Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The China Incident by Peter Houghton, July 4, 2007

 What: The China Incident by Peter Houghton
Where and When: La Mama, Wed to Sat 7pm, Sun 5pm until July 4 to 15, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 4, 2007

Take a huge breath before The China Incident because you will be holding your breath throughout this comic roller coaster. 

Peter Houghton’s solo political satire, performed by Anne Browning, depicts Bea Pontifec, a totally immoral international think tank consultant and political advisor to world leaders.

Bea’s office has seven phones. On the black she advises the bloodthirsty leader of an African nation on how to reframe a massacre to describe it as a counter insurgency. The red is a direct line to the US President who wants Bea to find some dirty secrets he can use to manipulate the five party talks with North Korea, although Mr. President is more interested in Bea’s underwear.

Meanwhile, on the blue phone, Bea seeks assistance from her secret lover, Colin, at the UN and juggles several family crises on her mobile. Bea is high maintenance and high cost but her ex-husband is a hippy, her daughter, Penny, plans a tacky marriage to a suburban boy with a boring family and her son is arrested for drug dealing.

Houghton’s dialogue is smart and hilarious and Browning does it justice. Her performance is accomplished as the over-achieving, egotistical Bea who becomes even more monstrous when she deals with her hapless family.  She is rude and supercilious to her daughter’s in-laws and fiancĂ©. She is intolerant of Penny’s choices and insensitive about her wedding plans. She insults her ex-husband and abandons her son.

Browning begins in perfect control of Bea’s little world, engaging in effortless contortions to manage geopolitical horrors. Her dialogue is machine gun rapid, her movements like a caged and starved predator. Bea thrives on pressure and revels in the power she wields.

Bea’s one weakness is Colin, the unavailable lover, and Browning’s swift shifts from hard-nosed cow to seductive and simpering teenager as she speaks to him are very funny. She switches attitude from phone to phone, the arch-manipulator, the consummate PR consultant with no heart but an eye on the money.

As Bea’s phone problems become progressively more unmanageable, Browning plays her with a rising hysteria combined with a continuing belief that she can control the world. The outcome of her phone juggling could start a war and end her career. Or will it? Cockroaches survive any disaster and Bea is vermin of the first order.

By Kate Herbert

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