Monday, 2 January 2006
Dumb Show by Joe Penhall, MTC, Feb 2, 2006
Dumb Show by Joe Penhall
Melbourne Theatre Company
Fairfax studio, Victorian Arts Centre, Feb 2 to 18, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Feb 2, 2006
Joe Penhall, in Dumb Show, writes swift and relentless dialogue and has an innate understanding of a good gag.
His searing satire nips at the heels of British tabloid journalism as well as the entertainment industry. Both are seen as acquisitive, savage, cynical and uncompassionate.
Barry (Richard Piper) is a successful comedian on a television sit-com. He is invited to discuss a lucrative corporate speaking gig with two people who purport to be private bankers (Aaron Blabey, Anita Hegh). The negotiations are circuitous and secretive while the fee is evidently enormous.
Barry is oblivious to the fact that the two “bankers” are actually undercover investigative journalists from the gutter press.
Alone in a hotel room with Liz (Hegh), Barry drinks to excess, mutters unsavoury criticisms of his fans and his agent and reveals his drug use and his estrangement from his wife.
Finally he makes the biggest errors of his career: he tries to fondle Liz and offers her cocaine.
It is a clear-cut case of entrapment but, when Liz and Greg reveal themselves as newspaper hacks, Barry is well and truly cornered,
The dialogue is rapid, hilarious and delivered with consummate skill and timing by all three actors.
Piper captures the neediness, self-absorption and exhibitionism of Barry, the English entertainer. Blabey plays the deceitful editor, Greg, with a flesh-crawling unpleasantness. He will get his story by any means, regardless of the consequences.
Hegh cleverly balances Liz’s feigned concern with her insensitivity and insincerity. Liz catches flies with honey. Both Greg and Liz take the high moral ground when they are, in fact, cheap, immoral and arrogant. They manipulate facts, tear people’s lives apart and view it as good journalism.
Director, Peter Evans, keeps the play moving at a cracking pace and Darrin Verhagen’s original jazz gives the piece the feel of a spy thriller.
When, late in the play, Barry strikes back, the audience burst into spontaneous applause.
Unfortunately, the play continues with a final scene that is anti-climactic. We already suspect that Barry might not be a model human being, but he is higher up the food chain than the journos and we want him to beat them at their own game.
Dumb Show, based on real events in the UK, is a sad indictment of gutter journalism – but will anyone do anything to change this in the real world?
By Kate Herbert