Dying of Laughter [by James Wenley]
On a routine visit to the hospital after a blow to the head caused by his best friend re-enacting Fight Club, Charlie Morris is informed he has a terminal illness, and his days are numbered.
Now that is a profound life changing moment; too big to even begin to understand for people outside of it. When Charlie Morris tells his friends that he is dying, they’re immediate response is to say “Well, we’re all dying”. Charlie’s “just became more relevant”.
Thanks to many films and TV on the subject, there’s an awful lot of cliché associated with this sort of news too. Think the sort of plots (eg: The Bucket List) where the news spurs them to start living their life to the full, learning some important lessons along the way, and we end with a sad, but ultimately life affirming message.
Chris Neels’ new play The Seven Funerals of Charlie Morris acknowledges, then bypasses the cliché, dealing with a young man’s imminent mortality with sensitivity, honesty, and a thick coating of black humour. The subject matter may sound like a downer, but it’s treated with a truthful lightness and serious fun that that makes for truly charming and enjoyable story. And yes, the ending might even be a little life affirming too. It made me want to stand up cheer – but more on that later.
Charlie (Ash Jones) is being introspective in a bath tub as the audience enters the Basement Studio. A piano is cleverly hidden behind it, played live by Sean Webb, whose music through the play helps makes it sparkle. Chalk drawings on the walls suggest bathroom tiles and towel rack.
Labyrinth and 500 Days of Summer? Skip the films, see the plays… [by James Wenley]
When I interviewed Chris Neels on Theatre Scenes for Skin Tight in June he mentioned that he was working on two shows for a double bill at the Basement theatre in August. “Last year the Basement put out a call for proposals and I thought… oh shit, next year I’m going to be an actor and if I’m not performing at the Basement I’m not an actor. That’s what real actors do, they go to the Basement!”
And to the Basement he went, but, as it turned out, not as an actor. According to Chris’ logic, he might not be a ‘real’ actor yet, but he deservedly should call himself a ‘real’ director and playwright.
Elephant Nation’s two plays are a tantalising prospect. First is the Terrific Tale of Tabatha Talmus, billed as a fantasy for fans of ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘The Never Ending story’, its devised by the cast and directed by Neels with collaboration from dance collective Sweaty Heart Productions. Then Chris writes and directs These are the Skeletons of Us, which stars (if I may be so bold) some of the best young actors working in Auckland – Andrew Ford, Colin Garlick, Chelsea McEwan Miller and especially Nic Sampson.