Tying laces before loose ends [by Matt Baker]
Not unlike last year, The Basement’s second season of Young & Hungry provides an excellent dichotomy of comedy and tragedy with its 2014 offerings, Second Afterlife by Ralph McCubbin-Howell and Uncle Minotaur by Dan Bain, respectively. Unlike last year, however, there is a strong similarity in the thematic style of each play.
As a side-note, I find it odd that Young & Hungry‘s “most talented selection of young performers and technicians” are being likened to our future Peter Jackson’s, Anna Paquin’s, and Taiki Waititi’s in the programme notes, considering the latters’ successes lies in the film industry rather than theatre.
No stranger to creating dramatic parallels with the real world, McCubbin-Howell explores the evolution of online profiles in what is more or less a theatrical adaptation of Scott Pilgram Vs. The World. Even when considering this as a youth production, it takes a few moments to adjust to director Leon Wadham’s style for the piece, which requires a necessary juxtaposition between the two worlds, but isn’t fully realised due to the already heightened nature of the characters existence in the real world.
While any journey, especially one of self-discovery, requires a flawed protagonist, the egocentricities of Jackson Bliss-McCauley’s character extend to his performance, resulting in his fellow actors working harder with him as he works against them. Katie Longbottom and Jessica Stubbing make the most of barely scraping through the Bechdel Test, with aptly endearing and grating traits respectively, while Anthony Crum steals the show with a no-holds-barred performance.
Michael Hurst’s fight choreography works well in the confined Basement space, as does Jeremy Birchall’s dance choreography – although the music for the latter is incredibly slow and disrupts the pace of the play’s dynamic. The comedy within both the real and online worlds of the play works like a ZAZ or Wayans brothers script, either paying perfect homage to the movie/song/celebrity/zeitgeist it parodies, or coming across like a cheap gag used to bunny-hop the plot forward – and in the end, it’s all a dream. Literally.
Upon reflection, there are some inarguably risqué issues addressed in Uncle Minotaur, the problem, however, is that their impact is upon reflection – not during the drama. Director Katy Maudlin finds a strong variety of play in Bain’s script, from puppetry to excellent foley sound by Adam Ogle, but is hazy on dissecting motivation and meaning.
Tomasin Fisher-Johnson carries the story with a fantastic combination of tragedy and comedy, and finds every shade in-between. Mataara Stokes gently layers his naiveté and innocence with a light vocal charactersiation, though I cannot for the life of me understand why he isn’t clean-shaven. Brie Hill finds an ironically connected performance with a scattered character, while Mohamed Hassan and Lutz Hamm’s commitment belies their underwritten characters.
Bain, a past Young & Hungry contributor as well as children’s playwright, plucks one or two components from Greek mythology to construct his play, however, while infusing his own narrative drive and plot devices, the journey lacks any sense of theatrical grandeur, and the ending, while another excellent mythological allusion, isn’t earned.
Young & Hungry runs at The Basement until 18 October. Details see The Basement.