Which genius lit the world? [by Sharu Delilkan]
As the audience pile into the ‘small space’ I couldn’t help thinking ‘How many more can you fit in?’. But the constant stream keeps flowing and eventually the show’s co-writer and director Pip Smith bellows ‘I’ve added a chair at the end of that isle across the stage but can I make anyone else more comfortable by adding another chair?’. We nod profusely and say ‘yes please’, emphatically. I finally was able to exhale and begin settling in.
The Basement has basically been shrunk into a tiny space where there’s almost no delineation between actors and the audience who’re literally on top, around and between each other.
The tiny 2-m square stage in the middle is just sufficient for the actors to move around in – making us feel like we’re in the thick of the action – which I particularly liked. I also enjoyed actors coming onto the stage from all four corners keeping everyone on their toes. And the most interesting was when two of the actors had to clamber over people to get centre stage. The ‘small’ part of the billing gets a tick with the intimate setting that allows bombardment from all sides with dialogue, sound effects and cool lighting.
Constantinople is a famous city founded by the Emperor Constantine in 330BC, but had its name changed to Istanbul in 1930. Actor Barnie Duncan (Outrageous Fortune) liked its name better the first time. He uses the city as a name for his ‘soloish’ play and a very lose framework to experiment with some absurd gags, and to play some groovy records.
Supporting player Oliver Cox, bravely greets us at the doors of the Basement wearing a toga. He welcomes us to Constantinople. He offers each of us a grape (“symbol of mass orgy”) as we enter. I stupidly went and ate mine. Hold on to them, there is a great pay-off after the curtain call.
Barnie Duncan embraces the Monty Python School of comedy, glorifying in the silly and ridiculous. As the toga-fied Emperor Constantine, Barnie searches around the stage looking for a city. There is a brilliant running gag where he tries to find different things to wear as ties. One sequence involves him playing a horse formerly called Trimmingbeard, but who has inexplicably changed his named to Kyle (clever). Barnie is a witty actor with a particular flair for physical comedy. He is ably supported by the crazed looking Oliver Cox, and another toga draped supporting player Ben Cragg who joins in some of the action, although he spends most of the time watching from the audience.
Barnie also appears to have gained a postgraduate degree from the School of comedy where, if you make a gag go on long enough, what will have stopped being funny will become funny again. In a soundscape at the start of the show we hear someone walking towards the theatre doors, Barnie waiting in terror. Except it takes ages, and the places this man goes get more and more ridiculous. It’s funny, then not funny, funny, then not funny, then funny again. Similarly a very long but clever sequence has Barnie DJing (Emperor Constantinople loved dance parties you see), changing the records, controlling the sound and speed, and creating some hip tunes. Except it’s all mimed to a soundtrack, Barnie having had to memorise the track, and he does all the fiddly DJ movements with believable precision. It’s risky comedy, but it pays off for him, and the punchline to all this is superb.
It is a humour I don’t see working for everyone, and other than the Constantinople stuff there isn’t really a narrative or logic for what happens. It’s very much a showcase for Barnie’s considerable skills and allows him to go a bit crazy. If you like Python-esque humour, very silly things, and a dash of history, then this is the show for you.
Constantinople plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at the Basement Theatre until 4th March.
More information at the Auckland Fringe Website.