14 June 2009
Beckett Theatre, CUB Malthouse
I was a bit worried when A Commercial Farce opened with a “you being perfect and me being crap” phone call between a husband and wife, but then came the banana skin, the whack in the nuts and the breaking of the number one comedy rule.
I keep missing Peter Houghton’s plays. I don’t mean to and I will make sure that I don’t miss another one, because A Commercial Farce is the best piece of theatre comic writing I’ve seen in a long time. What bliss to sit in a theatre and just laugh and laugh and laugh.
It’s the night before opening night and director Bill (Houghton) is trying to force-rehearse TV stud Jules (Luke Ryan) into his first stage role, a “pay by the laugh” commercial farce by Crackburn.
Anyone who has ever worked with a cocky, young telly actor will wiggle in their seat with recognition, if only for the moment when Bill explains the innuendo. Ryan’s Jules is a horror. He’s everything cringeable about celebrity, good looks and no real talent. And to create such a perfect monster, reveals the Luke as the Jules’ antithesis. Only the very best actors can create credible bad acting.
On stage, Houghton is just as perfect as Bill, who is over the thrill of theatre, but knows too much to get out. Houghton wrote Jules and Bill as the two sides of himself. There’s a slab of “Oh my God I’m middle aged” indulgence in Bill, but it’s balanced by the youthful smugness of Jules, leaving quite a balanced playwright in the middle!
Bill screams at Jules that audiences don’t care about theme and form - they care about character and story. I want to snog Houghton for the observation, but even more so because A Commercial Farce is a never-ending joke about theme and form that never forgets the story or the characters. Under Aidan Fennessy’s meticulous (so good it’s almost invisible) direction, the timing, the expectation and the jokes are never allowed to overpower the two men. The heart of this work is the two people at the centre of the whirlpool of jokes, and we don’t want either of them to be sucked in and drown.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.