A novel comedy [by Matt Baker]
Four years after being nominated for Best Show in the NZ International Comedy Festival, Andy Clay’s Book of Love returns for its second season. Presented not as a one-man reading, but more of a self-help seminar, the show is broken into ten chapters, with Clay enthusiastically rattling off a great variety of hilarious observations and one-liners. Although said enthusiasm resulted in him speeding through and tripping over some lines, none were lost, and, more importantly, his exaggerated persona came across.
Aiding Clay is a panel of four actors; Dane Dawson, Damien Avery, Shavaughn Ruakere, and Michael Saccente. Dawson represents the typical early 20s Kiwi bloke and absolutely nails his throw away comments with the nonchalant macho arrogance of a popped collar meathead. Saccente is perfectly pathetic as a quinquagenarian divorcee, and garners an equal amount of empathetic aww-ing and belly laughs from the audience. Avery sits more or less in the middle, far more confident than Saccente’s character, but only slightly less arrogant than Dawson’s. Ruakere covers the female roles, with a few great self-referential jokes which are peppered nicely throughout the script.
The show progresses well under the direction of Jeremy Ellwood, with each of the guest actors challenging Clay in their own way, and Clay redirecting their concerns under the next chapter title. The biggest conflicts come from Ruakere and Saccente, and while some of Ruakere’s extreme portrayals are pitched at a particularly heightened, albeit humourous, degree, Saccente maintains a furrowed-brow forlornness and downtrodden demeanour throughout the entire show which nicely juxtaposes Clay.
The show is inevitably presented from a slightly arrogant male perspective, but it also comes with a clear disclaimer and repetitive warnings regarding this aspect, and, because the show balances itself well between a theatre piece and a stand-up routine, it can’t be taken with any degree of seriousness. Admittedly, there would be members of the audience who, in a particular state of mind or relationship, might interpret the darker humour more pessimistically, but I would implore them to see the show for what it is: an innocent laugh at the one thing on which we all wish there was a how-to book; relationships.
Andy Clay’s Book of Love plays at Q Loft as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival until 4 May. Details see Comedy Festival.