“Newtown Theatre has seized business.
The local grocery store, one block up, knows that there will be a new name.
The Southend Café knows that there is a new vibe.
The Botany View Hotel bar staff knows that there is a buzz, created by a man who looks like a teacher, but is involved with the empty space across the road.
The neighbours around know that there is something in the air and are sitting at their windows, waiting for the lights to go on. The lights of:
Nurturing all Arts to LIVE
Rather than just SURVIVE
King Street Theatre – the Hub of Burlesque, Grand Guignol, Cabaret, Drama, Musical, Pocket Opera, Chamber Music, Comedy, Dance and any form of performing and visual arts. The Home of laughter, tears, surprise and innovative visions. The home of the people who make life worth living. The home for everyone who is willing to enjoy rather than just go along.”

It’s been a long time since I ventured to the theatre at that end of King Street, former known as “Newtown Theatre” or “The Edge” depending on your age. So intrigued was I with the message statement on their website, the elegant re-branding AND the promise of a rennovated venue with a new manager who cares about and wants to program new Australian work? How could I not support this re-visioning? How could I not want to see the changes? Especially with a venue manager who keeps company with my former associate Timothy Daly? Safe and clean? AND with a view of supporting and nurturing artists – tick, tick tick, Tick. My check list of an ideal new theatre venue is nearly complete.

And indeed, the venue itself has improved – but when I arrive any possible pre-show networking is virtually impossible with loud music act pre-show and no where to stand comfortably to flit between friends, punters and artists. The foer has been decked out with shiny cafe tables and I’m left milling by the bathrooms like a misfit.

BUT More importantly to me I wanted to see how the programming of work had changed – curation a concern never far from my heart. Who was this venue now attracting – and who was being selected? Had the venue thrown off the ghosts of Short & Sweet? A venue may have great branding – but content is king. And content makes the reputation of a venue.

I don’t have a lot of go on about the history or development of this play. I also don’t have any information about the artists who have made or produced it – their vision, purpose or experience – as there was no program – I have seen some of the performers in other work. But I have not come across any of the work of writer/director Matthew Blackwood Hume previously.

The premise is simple: A man rents a haunted apartment after the break up of his relationship.

The plot is pretty much the same: Peter (David Woodland) rents an apartment haunted by the ghost of Frank Barton (Matthew Blackwood Hume) from Conrad Fox (Matt Jones) after the break up of his relationship with Tiffany (Sylvia Keays). His suspiciously thin muffin-making neighbour Lily Le Fleur (Alys Daroy) inextricably punishes herself by intruding into his life (we are told with clumsy romantic overtones) whilst he tries to release Jenny Barton (Katherine Shearer) from her mourning.

Written in a farcical style with melodramatic elements, Matthew Blackwood Hume has written archetypal characters as seen in nineteenth century melodrama whilst including jokes pitched at a contemporary audience (ie the Star Wars references).
This is one of the most unfortunate plays I have ever seen produced. And I am not referring to the production values. I’m referring to the text and the performance.

Boo lacks the pace and the complicated plot of a farce, it is without the heightened stakes and characterisations of Melodrama and is not funny.

The humour is derived from misogynist double entendres “in case she thinks there is something more going on here than you eating my muffin.”

Further more it paints women as either gluttons for punishment, ditzy, weak, money hungry, vague or nasty. The male characters are not much better: one is an adulterer, another shifty, another selfish. Disturbingly, the play seems overly sympathetic with abusive men – portraying characters who lose their temper easily and who claim “I was never a bad person, I just made bad decisions.”

When Peter tries to win Tiffany back , he gets down on one knee and proposes saying “it’s not much but it was all I could afford.” She appears delighted until he opens the box and there is nothing in there. She storms off. I’m sure that if Peter wasn’t such an untrustworthy, angry and aggressive man who had proposed with a beautiful heartfelt proposal about how he felt about her (not talk about the value of the ring), even if he did open the box and there was nothing inside, it wouldn’t matter. Consequently we don’t care she rejects him. Why would she marry him? Why would we want him to get what he wants?

Additionally when Peter, in a very confusing scene , visits Franks Widow to convince her to let go of the last and of Frank – he tries to give her a shoe box of Franks personal affects. Which she rejects. He keeps saying “Take this box” and then says “let him go”. What does he want her to do? Anyway, she ends up happily taking the box once he reveals it has a couple of thousand dollars in it.

The play disengages the audience by over explaining and articulating the subtext to every action and every character introduction. Scenes are over written and over explained to a point of leaving us nothing to discover for ourselves. Characters are one dimensional and repulsive – and so we disengage: the worst possible outcome for a comedy/farce. It is impossible to laugh with a character when you don’t care about them and their future or their present wants.

Besides the clumsy, derivative, unsuspenseful writing, the direction is bland and uninspired. The interpretation of the text is simplistic and delivers nothing but dialogue on stage. Some of the performers bumble and fumble their lines over the top of each other – others swallow their words, others given inconsistent performances that fluctuate in energy or intention.

All in all I think Matthew Blackwood Hume’s work as a writer would be best improved with the help of an experienced dramaturg. This work is not ready for the stage, and definitely not at $30 a ticket. This production requires a complete and thorough re-working- dramaturgically, even just in its line work (deleting all subtext and action descriptors) and would benefit from a sturdy director’s outside eye.

Despite this production’s many shortcomings, I hope that King Street Theatre can in the future deliver on their very worthy and altruistic mission statement of nurturing and supporting artists to produce QUALITY WORK, not just “any work” and any stage of development.