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March 28, 2011 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

The Chathams

The idea is simple and charming: Go to the Chatham Islands; meet the people, experience the culture; return to New Zealand and devise a show about it. The poster, bearing the tag-line, “We’re f**king sick of the silence,” suggests a scathing piss-take of a place so insignificant there’s no danger of people feeling sorry for it. In fact, The Chathams is much more humane and friendly, and while there are plenty of laughs to be had, the show’s biggest achievement is presenting a live Lonely Planet-esque catalogue, without boring the audience stiff.

It unravels like a travelogue-cum-sketch-show, as actors Jonny Moffat and Toby Leach (playing themselves, with a touch of exaggerated Kiwi-blokeness) recount their experience on the Islands, breaking up the exposition with tangential, humorous vignettes. With no set pieces and only a projection to display photos, the show settles quickly into a relaxed, careless atmosphere, similar to that of an improv show. Mime is used to humorous effect and the dialogue is obviously loosely scripted, with the actors frequently fumbling lines and duly acknowledging it, along with the audience. Such is the mood that no one minds.

A whaling scene at the beginning establishes the sense of play that dominates throughout. The two actors stumble across the deck of an imagined boat, failing to spear any whales despite increasingly absurd methods (the final attempt is a human cannon). These sketches aren’t entirely random, generally using aspects of the Islands’ history as their impetus, and were delivered with deft comic timing which characterised the entire performance.

Entertained consistently, I waited patiently for the abrupt shift in tone (typical of too many comedies) that would mark the play’s underlying message and, depending on how it was handled, make or break the evening. But it never happened. The people of the Chathams were given a quick nod of appreciation and then… a song to close. I didn’t know whether to be thankful or disappointed. At fifty minutes, the show seemed too short and, lacking any identifiable message, I was left wondering – why take the effort to devise something that looked and played so much like an improvised show? Still, perhaps it was never meant to be anything more than the original idea: simple and charming.

by Toby Leach and Jonny Moffatt
22nd March – 2nd April 2011
$20 Full, $14 Concession


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