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Published on Wednesday, 29 May 2013

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2 stars

Upstairs at Three and Ten (venue website)
27 May, 1-2 Jun, 3:00pm-4:00pm
Reviewed by Ben Aitken

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.
 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

Does absence make the heart grow fonder, or fill it with fear and loathing? Tim Cook’s new play presents two couples in a café in an attempt to answer this question – but it’s an effort which ultimately suffers at the hands of a somewhat thoughtless production.

A trainee physics teacher (Boy 1) is dreading the prospect of his girlfriend (Girl 1) going away indefinitely in sixty-two days’ time. At the neighbouring table is a couple whose relationship fell apart after a car-crash of some kind – the details are kept obscure – leaving the boyfriend (Boy 2) in a sorry emotional state.

Mat Pinckney, as Boy 2, portrays discomfiture very well indeed, offering a range of sighs and winces and rueful expressions to nicely capture a man at ill-ease. But his is the strongest of the four performances – the acting broadly is too indiscreet, lending the characters a sense of self-importance and affectation. Directors James Martinelli and Paul Macauley might consider encouraging their cast to be a little less blatant in their portrayals.

The direction also struggles with the predicament of having two, supposedly meaningful, conversations running in parallel. When the audience is asked to pay attention to one couple’s conversation, the other couple are left to just sit and wait their turn, fully-lit and motionless and glum-looking. This have been odd for the actors, but it also distracted me from the couple I was meant to be attending, a nuisance that could have been avoided with a more thought-out lighting design.

Tim Cook’s script makes a definite attempt to render a particular type of dialogue (stop-start, overlapping, bitty, semi-improvised) that has worked well in sitcoms like The Office. But he captures this awkwardness so well and so consistently that the whole play becomes uncomfortable. As a result, when Cook rightly attempts to lend some emotional depth to proceedings – there is a story about Girl 1 wanting to be a mermaid, and another about how Boy 2’s undecorated house is symbolic of his existential malaise – the attempts fall flat, feeling like contrived digressions rather than careful developments of character.  

Characters need to be likable if their stories are to be engaging (or alternatively, we need to enjoy not liking them, by virtue of their flawed genius or wit or audacity). The quartet put forward by Tim Cook are uniformly, unbendingly irksome, which prevented me from investing in their romantic tribulations. The actors do good work to lend some charm to the script, but sadly it is not enough to redeem some underlying flaws.

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