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March 26, 2007 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Sunset Café

Written by Gary Henderson
Directed by Jason Ward-Kennedy
BATS until March 31
Full $16, Concession $12
04 802 4175

I have an intrinsic sense of distrust for the 1990s, particularly the early part of the decade. The heartbreaking demise of communism, the ‘Pleasant President’ Bill Clinton being sworn into office, and the shocking discovery that other people could indeed have the same birthday as me have all left me with an unsavoury memory of this whole ‘early ‘90s’ business. Sunset Café, a coming-of-age story set in Wellington, is being staged once again at BATS theatre. While Gary Henderson’s script reeks of early 90’s Shortland Street, with its heavy focus on personal drama and over-the-top shocks and cliff-hangers, I managed to overcome my blatant dislike for the 90’s and had myself a relatively enjoyable night.

The play follows four young men and women relishing their last days of school. Grace (Jean Sergent) is madly in love with a guy she was seeing two years ago but never had sex with; Billy (David Hoskins) is desperate to find some crazy stunt to pull so that everyone will remember him, while John and Diana (Andrew Kaye and Aimee Ryan) are your typical end of high school couple.

In keeping with the soap opera theme, there’s love, friendship and betrayal at every corner. Or, more tantalizingly, lesbian affairs, airplane accidents and loud sex.

There were some truly spectacular lighting effects found in this production. At the end of the first act a motorbike races towards a landing aeroplane, and at the last minute the audience is blinded as though the plane were hitting us. The sensation of a train speeding past was also created by using some trippy lighting techniques, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Characterisations were very strong, and I must say I was surprised by the cast’s versatility. Side characters in particular were played very convincingly, however it would have been nice if all the lead characters were played with such commitment. Sometimes the performers looked and/or sounded a little awkward, which was perhaps a combination of the emptiness of the stage and the lengthy, somewhat unnatural dialogues. Regardless, I was still drawn into the memories of the people and places conjured by the piece.

I felt, however, that the play was dated and needed to be brought into today’s sense of theatre much more thoroughly. Cell phones facilitated a sense of ‘now’, whereas multimedia would have been more effective. The playing space could be more defined by having separate singing and acting areas. Incidentally, there were some great singing voices in this show!

Despite my misgivings, Sunset Café held my interest for two acts and that’s enough for me to recommend it to the casual theatre-goer. But I’ll be watching my back, early ‘90s…don’t think you and your theatre can sneak up on me again so easily.


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