The Socially Distanced Play is an original work by local playwright, Damon Hill, who not only wrote and directed the production, but also had to step into a role due to a cast member succumbing to Covid, in real life! Oh, the irony.
There is much one wants to love and adore in a topical piece, crafted from the ground up in a community theatre, and such is the case with this show.
Amid a handful of “obvious” covidesque references, Hill has found unique ways to give our Covid protocols and memories a fresh twist, typically through exaggeration, as one might expect from a farce.
In fact, Hill and co have crafted quite a nice, farcical environment in which the levels of absurdity are turned up, sometimes to 11, lifting this show from garden variety farce to one with some rich, joyous moments of mirth.
The setting is a rehearsal for a conventional farce, with director (Tim Cousins), sitting in the front row of the theatre to guide and correct the action.
Our players begin in streetwear and then adopt their costumes when the “run through” of the play begins, even though the set is not yet finished (a complete doorway that is referenced in the script is missing, among other zany tweaks) and the stubbornly-annoying, hopelessly-helpful props lady (Theresa Dolman) is every interrupting to see to sanitisation and inventive substitutes for missing props.
As an example of the level of detail of the conceit, the program contains biographies of the actors’ faux names along with their Socially Distanced Play character names. For example, Kieren Drost is in the program as playing Marcus Black, who is the “actor” at the rehearsal playing Conrad Baines. It’s rare to see even a program break the fourth wall!
Overall, the ensembled worked together well, creating a night of deliberately patchy performances amid slapstick and mayhem.
Some notable performances included Kristyn Barnes’ portrayal of prostitute, Candy Licious. Barnes’ ability to convey disinterest while being absorbed in her phone, created some memorable moments, especially her underwhelming reaction to discovering a body in a closet. Frank Cwiertniak’s “father in drag” was positively awkward throughout the night, amplified by not knowing his lines and resorting to ingenious workarounds. And Lachlan Blackwell’s Stefan LeBonq, brought much energy, sometimes avalanches of energy, to give the show extra pep when things were slowing. His stagecraft with hand puppets must also be noted.
A nice aspect of the director being among us was that when a character overacted (like Blackwell’s “French” accent) or was mumbling through her mask (like Rhi Shapcott’s Anita Wilkins), the director could name this issue, bringing us relief (oh, that was deliberate, we realise).
There is much to love about this play and if Hill could ever be persuaded to trim a good 45 minutes from the 2+ hour romp, he’d have a stunningly potent, clever, and rip-roaringly funny hit on his hands.
That said, the hearty house enjoyed the show on opening night and the Tea Tree Players’ faithful will likely follow suit.