Thursday, 24 September 2009

A Black Joy by Declan Greene ***

45downstairs, Sept 24 to Oct 4, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A Black Joy, Declan Greene’s new dark comedy, has plenty in common with Greene’s previous productions with colleague, Ash Flanders, in their wacko company, Sisters Grimm.  This play, directed by Susie Dee, has the same grotesque but comic flavour, vivid style and references to movies and popular culture. It appeals to a young and funky audience – but not exclusively.

The play depicts the collision of the lives of seven self-absorbed individuals all of whom have famous, movie star names and are members of outrageously dysfunctional families. Bette Davis, played with grim relish by Carole Patullo, acts as “feeder” for her morbidly obese and compliant partner, John Candy, played by Tom Considine. He lies in a bed, like a beached whale, being fed cold baked beans, enormous pies and disgusting gruel.

The repellent images continue. Bette Davis’s daughter, Dakota Fanning (Miriam Glaser), is an abrasive, suicidal, child-star brat who has leukaemia (as did the real Fanning in ER), a foul temper and a craving to be a musical theatre star. She meets and falls in teen love with Corey Haim (Ash Flanders), a 14 year-old Neo-Nazi who makes threatening phone calls to his own mother, Diane Keaton (Anne Browning). Browning plays mum’s anxiety disorder and burgeoning fitness obsession with demented delight, popping pills, hoisting barbells and running in frenzied circles around the stage.

Just when you think things can’t get more bizarre, Diane Keaton’s husband, Senator Joseph Cotton (Chris Bunworth), reveals that his desperate quest to save the whales runs parallel to his psychopathic abduction and slow, sadistic starvation and murder of – well – it looks uncannily like Paris Hilton (Megan Twycross).

Greene’s style owes much to high camp, 1960s, schlock-horror and sexploitation movies. He enjoys grossing out his audience with his “trash theatre”. The results are often hilarious and crazy.

Dee directs the play with a deft hand, maintaining the grotesque, comic style and drawing the sometimes scattered threads of Greene’s narrative into a cohesive whole. The script, although not particularly well crafted, is entertaining and the cast give gutsy, credible performances in this flagrantly offensive and absurd play. If you’re not interested, send your kids.

By Kate Herbert

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