REVIEW: Mating in Captivity (Last Tapes)

Review by Matt Baker

Mating in Captivity

[Page to Stage]

There is a significant step missing in Auckland’s theatre industry. Between independent producers and production companies presenting their own works, whether old or new, there are few of either who dedicate themselves to introducing new playwrights, actors, designers, and directors to Auckland audiences. Enter Last Tapes: First Steps season, which is “dedicated to supporting and staging debut work of emerging artists in our community.” Inspired by his mid-twenties friends marrying and the dialogue-driven sex farces of 1930s cinema, Mating in Captivity is Oliver Page’s theatrical scriptwriting debut. Considering his body of short work in film, Page has made a clear transition from screen to stage, with a truly modern day romp.

We may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with us, and this is never more true than when old “friends” resurface. Frith Horan gives a fearless performance as Annie, a statistical bio-engineering student with a predilection for pot, savaging the depths and painting the Basement Theatre walls with every shade of her character. Her fiancé, Rob, played by Jack Buchanan, has made a significantly stupid, yet genuinely innocent mistake, on the night of their engagement party, and Buchanan nails every twitch and pitch during both his anxiety-driven and serene moments.

As third-wheel, Jacob, Milo Cawthorne occasionally goes against the style of the play by imbuing his dialogue with a naturalistic weight in an attempt to evoke the truthfulness of his character’s words. However, this does provide a counterbalance to the heightened energy from Buchanan and Horan, which would otherwise wane thin too quickly given the extremity of their given circumstances.

In addition to this, director Renee Lyons, who is no stranger to comedy, clearly marks the beats in the story, and while the rhythm comes and goes as the pace accommodates accordingly, the style of the piece is never truly lost thanks to Lyons’ comedy eye and the cast’s surgical precision. Poppy Serano’s studio apartment set provides the necessary flow for both realistic design and the physical necessity of the play’s farcical moments – though the backdrops are incongruent with the rest of her detailed design – and, in addition to Rachel Marlow’s lighting, aid the audience in focussing on the characters as they are contained in the dramatic moments.

The physical component, however, can be further utilised in order to support the ending, which, while providing a guaranteed laugh, feels cheap compared to the depth to which Page has gone, and while the play currently runs slightly longer than necessary, there is an opportunity for this to be a penultimate moment, allowing Page is pose a question to his audience with regards to his characters’ futures. At the other end, the play only clicks into gear once the central conflict occurs, and while the first scene does set up two of the three character personalities, much of this could be interjected in the currently second scene to allow for a beginning in which the audience play catch up with Annie.

A script is only finished when a writer chooses to stop writing, and while the show could benefit from (slight) editing, Mating in Captivity is a lively and fun commentary on what it means to be in love in today’s social landscape. Unfortunately, homophobic responses have proven their continued existence, though, fortunately, greater Auckland audiences are reacting with resounding approval of this fresh, new comedy, but Last Tapes Theatre Company should be equally acknowledged for having introduced them to new playwrights at the standard to which they should be presented.

Mating in Captivity is presented by Last Tapes Theatre Company and plays at Basement Theatre until August 27. For details see Basement Theatre.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe

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