Wednesday, 17 November 1999

Fred, Nov 11, 1999

By Beatrix Christian, by Melbourne Theatre Company
at Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne Nov 10 until December 18, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

If only Beatrix Christian had quit while she was ahead at the interval, Fred would be a great black comedy. But she mistakenly carried on for a further 90 minutes.

The first half really is hilarious. It is stuffed full of cleverly written gags, left-field plot points and insane characters. Christian uses Pamela (Sarah Kants) as a contemporary film noir narrator and surrounds her with death and chaos.

The detective thriller form is turned on its head when, after Pamela finds a corpse under her Hill's hoist, her entire circle of friends and family coincidentally find corpses in their houses too. There is a gambling suicide in the laundry, a dero in the garage, a fat boss in the office. Coincidence?

Death obsesses first Pam, then the others. Grief besieges them then upturns their lives, values and relationships. But the gags keep coming thick and fast. Fred is filled with belly laughs in the first half that is like a good early episode of the sit-com, Friends, with a twist.

It is still funny after interval but it loses its focus, the characters disintegrate, there are diversions, meaningless sub-plots and too much padding. The original premise is obscured and silliness takes over. There's nothing wrong with silliness especially in a comedy but it becomes tiresome without a context or framework.

The performers have a hoot. Brian Lipson is quirky as the gay surgeon
and Neil Pigot as the "root-rat" Porsche car salesman, is simultaneously sleazy, sexy and ridiculous. Brett Climo's deadpan, repressed policeman is very funny. Kants, Stephen Curry, Victoria Eagger and Anita Hegh complete the fine comic ensemble.

Michael Gow sets a rollicking pace assisted by a pumping soundtrack by Peter Farnan. Gow uses the doors in Anna Borghesi's design as if this were a French a farce. Scenes bleed into each other and actors stroll through each other's scenes. The design is purposely like a trashy 70's motel room, with cheap Hawaiian prints and tacky wallpaper.

If only someone had taken to the script with a big red editor's pen, this would be a great short comedy.

by Kate Herbert

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