Venue: Bondi Pavilion Theatre (Bondi NSW), Jul 16 – 18, 2019
Playwrights: Antoinette Barbouttis, Scarlett Beaumont
Director: Riley Spadaro
Cast: Antoinette Barbouttis, Gary Brun, Andrew Fraser, Liam Nunan, Emily Richardson, Shannon Ryan, Jack Scott, Riley Spadaro, Alex Stamell, Alana Stewart, James Thomasson
Images by Clare Hawley
Antoinette Barbouttis says that Cool Pool Party was written in collaboration with 11 year-old Scarlett Beaumont, after the two had struck up a relationship from Barbouttis being hired as Beaumont’s babysitter. The play is predictably childish, inane even, as we see the narrative entirely from Beaumont’s very juvenile eyes. A group of rich teenagers congregate at a pool party, they play truth or dare, and hilarity ensues.
That, fortunately, is only half the story. The production begins with a lengthy pre-show panel, in which Barbouttis and director Riley Spadaro attempt to have a discussion about the show, and about the nature of theatre in general. We quickly discover that the two are not getting along well at all, with Spadaro’s passive aggression coming up against Barbouttis’ obstinate resistance, creating extraordinary tension, and making us respond with cringing laughter. This dramatic conflict, of course, is a ruse that allows us to explore the processes and meanings of the art form, made even more salient by Barbouttis’ highly autobiographical approach, in which she exposes the most vulnerable states of artistic creation. Getting to the truth is, after all, the name of the game.
As performer, Spadaro brings an acerbity that alarms with its honesty, and his irrepressible zeal for causing mischief translates to excellent entertainment value. Barbouttis is a compelling presence, with an anarchic spirit that ensures her audience is kept on their toes at all times. Of the ensemble pretending to be kids, Liam Nunan is a stand out, extravagant and very funny with the multi-layered farce that he presents.
Barbouttis has not found life as an artist to be easy, and she makes no bones about it. There is no disguising the difficulties behind a finished product in Cool Pool Party; there is figurative scaffolding everywhere, and seams are coming apart all the time. The work is unnerving in its modernity. Some will find it unbearably awkward, and others will find it a gleeful delight, but the show insists that everyone who sees it, will have to be intellectually engaged on some level. It talks about the human condition, as the best of art does, but further, its creator puts herself completely on the line, turning her personal condition into the exhibit from which we must observe, appreciate, and learn from.