The Gift and Brighter Whiter

TP Rating: 
Date of Show: 
Thursday, 31st March 2011 (All day)
The Workers Club Brunswick St Fitzroy

The Gift and Brighter Whiter, directed by Jason Cavanagh and Iris Gaillard respectively, provided a very enjoyable evening's entertainment.

Playing at The Worker’s Club in Fitzroy, the two short plays proved themselves a worthy inclusion as part of the Comedy Festival lineup, providing the audience with a steady stream of laughter for 60 minutes.
The venue worked quite well for these shows, providing the opportunity for pre-show drinks or a meal, as well as a small, cosy theatre that was large enough to not feel overcrowded, and small enough to provide an intimate environment in which everyone could see and hear clearly. The seating was less than comfortable, but both shows were distracting enough to make that a minor point.
The evening’s performance opened with The Gift -- an ensemble piece featuring Genevieve Giuffre (Maggie), Elliot Cyngler (Ben), Sarah Hamilton (George), Heidi Valkenburg (Sam), and Laura Hill (Mads). The Gift is set in a call centre, and tells the story of a new employee who appears to have an unnatural knack for making sales against all odds. All of his colleagues attempt to take advantage of his ‘gift’ for various purposes, but all is not as it appears.
The story is entertaining and full of laughs. The cast kept the momentum rolling along, and worked well together, with no particular character dominating the performance. At times, Cyngler’s portrayal of Ben (and his speech impediment) could have been seen as a trifle over-the-top, but it worked for me, as it was balanced perfectly by the range of strong, well developed characters, who each had their moments of unique ‘over-the-top’ drama. Laura Hill, in particular, had the audience eating out of her hand with her beautifully delivered, excitable rants about the joys of statistics and the conflict between science and her faith, and the entire cast was very believable and convincing in their roles.
The set was extremely simple, constructed from cardboard, and primarily consisting of the desk from which the cast made their calls. The simplicity of the set did not detract from the performance at all, rather it avoided distractions. I was engrossed in the dialogue (and the humour) which came thick and fast, and found myself not consciously noticing the fact that the sets were cardboard until the end of the first play. Lighting was also very simple, with an evenly lit stage interrupted only once for a brief blackout.
The Gift was directed with finesse. It maintained an excellent tempo that totally captured the audience, and characters balanced just on the right side of caricature. The vocal effect employed to highlight 'The Gift' was a joy -- not only for its comedic effect and the nuances the cast were able to deliver, but for its perfectly pitched harmony.
The play built to a dramatic ‘end’ with the blackout, but the last few minutes after the blackout seemed anti-climactic and lacking in purpose. I found myself wishing the play had ended with the audience’s first enthusiastic round of applause. Overall, however, The Gift was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining performance.
The scene change between shows, and the slower pace of Brighter, Whiter gave the audience the opportunity to appreciate the deceptively simple set. Each piece of set was made from cardboard -- from the desk to the mail chute, basket, and pigeon holes. It was quite effective, and although I did find the painted mural in the background distracting, it was very amusing when, rather than ignore it, one of the characters commented on how much he hated it. Lighting was once again quite plain, consisting of general, even stage lighting, and the addition of a desk lamp, which was used several times to comedic effect.
The dynamic of Brighter Whiter was very different from the previous play. This play, set in a mail room of an ad company, focuses on only two characters: Johnson (James Deeth) and Michaels (Soren Jensen). The tempo was much slower and what momentum was gained was often interrupted by the actors intentionally dropping out of character and referring to the script. I found it hard to see how that particular dramatic device moved the story (or the comedy) forward. It was frequent enough to be distracting, yet not frequent enough to have an obvious purpose.
Deeth’s portrayal of Johnson was extremely convincing. It was entirely believable and Deeth seemed very comfortable in Johnson’s skin. In contrast, Jensen’s performance as Michaels seemed overly affected -- in part, perhaps, due to the larger than life, rather pompous, character of Michaels. While both characters were well developed and consistently performed, they did not always seem to be in tune, and the audience was often thrown off balance by seemingly random changes from character to actor, actors occasionally addressing the audience, and sudden changes of character, like Johnson’s outburst about wanting to sing. Despite these elements, which, perhaps intentionally, kept the audience a little off kilter, Brighter, Whiter was both enjoyable and entertaining, with a few intriguing glimpses into a deeper mystery. I wondered whether Johnson's brief reference to the lack of anything ‘outside’ was meant to be philosophical, or more literal.
Both plays by writer Anthony Noack kept the audience laughing, and while The Gift may have been more purely entertaining, Brighter, Whiter, with its more adventurous use of dramatic devices perhaps gave the audience more cause for thought, which, for the evening overall, was an appealing balance.
Suzanne Tate has been writing for Theatrepeople for almost 2 years and performing in Amateur Musical Theatre since 2000. She has worked with Harlequin, Windmill, SLAMS and PEP Theatre Companies and her most significant role was as Robin, in Godspell. Suzanne was nominated for a Highly Commended Performance in a Variety in the 2008 Lyrebird Awards.