, a girl in search of love and identity. Adam Salter gives a tour de force performance as a Gumshoe in the Mickey Spillane tradition, as well as the femme fatale, her husband and the blackmailer! Lachlan Brayshaw  laughs of teenage angst with corny jokes and Zappia lightens the mood at the keyboard. All in all this is a cornucopia of short, pithy plays, played mainly for laughs but crafted with the skill of a playwright who knows what appeals and how to keep his audience entertained. With punchlines packed with surprise, performances pounded with energy and pace and a full house laughing themselves silly on a full degustation of sheer entertainment, Hang On A Second  at Smith’s Alternative on a cold Sunday afternoon is a panacea for all the bitterness of a Canberra winter. And you can always shake off the cold with a glass of your favourite beverage from the bar!

The Cast of Hang On A Second
My final surprise is Palfreman’s ability to gather together a company of very credible performers to carry off his zany scenarios. Some are veterans of the Short and Sweet seasons like Helen Way, who is joined by a number of relative newcomers from the Short and Sweet stable. Others are students like the emerging and talented Joshua Nicholls. Some are teachers like Salter and Palfreman and some are old hands like Peter Fock and John Lombard. Whatever the background, it is proof that acting as an interest is alive and living in town and Palfreman and Smith’s Alternative are to be congratulated and encouraged to continue to bring ventures as enjoyable and entertaining as Hang On A Second to Canberra audiences. There’s plenty of meat on the bone of  Palfreman’s fledgling Have A Butcher’s Productions  and I urge everyone to keep an eye out for another venture by this new company at Smith’s Alternative.