REVIEW: No Time to Dry (Basement Theatre)

Review by Jess Karamjeet

No Time to Dry

No Time to Wait

Basement Theatre’s Studio is so tightly packed with eager audience members before the premiere of playwright and director Lucy Dawber’s latest comedic offering No Time to Dry, that a Basement staff member ends up giving their seat to the final person to enter the room. There’s an anticipation in the air that I’ve rarely experienced like this; perhaps it’s the casting – an ensemble who’ve largely worked together through Bullrush improv troupe, or in Dawber’s previous play Hardly Working – or maybe it’s the intriguing premise of a fiercely feminist spy romp. Personally, it’s having high expectations from knowing Dawber’s back-catalogue of work and her strong skills as a writer and comedic performer, notably in her 2022 autobiographical one-woman show Rich People Cry Too (remounted for the 2024 NZ Comedy Festival next month.) 

As the audience assembles, a man is on his knees centre stage – arms behind his back, face obscured by a paper bag. A playful back and forth with a disembodied voice of the villain (Dawber) sets the tone of the evening, firmly landing in parody. The details of why the man has been captured feel inconsequential, and the emphasis is on the comedy which puts me at ease, after thinking of how complex spy plots can be. This is all-together a different beast and, as we are introduced to the next set of characters, it’s clear that Dawber’s focus is on uplifting and elevating the work of her exceptional actors.  

Brit O’Rourke is protagonist Ada, a pushover classroom teacher unaffectionately known by her kids as ‘pretzel-face.’ She has an awkward crush on a colleague, Janet/Jane (Georgia Pringle) who ignores her opening scene advances. At the laundrette, Ada laments about her day to close-knit friends, Martha (Jacinta Compton) and Carmen (Gabriela Chauca) who are fellow millennials with a shared frustration towards the hum-drum and their flagging careers. 

After finding themselves in a secret room behind a dryer, they fend for their lives and we are introduced to top boss 001 (Millie Hanford). The threesome’s confusion at being invited into the NZ Secret Intelligence Service provides the first heady hit of laughter, and the nuances of Hanford’s comedic performance and her exit from stage results in uncontainable hysterics from the room. The hilarity is testament not only to the physical comedy of all performers, but to Dawber’s writing and direction. 

Without delving too deeply into the plot or spoilers, the action unfolds with the three friends and mentor Jane showing them the ropes of spydom. It’s interesting to note how the play opened with a man (Vincent Andrew-Scammell), but most of the time the female characters take up space in a genre-busting way. Ada, Carmen and Martha are each unique and complimentary, especially evidenced during a polygraph test scene cementing their neuroses and providing the set up for a musical call-back from Martha later in the denouement. 

The sound design is robust (Vincent Andrew-Scammell) with an orchestral James Bond style score underpinning tension, which complements more subtle textures e.g. the tap of the polygraph, the beep of a virtual computer screen or swipe card access door. As with many opening nights, there are moments when the sound balance needs adjusting but this isn’t distracting and is a welcomed effort to keep dialogue front and centre. 

The space is utilised in an intriguing way, with some scenes taking place behind the opaque white gauze curtain, and a central hole allows for access to the main stage (when not employing hilarious comando rolls beneath it). Lighting design is evocative, using all of the rainbow to reflect mood and space, and chapter titles or infographics are occasionally projected onto the opaque partition. Details like this showcase Dawber’s thoughtful direction, and serve to elevate the compelling locations – (a training ring! An airplane! Malaga, Spain!).

It’s a play which could easily transfer to a bigger stage, allowing for the kind of creative playfulness Dawber excels at. That said, the sparse set allows the performers to really shine, and their physical theatre and mime-work is especially skillful. Additional props, bells and whistles would take away from this but there’s no doubt more eyes should be across this work.

Opening night concluded with an overwhelming response from the audience who made so much noise during the curtain-call, cheering and stamping feet, that the floor shook. Don’t miss No Time To Dry if it returns. 

No Time to Dry played Basement Theatre 23-27th April 2024. 

Written and Directed by Lucy Dawber

Starring Brit O’Rourke, Gabriela Chauca, Jacinta Compton, Georgia Pringle, Millie Hanford, and Vincent Andrew-Scammell 

Set and Lighting design by Bekky Boyce 

The Editor apologies for the delay in posting this review.    

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