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March 20, 2006 | by  | in Theatre |
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Instructions for Modern Living

To be perfectly honest, Instructions for Modern Living was almost exactly what I expected and as a result, I was not disappointed. I don’t think I can say this for other members of the audience though. Basically, Instructions for Modern Living is the product of over three years worth of jam sessions for Sarkies and McGowan, with the end result being what was effectively a rehearsed, hour and a half long jam session. This is fine, I suppose, except for the fact that it lacked all of the redeeming features of the jam come gig: the risk, the improvisation and finally, the payoff.

Throughout the show Sarkies delivers a series of darkly comic monologues and conversations. The theme is basically summed up in the first half where he entreats the audience to revel in life’s misfortunes with the rationale that if you can do this, the rest of life becomes a breeze. And if you follow their advice, the two promise “instant happiness guaranteed or your money back.” It is just a shame that ‘instant happiness’ is neither instant or very happy and their offer, if you read the fine print, is only redeemable at the end of your life. I am seriously considering suicide just to prove a point (although that may not do any good considering I received a free ticket). Similarly, McGowan’s musical performance is over rehearsed. While the idea of layering and looping different unique and vintage instruments and voice is highly commendable, it suffered a little in the execution.

The two attempted to create a lounge or living room type feel to their performance and with the inclusion of furniture and a bottle of wine or two they were relatively successful. They could have, or the management of Te Papa could have, included the audience in this aspect of the show by offering a drink or two (even at the usual inflated prices) as the show is one which would very much benefit from the audience being under the relaxant effects of alcohol.

On the other hand, the projection of video and other images onto the back of the set was inspired. It gave the audience something to watch throughout a show which had a distinctly aural focus, rather than simply closing their eyes as Sarkies suggests. This was an idea which seemed to make a number of the audience very uncomfortable. Not so the woman behind me who promptly fell asleep and snored very loudly throughout the second half.

While Instructions for Modern Living is both funny and enjoyable, it doesn’t really cut the mustard for a show that is being performed as part of a ‘high art’ (for want of a better word) biennial festival such as the New Zealand International Festival and would have been better suited to Fringe 06.

Performed and devised by Duncan Sarkies and Nic McGowan
Soundings Theatre, Te Papa 10 – 15 March

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About the Author ()

HAILING FROM the upper-middle- class hell of Havelock North, Jules is in the final semester of a bachelor’s degree in Trenchermanship (majoring in Gourmandry), is a self-professed Anarcho-Dandy and resides in the Aro Valley. He likes to spend his days pursuing whimsical follies of every sort and his evenings gallivanting through the bars and restaurants of Wellington in search of the perfect wine list. He has unfailingly dedicated his life to the excessive consumption of food and drink (despite having no discernable way of paying for it), and expects to die of simultaneous heart and kidney failure at thirty-nine. His only hope is that very soon people will start to pay him for his opinions (of which he is endowed with aplenty). Jules has a penchant for vintage Oloroso.

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