03 October 2007

Pick Ups

MELBOURNE FRINGE 2007
Pick Ups
Sodastream Productions

3 October 2007
Cape Live, Fitzroy


Picking Fringe shows is a bit like internet dating. There’s the pic and the blurb, but you really have no idea what you’re going to get. Sometimes those sparks fly and you’re begging for more. Sometimes you’re polite and pleasant for an hour, then happily leave declining the offer of another drink. Sparks didn’t fly for me at Pick Ups, but I’d still recommend it as a good night out. In fact, it may be the ideal outing for a first date.
 
Pick Ups is well performed, it’s fun and diverting and kind of cute. Using a real bar as the setting is inspired, the staging and direction is solid and the writing is tight. But it’s not a full length play. It’s a series of sketches and gags, with disappointing content and a lack of structure.

Pick Ups is about “the comedy and loneliness of contemporary dating”, but doesn’t let itself really explore or question how or if dating is really any different these days. There’s a joke about a murderer at speed dating. It’s very funny, but doesn’t explore anything about speed dating.

The wealth and depth of content available around this subject is as endless as content can be. Yet these pick ups are all just a bit predictable and float gently on the top, rather then plunging into something deep or dark. A black suited business woman pulls out a sexual contract. I loved the set up and the joke, but she asks for pretty standard, Mills and Boon, vanilla sex. We’ve all read the standard contract. She would have been so much more interesting if she insisted on new clauses. Or if she was as an outrageous, PVC clad dominatrix who pulled out a business contract insisting on love making in the missionary position with extra cuddling after.

The most original and interesting scene took place in a bathroom where a woman was picked up by the guy who had left her housemate asleep in her bed. The coffee shops and bars of the rest were too expected. What about a tram pick up or a supermarket pick up?

The most intriguing character was a biscuit designer, with an impressive knowledge of Iced Vo-Vos. As soon as he revealed he was lying, he became boring. Why can’t we have these kinds of interesting characters? The “geeks” were played purely for laughs. I was waiting for one to slip on a banana skin. I’m not saying they weren’t funny, but I have no idea what these characters were meant to be saying about “the comedy and loneliness of contemporary dating”.

Contemporary dating cannot avoid the internet. There’s the nice little RSVP internet date. It’s a lovely sketch. Millions of folk are on RSVP type sites. Millions also have their naked profile on the multitude of sex only meeting sites. There are an abundance of sites joining up people with every kind of classic and curious kink. Fetish is the new fellatio. Everyone’s trying it – except the 37 characters in Pick Ups.

Sorry, 35 of the characters. There is one swinging couple, who are presented as stereotyped freaks with about as much authenticity as 70s amateur porn. Why not “normal” or “nice” couples wanting to swap? Or take the characters to much greater extremes and make it satirical. Give us the boom-chukka-wah-wah music and the facial hair and let them try to pick up a Picnic At Hanging Rock school girl. The most alternative scene is two women in a lesbian bar and even that was verging on standard male fantasy of what two girls would talk about.

The multiple characters, multiple story concept isn’t new, but the good ones are all made cohesive through theme, linking characters, design or structure. I was hoping that Pick Ups would use Schnitzler's very powerful circular La Ronde structure. This has been used very successfully by the likes of David Hare in The Blue Room and was seen a few Fringes ago in 360 Positions and a One Night Stand. There were a couple of re-occurring characters, but there was no sense of journey or change or growth for any of them. The theme is obviously pick ups, but I felt it need something more solid to really give it a sense of cohesion.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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