Promoted as bitingly witty and intellectual, Seminar: A Comedy delivers in its sharpness, cleanness and humour. Unfortunately however, an inconsistency in performance strength over the course of the show in addition to a lack of conviction in stagecraft choices mars what is otherwise an engaging audience experience.
In Seminar: A Comedy, Artefact Theatre Co. achieves some stellar performance moments. The comic timing exhibited by all the performers, though notably Darcy Kent, is particularly strong, leaving the audience in fits of laughter. A fast paced, intellectually complex script, the performers speak the text with a beautiful naturalness and ease. However, interactions between characters and with the space have a largely awkward, staged quality. The sexual interactions, central to the themes and ideas being presented, are particularly notable in this regard, with the lack of sexual chemistry making the sexual pairings at times almost farcically unbelievable. The strength of the performances thus lies in the fierceness and conviction with which the performers tear into each other. Here, the viscerally harsh and honest language is delivered with an energy and passion that is as cruelly satisfying as it is delightful.
The lighting of the show is a kind of punctuation – an extension of the offbeat comic timing the play rests largely on for its success. In many cases, the final scene note requires the lighting cue to be delivered with as much sharpness as the language and in most cases, it provides. However, there are a few cases where the awkward timing of the lines and the lighting creates a lack of resolution and an audience confusion which seems at odds with the clean style exhibited elsewhere in the show.
The interaction of set, costume and sound leaves the audience questioning the time period of the show and thus, through what sort of lens the discussions staged should be viewed. Costume in the piece skilfully and effortlessly complements the character stereotypes and roles that are deconstructed and re-evaluated over the course of the performance, while setting the show resolutely in the current time. However, the discourse within the play in relation to gender, sexuality and race seems distinctly dated, with concerns relating to sexism and racism topical, but lacking in a nuance of understanding and engagement one would expect from the arts-educated young people represented. The music in the performance, a soundtrack composed mostly of Sinatra tracks, could have answered this by alluding to a more old-fashioned time, but in the context of the contemporary assortment of costume items, creates instead a tenor of nudging towards highbrow culture. The set for the most part is functional and unforced, with the ease of transition between the apartments creative, simple and visually stunning. However, with typewriters next to inkjet printed pages, Ali Smith books next to old fashioned armchairs, and cupboards containing only the single cleaning product and paper towel used as props, its lack of commitment to time and place as well as its lack of attention to detail add to the temporal confusion of the show.
In as much as vicious humour and intellectual debate on the nature of art and authenticity make for an enjoyable audience experience, Artefact Theatre Co.’s production of Seminar: A comedy is successful and entertaining.