Saturday, 19 June 1999

Popcorn by Ben Elton, 19 June 1999

 Athenaeum II from June 19, 1999

In our increasingly litigious era, it is interesting that Melbourne is seeing two plays dealing with rubbery law. In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Portia manipulates/interprets law to save Antonio and punish Shylock.

Ben Elton's comedy-thriller, Popcorn, demonstrate that, with strong argument and sufficient media coverage, the guilty can appear victimised, even innocent.

Hollywood movie director, Bruce Delamitri (Steven Vidler) makes films which glamorise sex and violence as do Tarantino and Stone. He returns home from the Academy Awards with two prizes: an Oscar and Playboy centrefold, Brooke Daniels. (Helen Thomson). The evening turns sour when his fans, the Mall Murderers (Steve Bastoni, Nadine Garner), hold him hostage.

Elton is a consummate comedy writer and the dialogue in this dramatised version of his novel deserves its Olivier Award for best comedy

Frequently, the 'white trash' killers speak eloquently in Californian psycho-babble but the very incongruity of such language out of their mouths is hilarious.

Director, Kaarin Fairfax, has effectively kept the pace in overdrive for two hours although some moments in second gear would be useful. It is exhilarating, exhausting and relentless just like Elton.

Ironically, Elton himself, while criticising both screen and real violence, manages to glamorise the crims. It is disturbing to laugh while feeling horrified at our own amusement. Remember Pulp Fiction?

With instant modern media coverage, The Public may be unable or, more likely, unwilling to distinguish real from simulated violence. Do we care in the end whether someone really dies if it makes good TV?

It may all sound serious content but it is a frenetically good romp in the theatre if you are not overly sensitive to sexism and violence.

Steve Bastoni is deliciously unpredictable as the ruthless, delirious, sexist murderer, Wayne Hudson. His stage presence, comic timing and delivery are exceptional.

Helen Thomson as Brooke–"I'm an actor"–Daniels, works the role with great comic craft and plays Elton's sexy pantihose strip to the hilt. Garner is wild and funny as Scout, Wayne's equally crazed lover, although she could reduce the facepulling.

Vidler is suitably repellant as the smarmy director and Jane Turner is outrageous as his brash, money-grubbing wife. Support from Stephen O-Rourke and Bianca Rowe and others was commendable.

The play is a comic indictment of the American legal and social system out of control. It is, however, unlikely to change anything.

By Kate Herbert

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