Review: Masterclass (Old Fitz Theatre / Red Line Productions)

redlineVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jan 14 – 31, 2015
Playwrights: Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber
Directors: Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber
Cast: Gareth Davies, Charlie Garber
Image by Marnya Rothe

Theatre review
Two actors collaborate on a work for the stage, talking about what they know best. Gareth Davies and Charlie Garber’s Masterclass is about the craft and experience of acting, and all the anxieties associated with it. They take the art of self-mockery to great heights by depicting versions of themselves that are flamboyantly theatrical and deeply cynical, to interrogate the nature of their creative beast. An extreme self-consciousness manifests itself in a persistent need to make light of their art form, which delivers gales of laughter effectively, but its attempts to demystify and deconstruct the psychology and process of the actor takes irreverence to a sometimes uncomfortable place, and one begins to question the exasperating disquiet that Davies and Garber seem to feel about their profession. We see their resistance against taking any of their craft seriously, but we see them exploring this iconoclasm, with impressive commitment and skill.

There is a distinct, almost stubborn sense of humour at play, but the pair manipulates pace, rhythm, and plot dynamics to give the work variations in tone that keep us engaged, despite its very simple premise. Garber has a quiet confidence that allows him to portray the wild comedy of Masterclass with relative restraint. His style is often deadpan, but the clarity of intent he brings to every moment gives a surprising coherence to his unorthodox part, and a convincing strength to his punchlines. Davies’ approach is wider in range, and his comedic choices are decidedly riskier. The man’s energy is the foundation of the piece, and his control over spatial atmosphere and his audience’s responses is quite marvellous. We do not necessarily empathise with every idea Davies expresses, but there is certainly a lot to be admired of his ability to entertain, while conveying concepts that can be quite obscure.

Technical design is a crucial element to the structure and timing of this comedy production. Uncredited work on sound and Benjamin Brockman’s lights add much needed sophistication to an otherwise aesthetically challenged show. The play’s context allows for imaginative use of sets, props and costumes, but no investment is placed on those areas, and Brockman is called upon to provide all visual embellishment in the black box to admittedly satisfying results. Also noteworthy is stage manager Nick Foustellis’ precise and elegant execution of cues and changes.

The play concludes with a hint of poignancy that arrives after a long wait. The two young men prove themselves to be brilliant at light entertainment, but they seem to shy away from the inevitable gravitas that any theatrical piece requires. Not every story needs to give you something to think about, but when careless, jokes can leave you feeling empty. The sweet taste of success is for delighting in, and young talent should learn to embrace their gifts, even in the land of tall poppies.