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High Vis
Published on Saturday, 11 May 2013

Promotional Image

3 stars

The Old Courtroom (venue website)
9-12 May, 9:00pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

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

Robert Cohen’s new play, High Vis, is the epic tale of a city under siege, and the one man with the courage it takes to confront a nameless adversary. As the missiles fly and his superiors cower, Quint McBride rallies his callow recruits in a desperate defence of law and order. He’s a veteran soldier, a master of personal defence and an indefatigable agent of justice. And he’s also – er – a traffic warden.

It’s an entertaining premise, which Cohen augments with a tale of management in-fighting and industrial unrest, spread across a series of training days at the fictional Fraser Tooley Parking.  As the action begins, our anti-hero Quint has been taken off regular patrol… because a madman with an air-rifle is taking pot-shots at his buttocks.  Nobody comes to any lasting harm, but I still had a niggling concern over whether this plot device was actually at all funny; at the very least, a single ill-timed news story could make High Vis seem crass in the extreme.

But the real problem is, I just didn’t like Quint.  Cohen’s drawn him too credibly, perhaps; I accepted him for what he seemed to be, an unpleasant, officious, small-minded zealot.  There are a few hints of back-story – some stories about the Army, a betrayal by his wife – but they’re delivered with more bitterness than vulnerability.  And with little to make me care about Quint’s final fate, his ultimate descent into paranoia left me lamentably unmoved.

All the same, Cohen’s endowed his creation with some fine comic mannerisms: an unexpected, creative tendency to use exactly the wrong word, and an interestingly liberal-yet-clueless attitude towards “the gays”.  The humour’s slow-burning, but towards the end I’d come to look forward to Quint’s hapless mis-steps, and appreciate his unique attitude on matters such as the places where God is found.  Perhaps oddly, the expected torrent of traffic-warden gags was unleashed relatively late on; cracking them out earlier might have broken the ice, before the more sinister plot emerged.

I also enjoyed the play’s mild interactivity, casting its audience as trainee traffic wardens whom Quint attempts to rally to his cause.  For all that I disliked him, I still felt a pang of guilt that – as the plot ordained – I abandoned him in his hour of need.

Overall, I felt High Vis needs a bit more time in front of an audience, to thrash out which jokes are most successful and which let the energy drain away.  Cohen makes Quint convincing – the bitter drunken Quint is especially alarmingly real.  But the challenge now is to give him depth… at least, depth enough to make me care.

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