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February 28, 2010 | by  | in Theatre |
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Sometimes I Don’t Like Yellow

Theatre

Like Shaking Hands With God, Only Sexual

A Critique of Sometimes I Don’t Like Yellow, with nods to the reviewing style of its director

The press release for this first offering from the fresher than fresh fresh fruit My Accomplice collective promises a show that is “the Mighty Boosh meeting Chris Morris in Mighty Mighty as Robert LePage tickles himself lightly in the background”. I like that, because it’s something that could conceivably happen, unlike the hyper-silly plot of the play itself.

Peter Blouse is a role tailor-made for the dry, quizzical limey that the world knows as Paul Waggott. Blouse runs the YUM Pineapple company and… Hey. You know what? Just read their press release. Or the few sentences they’re allotted in that wacky fold-out Fringe booklet. Practically everything you need to know, or will ever know, about the plot is there. The fun to be had here is not so much in what happens but how.

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It’s to the company’s credit that their Eurocentric influences are worn lightly. Instead of aping the style and tricks of the Brit comedy cult canon (or reaching for Morris-esque iconoclasm), Uther Dean, Paul Waggott, Hannah Banks and company have created something that feels like it sprang out of Wellington. Probably Kelburn. Likely Kelburn Parade. Chances are 93 Kelburn Parade. Who’s Neat? Yellow! is maybe the only script where the line “Yoink” is followed by the line “Not even”. It’s a play that would much rather be charming than clever, and for a script featuring killer robots and demonic corporate overlords, it’s surprisingly sweet.

I was expecting more overt nods to the sorts of TV shows the company so loudly claims as inspiration, but instead the play positively reeks of dusty curtains, swipe cards, “Thank you, black!”, brooms, safety helmets and extension requests. That is to say, it’s rooted in the VUW Theatre department, and its execution owes more to the practical experience of the company of graduates than to anything they’ve laughed, cried or jerked off to on Youtube. Yes, Sometimes I Don’t Jangle is absurd, but the absurdity is closer to that of Jo Randerson than the Boosh, and it stands proudly in BATS, content to roll around on the floor hugging its classmates rather than schmooze with the studio boys. It doesn’t want to grow up just yet.

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Hey, ever wondered why theatre junky/reviewer Uther Dean, he of the boyish grin and the mannish chin, is the only reviewer in town to consistently mention the lighting in his write-ups? I used to think it was down to his sense of fairness but, as Thricely? Yellow. A Pocketful of Pineapple attests, lighting is where Dean is a viking. There is no set and few props, so the lighting comes to the fore, fans its feathers, and screams at you. In a nice way. Like the stompy-clompy actors’ transitions, the lighting is used as overt punctuation rather than just scene setting. Credit must go to the cast who, on opening night and no doubt after just one of those rushed, stuttering fist-shakes that is a cue-to-cue, manage to hit their marks precisely. Sounds like a small thing, but with such an intricate lighting design, it’s requisite. Harry Meech operates the board.

The direction of the piece in general seems to owe something to Leo Gene Peters’ Death and the Dream Life of Elephants, with which core members of the company were involved (Peters is acknowledged as an influence in the programme). Both shows were devised around a series of themes and then formalised, with the buck stopping with the director. Like Elephants, Irrepressible Yellow features heightened, well-milked tableaux and strong, simple stage images which play up and play against the thrust of the story. Maybe ‘thrust’ is the wrong word. The play’s dramaturgy is not so much a thrust as a graunchy stickshift, Pulp Fiction-ing it up non-linear skool so the story comes to us piecemeal. If you accept that it’s more about the ride than the destination, then the net result is a double shot of enjoyment, but if you’re the type who goes for clear storytelling above all, then this probably isn’t your cup of meat. Anyway, the story is simply not a credible one. It’s just too silly to warrant your full emotional investment (though you gotta feel for poor old Peter Blouse), which means the few times when anger and disgust aren’t played for laughs are a little jarring.

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Among the XX-heavy cast, Elle Wootton’s puppet-conscience acting, Laura Velvin’s glasses-on-asking-for-food acting, Hannah Banks’ wearing-blue-talking-sense acting and Louise Lethbridge’s talk-into-this-thing acting are wee pineapple lumps of delight. Patrick Keenan is refreshingly understated in his portrayal of a member of YUM Pineapple’s senior management, giving the piece some sense of being anchored in the real world, and Sam Woodward brings good old energy and focus to a series of supporting roles, often finding and playing the emotion hiding behind the jokes (which makes them, you know, funnier). As the severe but mysterious and excellently named Dr. Syllable, Kate Clarkin is choice as. A particularly well executed scene sees Blouse, flanked by his staff, about to launch a new and brilliant product on the world through a press conference. But the stunt goes horribly wrong. Recently we’ve made a sport out of watching CEOs sweat it out in public—major company execs being grilled in Washington, Paul Reynolds apologising and batting away questions on Telecom’s XT troubles—but the scene works because we feel some empathy for this man.

This is, after all, Waggott’s show, and if he weren’t so damn likeable, the thing just wouldn’t work. In the madcap, disjointed world of Storytime for the Likes of Yellow, Waggott’s appeal is a constant, and in the play’s final stage image, maybe the most successfully realised BATS has seen since Elephants, you get the feeling that it’s not just Waggott’s character shooting for the moon.

Sometimes I Don’t Like Yellow
Devised by the company
Directed by Uther Dean
With Hannah Banks, Kate Clarkin, Patrick Keenan, Louise Lethbridge, Laura Velvin, Paul Waggott, Sam Woodward and Elle Wootton

26 Feb – 2 March 2010
At BATS theatre, 1 Kent Terrace
book@bats.co.nz / (04) 802 4175

Part of the 2010 Fringe Festival.

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