A Finger In The Dyke featuring Clifford's Cooking Catastrophes - a play by Elaine Emm A Rambling Review by Alicia Smith copyright 2011 May be reproduced with accreditation.
Last night I was invited - with Rob in tow, to view the review rehearsal of A Finger in the Dyke, a humorous and topical play penned by a local writer, Elaine Emm.
It's currently being put on by Herding Cats Productions in Bassendean and that's a story in itself. Something remarkable is happening there – the Bassendean Council and Herding Cats Productions and their sponsors are turning The Parish Hall of St. Mark The Evangelist (with grants from the Anglican diocese) into an affordable creative space which will be a treasure for both those starting down the creative road of photography, film, television and stage creation, and those who are already established. Built in the 50's by a theatrical architect, the acoustics are simply amazing. The work of restoration has started and is well under way. You can read about this more at http://www.afingerinthedyke.com/Pages/Show.html. It's a very exciting time for Bassendean drama enthusiasts!
Incidentally, proceeds from the first show tonight go towards the restoration of the building.
And from the rehearsal last night it ought to be a good one. The program are A5, and are in colour, and are free.
I am very excited to see how they will do with the feedback from a full audience, because given what they got from less than 10 people, they may need to get funding for a completely new roof, as I think it will get blasted off from the energy!
Also, given that this troupe has been rehearsing this play for only two weeks and has given us an almost spotless final rehearsal is a testimony to the extraordinary professionalism and talent that we're being treated with here.
Spoilers may well follow, be warned although I will endeavour to not give away too much in plot points, it would be a shame.
This is a very topical play about cooking, business, love and ugly reality TV. And dualism – odd pairings of opposites that underlay the story. The writing is snappy and well paced, and the troupe's almost preternatural grasp of comic timing is a joy.
Natalie Ryan-Brand plays Jessie - business manager and front of house to the ailing business The Finger in the Dyke, Dutch themed café restaurant. Practical, earnest and hard working, but apprehensive about her business partner's sometimes wildly diverse culinary creations Jessie is gravely concerned about money and the future of the business. Ryan-Brand plays this beautifully, a very real, human character who could easily have been underplayed. In fact we learn that even realists can dream and are astonished by the demanding dance routine Ryan-Brand breaks into - choreographed by herself! - as she dreams of a secure future. Keep an eye on her appalled expressions at the antics of her dreamy business partner.
There are hints that our practical Jessie may be a bit of a softy...some of her regulars being "the old blind guy and the homeless guy you feed..." Also there's a scene where she is being...affected by the description of someone else's romantic situation is absolutely priceless.
Enter her creative force, the dreamy wisp Sam played by Jessica Hegarty. Tall and willowy to Ryan-Brand's muscular compactness, Hegarty looks as if she has faerie ancestry. She's just adorable in this role - something of a ditz but impassioned by her cooking and apparently completely unaware of reality. Or just blocking it. In contrast also to Jessie, Sam could easily have been overplayed to the extent that the character becomes an irritating caricature, but because of Hegarty's control we get a portrait of a very sweet, whimsical, enthusiastic young chef, whose burgeoning talents only need a little depth and range to become extraordinary. She instantly engages our sympathy.
Her costume too, reflects the changes in her character as the show progresses, subtle but definite, rather a clever progression, due to the clever needle of Barbara Walton, of which more, later.
In sweeps Jeff Watkins as Clifford Clifford (so good they named him twice!), the star of the smash hit reality TV series where this Master Chef comes in and drags up a failing restaurant by its bootstraps. While the two women are both pleased by the prospect of the money to pay bills and the increased popularity of their café, they are less than sanguine about the presence of the apparently arrogant Clifford who "was so rude to that nice couple on Carlton Road"
Watkins's Clifford is something of a surprise. We're all primed to think of him as arrogant, but pretty soon he comes across as a man under a number of pressures. Not the least of these is to eat some of Sam's latest um, creation...where fusion means, apparently, that of 'fresh' and 'stale' for one thing and then to talk about it, on camera, to their faces, afterward.
Sam, of course, hears what she wants to hear - to Jessie's incredulous (and very comical) expression which leads to a diverting scene where Ryan-Brand's depiction of Jessie doubting her own ears and sanity leads full circle back to Clifford, on being challenged by varying forces including his rather alarming Producer is forced to rephrase things, in agony, so that Sam is actually hearing exactly what she wants to hear.
Clifford's romantic leanings and his renewed enthusiasm for what he loves most - actually cooking leads to a charming revelation of his internal processes. (not necessitating a colon transplant fortunately) Watkins plays this character very well, and it is well suited to him, a driven character with surprising depths - and an entertaining advantage taken of comic opportunities with expression and physical comedy. Watkins utilisation of his body language, voice, physical adroitness and facial expression are always fun and a pleasure to watch.
The energy between these players is very clear and adds to the already considerable electricity of this work.
The Producer is played enthusiastically and with great energy by the well honed Ryan McNally who is reprising this role with great flair. I would tell you to keep an eye on the Producer's costuming throughout the play, but don't worry, you won't miss it. These are extraordinary works by Barbara Walton and it's undeniable that they have the desired effect. Whilst the other characters write softly on the fourth wall in felt tip during their soliloquies at the start, it's McNally who takes up the ball-peen hammer of audience participation and shatters that wall good and proper. The audience will not be able to resist him - even our notoriously shy Aussie audiences, most of whom have been deprived of pantomime when they were younger.
McNally's character you would think the last thing from subtle on first glance, but the finely shaded journey his character travels from a homophobe's worst nightmare to someone the audience is compelled to yell out, in unison "OH YES SHE DID!" to is rather well done.
And there's that duality poking up again - the contrast of the two gay characters, both so very different - one a blazing lighthouse of aggressive fetishism and self absorption and the other a character who is not defined by their mere sexuality - a person getting on with life, with hope of romance and success. And I did like very much both the comment "I wouldn't know, I can't get married in this state" and its biting delivery from the character concerned.
Yes, there is audience participation. It's fun! There are even party pies and sausage rolls, (not gluten free, alas, but hey, I could eat them if Rob couldn't) and voting cards to hold up a la Ready, Steady, Cook.
James Pentecost whose brilliant stage managing of the performing space – check out the café kitchen and the trompe l'oeil on the walls of the café/restaurant. But we can put a voice to the carpentry and paintbrush, for here comes Pentecost as The Voice, and a resonant job he does of it too, the perfect TV announcer and one who surprisingly maintains his professionalism throughout the unexpected aspects of the show.
If some of the recipes sound a bit strange, do not worry - we know from our own demonstrations of molecular gastronomy that the oddest things go together. I think my favourite combination is dark chocolate and blue cheese...I'm not fond of either separately, but together they have a synergy that is startling.
And this funny play and its cast and crew have a synergy too, in an exciting new space, that is well worth watching. I am certain that the couple of sound and lighting glitches (considering they were down a crew member) that occurred during rehearsal will be well stomped on by tonight.
A Finger In The Dyke is on at The Parish Hall of St Mark The Evangelist, in Parker Street, Bassendean. It's an easy walk from the Bassendean Train Station.
Show dates: 25th, 26th,27th August in the evening at 8:15 pm Matinees Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th at 2:00 pm. Show will then be touring. Bookings can be made at http://www.afingerinthedyke.com/index.html or by phoning 0411 890 135.
8 out of 10 delicious and Heston Blumenthal as the Dame in Aladdin on the Sid and Nancy scale. I expect that this will be revised to the high 9's during an actual public performance.