Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Art of Coarse Acting

The Art of Coarse Acting: Best of British.

Canberra REP presents an Amateur production by Arrangement with ORIGIN Theatrical on behalf of Samuel French Ltd of six plays, at Theatre 3, July 25 – August 10, 2019:

Streuth by Michael Green
A Collier’s Tuesday Tea by Michael Green
Present Slaughter by Jane Dewey
Stalag 69 by Michael Green
Pride at Southanger Park by Rubert Bean
Trapped by Michael Green

As performed by Poon River Players, directed by Steph Roberts, written by Alexandra Pelvin, stage manager Liz St Clair Long.

The Ensemble Cast in 46 roles:
Damon Baudin                 Victoria Dixon
Glen Brighenti                 Marni Mount
Michael Cooper               Alexandra Pelvin
Patrick Galen-Mules        Steph Roberts
Cole Hilder                       Liz St Clair Long
Thomas Hyslop                Meaghan Stewart
Arran McKenna              Jo Zaharias
Nick Steain

Audience Alert:
This production contains some adult themes and an overload of chaos.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
July 27

I was encouraged in this endeavour by Steph Roberts, in her role as Director of Poon River Players, outing my presence as a Canberra Critics’ Circle reviewer, to cheers from the audience, and presenting me with a Poon River Players ball-point pen, obviously with the intention I should write a positive review.

I take up that ball-point as follows.

I had an enjoyable evening and recommend to Canberrans to see this show, which becomes a blur of acting bloopers and staging disasters done just for the fun of being silly.

It brought back memories from my years in amateur theatre of exactly these sorts of things happening.  These are the memories of funny moments which I’m sure keep Canberra REP together, and made this show of deliberate disasters enjoyable.

Though titled by the Poon River Players “Best of British” the six plays chosen from the Coarse Acting competitions, festivals and World Coarse Acting Championships are, from my background cultural experience, quite specifically English, rather than British.  The Scots, the Welsh and the Irish were never quite as silly.  The English by 1964, when Green had already written The Art of Coarse Rugby and then The Art of Coarse Acting, had been accustomed to the Goon Show on radio since 1951 (when the BBC at first would not use the name Goon and called it “Crazy People”); later came Monty Python’s Flying Circus with Graham Chapman, John Cleese et al and The Goodies with Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden from 1969-1970.

So the Poon River Players from some vague part of North Queensland (Yepoon?) on their first Australasian Tour have done the tradition proud.  They have not pretended to be sophisticated, or perhaps they have pretended not to be sophisticated.  It’s hard to tell the difference.  That’s the point of coarse acting.  It’s silly for the sake of being silly, even though we know that it’s actually hard work to do it deliberately.

Streuth is a Vicar of Dibley scene with a dead body and Agatha Christie style mystery story.
Photos by Helen Drum
Rear: Jo Zaharias, Glenn Brighenti, Thomas Hyslop
Front: Arran McKenna, Michael Cooper
Mrs D'Arcy, Hubert D'Arcy, James
The Inspector, The Vicar

A Collier’s Tuesday Tea has a large kitchen table for the whole family to support when its legs fall off.
Rear: Nick Steain, Victoria Dixon, Glenn Brigheti, Patrick Galen-Mules
Arran McKenna, Cole Hilder; Floor: Marni Mount
Daniel Obadiah Hepplethwaite, Ida Hepplethwaite, Albert Hepplethwaite, Lionel Headbracket
Joe Clegghorn, P.C. Clement Boothroyd
Victoria Hepplethwaite

Present Slaughter is a romance of Noel Coward sophisticates made difficult with stiff upper lips as the gentleman accidentally cuts a major artery and slowly dies.
Standing: Jo Zaharias, Thomas Hyslop, Cole Hilder
Not standing: Meaghan Stewart
Lavinia, Antoine, Oliver

In Stalag 69 (not the 1953 American comic war movie Stalag 17), the British prisoner faces walls, a window, a door and a grille which in the first performance attempt are upside down and back to front.  In the second attempt, the walls are righted but un-nerve the actors with more unfortunate results.
Damon Baudin as Squadron Leader Crawford

Pride at Southanger Park never quite makes it into the Jane Austen society drama it appears to be.
 Above: Jo Zaharias, Nick Steain, Alexandra Pelvin, Glenn Brighenti, Marni Mount, Arran McKenna
Below, as stage revolves: Patrick Galen-Mules, Michael Cooper, Marni Mount, Arran McKenna
Mrs Squires, Sir Thomas Bottomly, Lady Fanny Bottomly, William Squires, Cecily Chichester,
and Reverand [sic] Giles Henry
Below: Actor caught backstage smoking, Marcus D'Angelo, Cecily Chichester, Reverand [sic] Giles Henry

Trapped is the classic “there’s a murderer among us but all the doors are locked” mystery – except, at the very least, the set construction fails to keep them in.  (Photo not available)

There are absolutely no serious implications to be made.  The plays fail to be satires, or comedies with recognisable plots, or even slapstick farces.  The plots that may be imagined fall apart; the characters’ relationships never develop; all that remains are actors trying to keep up appearances until even they give up the ghost.  We are still laughing at the end even though there’s nothing much left to laugh at.

And that’s a success, for that’s what The Art of Coarse Acting is all about.  Well done, Canberra REP.  The Best of British to you (well…English, anyway).

The last question is about production values.  Certainly the costumes and make-up looked very much like those in the pictures in Michael Green’s book.  The lighting was bright and the sound was loud.  The revolve revolved when it should have, that is when it shouldn’t have, according to Coarse Stage expectations.  The set fell apart and was put in place as it should, during the action, and while Director Steph Roberts frantically tried to keep our attention as she explained the situation between scenes.  Costume changes seemed to take place as smoothly as can be expected.  And Liz St Clair Long was as grumpy as any Stage Manager I’ve come across.

Everything went wrong as it should and, as far as I could tell (though it might be hard to tell), nothing went wrong as it shouldn’t.  Enjoy!

Jo Zaharias, Liz St Clair Long, Steph Roberts and Meaghan Stewart
keeping our attention