Every now and then a theatre critic can feel a little conflicted after attending a play review. As I left the Arts Theatre I was still not sure what to make of Brenton H Whittle’s brand new work.
Bravo to Adelaide Repertory Theatre for risking a previously unproduced and, I presume, as yet unpublished play. Well done, as well, to Director Sue Wylie, the cast and crew, for taking on its early workshopping and production process while liasing closely with Adelaide’s nationally well-known actor, advertising man and now playwright, Brenton Whittle himself. The Rep, and all involved, have provided audiences with a satisfying and very amusing night out.
I, too, laughed at the relentlessly broad, none-too-subtle ‘jokey’ humour, but I must admit, after a while I became a tad tired of the ‘Dad jokes’. I sensed this play is even now, as happens with most plays in their early stages, still at workshop stage. While already enjoyable, there is a wonderful, both funny and poignant play just below the surface if in future reworking the inherent pathos in dialogue and depth of secondary characters could be enhanced to balance the laughs. This would make the play more relevant to contemporary, especially younger, audiences as well.
An unusual black comedy, Well Shut My Mouth observes the reaction of a diverse ‘Aussie larrikin’ family to the death of their father and grandfather William (‘Clarry’) Hobbs. Clarry provides much of the observation and hilarity from his deceased persona, with joke-filled narration from hospital, to funeral home, to the eventual and eventful Wake at his house…and mostly from a coffin.
Andrew Horwood, as Clarry, has the most fully developed character to portray and makes the most of the role. He is very funny, with his years of theatre experience evident in his great coming timing and wryly comic portrayal.
Julie Quick is endearingly sweet and daffy as Clarry’s wife Mary, who wants a traditional Wake and funeral for him but soon learns their cross-dressing son Craig has other ideas.
David Salter is wonderful as Craig, all frocked up and ready to infuse his own creativity into the proceedings. Hilarious.
Sebastien Skubala, as mutely introverted teen, Clarry’s grandson Billy Barks, has no dialogue and only a song to sing to Clarry, but his body language shines through.
The other main characters, mostly family, are a little underdeveloped in terms of the ‘human’ side of their interaction over the years with Clarry. While they are funny, there is little from them to highlight the depth of their love for, or other relationships with Clarry and so they mostly come across as ‘loud Aussies’, tending to tip a little into caricature. This is no fault of the actors; each of the characters will blossom if the depth of their past relationships with and feelings for the deceased were to be developed in future editing and workshopping of the play by Whittle, to show through in more than the current single monologue alone with his body towards the end of the play. And perhaps with less ‘jokes’.
The movable set, though simple, is very successful, as are sound, lighting and costumes.
Well done to Brenton H Whittle and Adelaide Repertory Theatre for creating, workshopping and producing this quirkily ‘different’ comedy that will tickle many a rib and warm many hearts on these cold Adelaide nights.
I would love to know what happens now with this play; it has excellent potential to do the rounds for years to come.