REVIEW: Watching Paint Dry (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Nathan Joe

[Fresh Coat]

It’s much more fun than it sounds.

This might sound like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t. Watching Paint Dry begins, as one might expect, with performer (and lighting designer) Sean Lynch slowly and deliberately painting a wall (opening night’s colour was ‘Adrenaline Orange’). But, with this simple premise, writer and director Anders Falstie-Jensen introduces a fair few surprises and twists along the way. While you shouldn’t expect an action-packed evening with tightly choreographed stunts or show-stopping musical numbers, there’s more than enough subversion to keep the show interesting.

There’s a careful understanding of what the audience expects coming into a show with such a title, and Falstie-Jensen playfully toys with these expectations expertly. The performance by Sean Lynch is similarly self-aware, performed with the focus and intention of Buster Keaton but armed with a knowing smile. Like an insect under a microscope, every gesture he makes takes on additional weight and meaning. More than just a painter, Lynch acts as our spirit guide for the evening, doling out observations like zen monk. From the moment he walks in, the show becomes focussed on the act of watching the watcher rather than watching the paint itself.

Perhaps a more pure and daring version of the show really would have us watch paint dry and nothing else. We are, thankfully, spared that; instead we are treated to something that transcends and escapes the limitations of its premise. We journey through the comedy of the banal to the poignancy of being with strangers and staring at a shared space, making the ordinary extraordinary.

The longer stretches of writing can feel a bit heavy-handed, guiding us like art gallery texts and interpreting the work for us, but its over-earnestness is often balanced out by its sense of humour.

Like a quieter, less anarchic cousin to Nisha Madhan’s Fuck Rant, Watching Paint Dry similarly questions the relationship between the audience and the stage, deconstructing the act of watching theatre. It’s about how we watch theatre as much as it is about what we are watching. More importantly, they both feel quintessentially fringe, full of experimental spirit and resisting conventionality with every fibre of their bodies.

A guided meditation for our attention-deficit times.

Watching Paint Dry is presented by The Rebel Alliance and Auckland Live and plays at The Herald until 3 March. 

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