Phantasmagoria by David Ruby Howe and Tomas Watson. Five Skinny White Guys at The Street Theatre StudioAugust 24-27, 2005, 7.30pm.
The story of the weird ship Phantasmagoria takes on possible meanings of Titanic proportions in this light-hearted revue-style presentation. Canberra is renowned for spawning new young theatre groups like coral on the Barrier Reef, without even the requirement of the right tide and full moon, and there is something vaguely Tempest-like in this first production by former Dickson College drama students. Not quite up to Shakespeare yet, but time may tell.
From the point of view of the opening night audience largely of friends and relations, the array of definitely abnormal characters combined with an acting style which satirised American sitcoms created bursts of laughter and a sense of anticipation that something seriously risque would appear before our very eyes. An oft-used technique was the long pause which, in the sitcom, would be filled with meaningful glances. Here, an existential blank would fail to fill the space as characters were too weird to understand such subtlety.
I found unfortunately, as in the sitcoms, that the pacing was often excruciatingly slow, especially in the first half in which all the main characters were introduced in short apparently unrelated scenes. The second half picked up on board Phantasmagoria when the story line became something of a plot.
It's an achievement to have produced close to 2 hours' entertainment, if still raw in form. Though not the "innovative comedy" their promotion material claims, there are many touches of originality which these writers can build on and I can see some potential theatrical careers in the offing.
The four (yes, four) Five Skinny White Guys and the other 13 who performed, designed and operated backstage should certainly take the risk again and push their envelope further into the abyss of absurdity next time.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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