Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer
plus The Marriage Proposal by Anton Chekov

Dates and Venue 10 September - 11 October 2009, 8pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Dean Paul Gibson Set Design Ted Roberts Costume Design Sheila White Lighting Design John Webber Sound Design Alessandro Juliani & Meg Roe Stage Manager Caryn Fehr

Reviewer John Jane

The Arts Club Theatre Company kicks off its new season at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage with a great two-for-one deal. Coupling works by Anton Chekov and Peter Shaffer might seem like an odd pairing, but Black Comedy and The Marriage Proposal have enough in common to make them ideal theatrical companions. They each centre around a proposal of marriage by an unsure suitor that precipitates calamitous results.

The “curtain-warmer” is Chekov’s dialogue-driven play set in pre-revolutionary Russia. Hypochondriac Ivan Vassiliyitch (Jeff Meadows) visits his neighbour Stepan Stepanovich (Simon Bradbury) to formally ask permission to propose marriage to his daughter Natalia (Sasa Brown). Notwithstanding the desperation of all parties to effectuate the deal, they get in absurd arguments over the ownership of a worthless meadow that divides their properties and whose dog is the best hunter.

The fast-paced play features hilariously over-the-top performances by all three actors, played out in front of a roughly five metre square mural of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky’s abstract work, ‘Composizione.’

With a play entitled Black Comedy, one might suppose that it’s a satirical commentary on controversial subject matter. In Peter Shaffer’s deceptively titled farce, nothing is further from fact. The “black” in this case refers to the absence of light caused by a power outage in which much of the play’s action takes place.

To insure that the audience is able to see what goes on, lighting designer John Webber uses a kind of reverse dark/light technique. When Brindsley Miller’s London flat is lit normally the stage is in total darkness; during the ‘blackout’ scenes the stage lights are turned on.

This set-up allows for some extravagant physical comedy; particularly when the blundering protagonist, brilliantly played by Charlie Gallant, must transfer his neighbour’s furniture to its rightful location. British actor Anthony Newley once said that a good actor can do almost anything. Newley’s comment could easily apply to Gallant who shows incredible agility falling down a flight of stairs ending in a perfect somersault.

Some of the movement around the stage requires precise choreography and the entire cast handle it with finesse. Plaudits go to lanky actor Jeff Meadows for his understated portrayal of foppish neighbour, Harold Gorringe – in sharp contrast to his earlier madcap performance as Natalia’s suitor in the Chekov play and Sasa Brown as Brindsley’s former flame Clea.

Black Comedy and is a delightful romp mirthfully devoid of profundity, yet manages to keep the audience reeling in their seats throughout.

© 2009 John Jane