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The reviews are coming in…

This in from Theatreview.

INSIGHTFUL, POIGNANT, UPLIFTING WITH PLENTY OF LAUGHS

Print Version
Photo by Paul McLaughlin
Photo by Paul McLaughlin

ACHE
By Pip Hall
Directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford

at Circa Two, Wellington
From 24 Oct 2015 to 21 Nov 2015

Reviewed by Lena Fransham, 25 Oct 2015

In this Circa season of Pip Hall’s Ache* directed by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, we follow the protagonists ‘Woman’ (Renee Lyons) and ‘Man’ (Richard Dey) through a series of accidental meetings in recognisable Wellington locations.

We first meet them at a wedding reception in the Boatshed and their story unfolds from there in a series of comic vignettes – in a restaurant, a police station, a hospital, the city gallery – through which an odd attachment develops.

She’s a bridesmaid at the wedding. She clomps gingerly, on ridiculously high heels, to the railing where he’s leaning and smoking. She bludges a cigarette, and laments not having had time to wear in the shoes, which are tormenting her feet. “Take them off,” he suggests. She struggles with this. What a simple idea to relieve one’s pain. Why suffer unnecessarily? Why make things more complicated than they need to be?

Conversations in each scene reflect on following your heart, on living-by-accident versus being deliberate in going for what you want, and repeatedly turn to the topic of nostalgia and what it tells us about what we really long for.

Their easy bond becomes evident in each brief meeting. There’s a wistfulness that grows with the unfortunate misses in timing, the opportunities that slip by. Just as they’re getting along when they first meet, his young blonde girlfriend (Amy Usherwood) turns up trying to get him to go for some lines in the bathroom.

Next time they meet, he is with a young brunette girlfriend (also Usherwood), and she is humiliatingly stood up by her date. While the girlfriend is outside smoking a joint, the two acquaintances catch up; their talk is brief but reveals an affinity that contrasts starkly with the obvious mismatch between him and his selfie-obsessed young girlfriend.

Their respective situations show their longing for deeper connection. You want the affinity to get the opportunity to grow, but there are always complications and obstructions, frequently in the form of inappropriate girlfriends, all comically portrayed by Amy Usherwood.

Life is about timing, Woman says. Lyon’s comic timing is certainly intrinsic to the success of this play.  Her goofy vulnerability hijacks your sympathy, especially in her drunken sequence with Man and the police officer (Jack Buchanan, who also proves versatile as a waiter, a chef, an artist, a doctor and a bridegroom).

Dey is solidly believable, with a quiet dry wit to complement Lyon’s effervescence. With the embarrassingly inappropriate exchange at the police station, the odd, accidental nature of their acquaintance gains an intimacy and significance. Each little scene seems to reveal some life change for one of them, and a development between them, but there is so much connection that doesn’t happen, and you’re dying for one of them to get proactive.

Music (sound design by Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and Deb McGuire) and lighting (Marcus McShane) are decisively applied to lovely effect, but the most stunning feature is the all-wooden set (Ian Harman). It’s beautiful watching Buchanan moving its parts between scenes: the slide of the slatted screen from this side to that, the lattice it makes against the horizontal lines of the backdrop, the harmonious minimalism of tone and material. It’s a visual pleasure, essential to the play’s character.

While it nods to the tongue-in-cheek uber-trendy aesthetic of the urban middle class setting, the minimalism is of a piece with the spareness of narrative structure, and both sharpen the piquancy of the human drama. The versatility of the props – shifting from seats to counter to gallery plinths – somehow underlines a sense of the fates at work, the changing of circumstances against a constancy of substance making up the relationship of the main characters.

The hero’s awful one-dimensional girlfriends have comic value and serve to highlight the rapport between the two main characters – these girlfriends come off as a minimalist device, like the set, only sketched in enough to offset the main characters’ relationship – but where the set is elegant and evocative, the cartoony characters of one or two of the girlfriends feel a bit cliché and clunky against the finer shades of the drama.

Even the main characters are not particularly deep or detailed, but they are well-delineated, just sketched enough, like the lines of the set, to illustrate the human point. Man and Woman’s hop-skip acquaintance, full of unfulfilled possibilities, steadily foregrounds the theme of human longing to which the title refers. There’s insight, a poignant and uplifting tenor to it, and plenty of laughs.

*Ache won the 2012 Pump Theatre Award for an Auckland playwright and premiered at The Court Theatre’s Pub Charity Studio (The Forge) in July 2014.