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March 6, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre | [ssba]

Review – The Tragic Tale of the E’N’B: A Comedy

Emotional Tramps Theatre Company: Andrew Goddard, Adam Goodall, Chris O’Grady, Carrie Green, Ben Haddock, David Laidler, Hannah Paterson, Alicia Pierson,Rebecca Sim.

Written by Andrew Goddard.

Directed by Tim C Yarrow.

Blue Barn, Mt Cook, 28th Feb, 8pm.

Eggs are being sold in the same store as bricks: the E’N’B. Such is the premise for The Tragic Tale of the E’N’B: A Comedy. Writer and lead actor Andrew Goddard has attempted to appropriate the origins of the recession to New Zealand by telling the story of an Enron-style corporate collapse. What follows is an unsuccessful attempt to blend the story of the recession, social and political satire, classical tragedy, and farce.

We meet Jack (David Laidler) on his first day at work for E’N’B; he has gotten this job because Max (Andrew Goddard), a fledgling CEO with pens in his hair, didn’t listen to him say he isn’t a lawyer. Co-workers Forest (Carrie Green) and Nathan (Ben Haddock) reluctantly accept him onto the staff, and we’re off. Cue a series of problems: a legal conflict with the commerce commission solved by an unnecessary and nasty Treaty-of-Waitangi related lie, a new marketing strategy to convince the world that E’N’B is environmentally friendly, and the struggle of negotiating the ethical dilemma of selling into a multinational hedge fund.

Finally the tragic denouement: time passes, the recession happens, and it transpires that it’s been caused by the E’N’B.

This epic tale is told in a frenetic, at times panicked style. Characters shout and interrupt each other, and acting styles vary from intense melodrama to Monty Python-esque absurdity. A lot of the intended comedy misses its mark because the actors play for laughs, at times desperately. Haddock’s Nathan is particularly loud, sacrificing clarity for volume. Perhaps first night jitters were to blame, but watching such tense, nervous actors makes audiences very anxious.

The play is over-written. The plot as dense as an epic tragedy, lacks the social or emotional significance to engage the audience. Max spends far too long lecturing Jack (and the audience) on socialism and the cause of the recession. A radio sits on stage with the sole propose of providing patronising exposition, and satirical jokes on Helen Clark and John Key are four years too late.

Technically there is a lot going on. Pre-recorded hip-hop videos, live Skype chats, and an intricately labelled Brechtian set all could be intriguing but get lost in this production.

The core problem is that The Tragic Tale doesn’t know what it is. The first half appears to be a farcical Black Books-style one-sane-man-in-a-crazy-workplace piece, but then it suddenly shifts to a tragic satire on corporate greed. I am bemused by what the author’s intent was. Should we take this play as farce, as absurdity, or as satire? Whichever was intended, this play proves the three are uneasy bedfellows. Even the style of comedy cannot make up its mind. Awkward meta-jokes that comment on the play are peppered throughout and come off as patronising; it’s almost as if the writing knows how silly it is. The end result is simply exhausting and confusing.

Just like the eclectic stock of the E’N’B store, this play has far too much in it. Political satire needs to be relevant, clear, and fun for the audience. The E’N’B needs to calm down and figure out what it’s trying to sell before their business will boom.

The Tragic Tale of E’N’B runs from 28 February to 3 March, 8pm.


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  1. alex says:

    Some of these criticisms are valid, I saw this show on opening night too and it wasn’t perfect. However, I did find it funny most of the time, and I think the guy playing Jack in particular put in a very good performance. Lastly, the jokes that you describe as four years too late, the play was set just before the start of the recession so they were scene setters, rather than an attempt to be topical. Would’ve thought that was quite obvious actually.

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