“Early in the first act of Roger Hall's new play - as an irritable foursome of mismatched travellers are dragging their suitcases through Venice in search of the eternally elusive pensione - Stuart Devenie turns to the audience and announces: "Well you know what's going to happen don't you?"
And while there can be few in the audience who were unable to predict the trajectory of this story of redemption under a Tuscan sun, the journey uncovers plenty of discreet pleasures and amusing diversions.
Roger Hall has efficiently assembled all the requisite ingredients for his inimitable brand of social satire and his latest offering provides a comforting antidote to Auckland's dismal winter weather. With witty dialogue, sardonic asides, sharply drawn characters and moments of poignancy, Hall delivers a perceptive report on the current state of the national psyche - with our anxieties and obsessions laid bare in the unfulfilled yearnings of a quartet of senior citizens representing the opposite ends of the middle-class social spectrum.
George Henare is the abrasive plumbing supplies merchant who finds the perfect tone for a deranged, expletive laden catharsis on the horror of our national humiliation at that World Cup quarter-final.
Stuart Devenie is well cast as a self-deprecating librarian and his perfectly timed deadpan commentary establishes an intimate link with the audience as he reflects on the splendours of Italy, his rising libido and the melancholy interior world of a fractured marriage. Annie Whittle brings plenty of chutzpah to her portrayal of a bold and brassy divorcee while Darien Takle finds hidden depths in an earnest and frustrated librarian.
The production is nicely rounded off with Toni Potter and Peter Daube's stylish platter of Italian stereotypes who fit neatly into Tracy Grant Lord's spectacular set design.”
Last Saturday I went to the Bruce Mason Theatre and saw this play. It is having a very successful season and the theatre was packed.
Unlike many of Roger Halls successful television plays (Gliding On, Middle Age Spread) which are continuous belly laughing affairs from beginning to end ‘Four Flat Whites in Italy’ weaves strategically placed pathos and poignancy within the story line. The poignancy acts as a counterpoint to the humour and is often the crossroads in the story line where a serious point is made and/or the momentum of a new direction is generated.
This mixing of the serious and the humourous is a well known technique or form of drama and is used in many very successful TV shows. Two that come to mind are the long running American series ‘Mash’ depicting the humour and tragedy of a medical corps during the Korean War and the long running UK series ‘Coronation Street’ which is at its best when it mixes humour and pathos in this way.
After the play in Auckland we visited one of my brothers in law who gave me a bottle of nice red wine to take to dinner at our next stop north where we were to met two of my sisters and their husbands.
I don’t know why Green Thai Curry with coconut cream has the words Green or Curry in it because this curry dish was very mild, was white in colour and had a huge amount of snapper fish in it that another of my brothers in law had caught earlier in the day... The meal tasted like the manna from foodie heaven and who says you can’t drink rough red wine with fish because you can and I did.
As with most of these Smith Clan family get togethers there is a huge amount of humour, laughter, jokes, ‘leg pulling’, ‘tit pulling’ and general bullshit. The atmosphere is always one of goodwill and ‘let’s have a good time’. None of this is unusual and these sorts of good humoured get togethers are pretty normal fare up and down the country.
I can’t remember now how the topic was ever broached but like most imperatives that arise from the subconscious mind my brother in law began talking about the difficulties and problems that have ensued since the time he has had his cancerous prostate taken out a decade ago while in his early forties.
One of the side effects of removal of the prostate is problems with getting and maintaining an erection. Well lubricated with red wine we sat and listened to a tale which is not uncommon. To gain an erection the penis is injected with some sort of vein dilating chemical and then to the alternating sound of a brass band and a full orchestra love making begins. No problem, as they say, except on this particular occasion after cupid had replaced the arrows back into his quiver, waited around a bit, and drank four flat whites, the erection was still standing at attention with an expectant look on its face.
At this point, as things stood (so to speak) there was no problem, but 48 hours later and still no change and it was no longer very funny. It had become very painful and down right dangerous.
The next part of the story involved a trip to hospital, the pain, the embarrassment, the initial explanation, a doctor who said with a smile on his face that, “it shouldn’t be too hard to fix”, another injection and the subsequent relief.
Despite the fact that the story was told with great humour and that we laughed all the way through there was a very serious side to it all. It had been dangerous and I think he had been quite frightened by the whole incident. I thought that my brother in law was very courageous to share something as intimate and embarrassing for him as that with us – I was impressed and glad that someone who could be self revealing in such a wonderfully humourous way was married to one of my sisters.
It was humour and poignancy – what we had just seen in the play was Art imitating Life – what we had been told by my brother in law held a mirror up to the play - It was Life imitating Art.