Review: Mr Kolpert (Pantsguys)

pantsguysVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 30 – Aug 16, 2014
Playwright: David Gieselmann (translated by David Tushingham)
Director: James Dalton
Cast: Paige Gardiner, Garth Holcombe, Claire Lovering, Tim Reuden, Edan Lacey, Tom Christophersen
Image by Gez Xavier Mansfield

Theatre review
The theatre is a gift that takes many forms. Audiences sit in darkness full of anticipation, waiting for a revelation, never really knowing what is to be unraveled. Mr Kolpert quickly assures us that it is intent on providing entertainment and laughter, but we discover very soon, that the comedy is black, and the true depth of its morbidity is not known until we arrive at the very end. Although tremendously funny, the comical work is first and foremost an absurdist one. We might be laughing from start to finish, but it is only the loudness of that reaction that disguises a greater response that occurs, in which our minds and emotions are constantly being confronted and agitated, and we struggle to grapple with our own morals and etiquette.

The play presents an omnibus of transgressions through a series of unrealistic and improbable events, and every taboo that the narrative comes into contact with, it aggressively explores, keeping us unnerved and outraged. The comedy that comes along with these controversies is the additional challenge it issues, and we are constantly questioning the appropriateness of our laughter. It makes us wonder if we are keeping polite company in this quite classy venue. Theatre is a communal event, and the meaning of laughter in this social setting can be contentious, but the extremity of what transpires on stage protects our civility. It is simply silly to assume that any of the crowd’s giggles or guffaws can ever be taken as a sign of condonation of the horrific behaviour we see. Still, we are never allowed to feel too at ease. The show is at its core, a disturbing one.

James Dalton’s marvelous direction is sensitive not only to our senses, but also to our hearts and minds. He keeps us fascinated by everything we see and hear, and always keeps our intellect and emotions engaged. His is a theatre that feels all encompassing, intensely engaging and completely stimulating. Dalton does not allow the audience to sit back and observe. This is art without passivity, and he wants us to be on tenterhooks.

Assisting with Dalton’s vision is an excellent team of designers, including composer Marty Jamieson, who also partners up with Alistair Wallace for sound design. Their work provides rich textural variation between scenes, and is often crucial in heightening the quality of irony in the work. Lighting by Benjamin Brockman establishes the production’s aesthetic sophistication, and is memorable for his adventurous sensibility. The extent to which Brockman pushes his creativity is impressive, especially with fairly limited facilities, but two moments of bloodshed are too darkly shadowed, causing momentary, and unintended ambiguity.

The team of actors is exuberant, animated and bold. The playfulness they inject is hugely important to the enjoyment of the piece, with Paige Gardiner’s performance as Edith Mole standing out as a delightful highlight. Gardiner’s remarkable and confident comic ability is showcased perfectly by a creation that is at once, wild yet nuanced. There is a fierce determination to connect, with both cast and viewers, that makes her work irresistible, and thoroughly hilarious. Equally compelling is Claire Lovering, who consistently surprises with a gentle presence that readily transforms into convincing madness. Lovering demonstrates greater subtlety than other cast members but never fails to attack with savagery at every appropriate opportunity. This production of Mr Kolpert features thoughtful and skilled entertainers who must all be commended for a brilliantly vibrant show.

David Gieselmann’s writing exposes the chaos of this thing we call life, and our ravenous need for making logic out of randomness. He talks about the abnormal that resides within everything that seems normal, thereby tempting us to dismantle our standards of morality and ethics, in order to realise their artifice, frailty and inconstancy. The show is about society’s hypocrisies as well as its requirement for order. It does not say that our lives are lies, but it does encourage us to think about the rules we live by, how they are manufactured and the svengalis who might be behind them all.