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November 27, 2009 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Gas

theatre

Trouble is brewing at a certain Fletcher Challenge (they still exist?!) petrol station in Auckand. The company is in financial strife and one of the stations is going to have to close, but manager Cameron (Toby Leach) has a plan or two. New employee Lilith (Kate Prior) is dealing with her conflicted and somewhat impure feelings toward her faith, her father (Leach again), her nonamebrother (Also Leach) and most especially Shantilal (Rashmi Pilapitiya) a transgendered Sikh saving towards a sex change. Shantilal has issues of his own which are only going to be made worse by Konita (Sarita So) a scheming gambling addict solo mother from Cambodia. Hyperactively jigging through all of this is Duty Manager Desirae (Yvette Parsons) who if not actually mentally handicapped in some way has definitely had a bit too much Ribena.

Gas‘ plot twists, flicks and judders along at an uneven pace, seemingly unsure for a lot of the time whether it wants to be happening or not. It does not help that the play feels rather bloated at 90 minutes and needs a real bit of a trim. Apart from this desperately needed tighten, Conrad Newport’s direction is assured and even handed. Newport’s set of abstracted lines on the floor and flat pack cartoon signs creates a deliciously changeable space that Newport and the cast fill with vigour and skill. Jennifer Lal’s lights, as always, are a perfect compliment to the work.

Gas sits in an odd land tonally. It flicks between pantomimesque baudy comedy to eye-scrapingly dark comedy to dull stretches which seems either to be far too portentous for their own good or they have simply forgotten to add jokes. Shantilal is the only character who you feel any kind of connection with, the rest being such deliberate and grotesque caricatures that they very quickly stop amusing and start to grate. Which is odd. These are all very clearly talented performers, they commit to their performances and are gracious GASphoto-J.Brughin allowing to take each other to take turns chewing the scenery. They all demonstrate incredible and impressive range when portraying the sizable supporting cast. I can’t really put my finger on it but it just seems to generally fall flat. What should be hilarious comic set pieces clot slightly and just don’t ring funny. The best metaphor for the play sits in the character of Desirae, she hyperactively flings herself at everyone around her, desperate to impress with her knowledge and humour and heart, but her sheer unremitted commitment to somewhat lacking material makes her more of an irritant than a pleasure.

There is a liveness, an edge to Gas that you don’t really see in the theatre these days. It has no pretensions towards polish or completeness. It tries so valiently, so violently to get by on pure grit and charm and it’s almost a pity that it just doesn’t. Gas is simply too rushed, too mishy-mash, too frayed carpet to be good. Don’t get me wrong, when it hits it hits. When it is funny it is hilarious. It just doesn’t hit that mark, that level nearly enough. This is Gas‘ second incarnation and one can only assume that it is an improvement over the first time round, but there are still many areas to be improved and mediated and moderated. Gas is an experiment, a joyous, energetic experiment but still a failed experiment.

Gas
Devised by the cast with Thomas Sainsbury, Tahi Mapp-Borren and Rina Patel
Directed by Conrad Newport
With Toby Leach, Yvette Parsons, Sarita So, Kate Prior and Rashmi Pilapitiya

At BATS theatre, 24 November – 5 December 2009
Book at book@bats.co.nz or (04) 802 4175

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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