VIBRANT AND UNCOMPROMISING PLAY ABOUT LIVING IN TODAY’S TERROR-RIDDEN WORLD
Written & Directed by Thomas Sainsbury
FINGERPRINTS & TEETH Productions
at The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
From 22 Apr 2012 to 24 Apr 2012
Reviewed by Lexie Matheson, 23 Apr 2012
This is a ‘pay what you think it's worth after the performance' show (door 'sales' only). If you decide to see Chub take money because it is worth it.
Thomas Sainsbury is prolific yada yada yada, blah blah blah. Just thought I'd get that bit out of the way. He writes a lot of plays and a lot of the plays he writes are very good. Not all, but many are and this is certainly one of the best yet.
He's won awards, written for TV and, yes, he's a success. He's provocative, funny, contemporary and challenging and Chub is all of these – and more.
He's also working in Aotearoa New Zealand which is ranked 47th out of 46 OECD countries on ‘The Biggest Philistine' rating which suggests he also likes making life hard for himself. I made those stats up but I doubt anyone working in the performing arts in Kiwiland would challenge them.
It's my view that if Thomas was writing in the UK his work would feature regularly upstairs at the Royal Court, at the Donmar or even at the more conservative Young Vic alongside works by Mark Ravenhill, Joe Penhall, April De Angelis, Simon Stephens and Chris Goode.
Here, at home, he trucks it out at The Basement which, while no one could question the venue's authenticity or the values espoused, leaves a bit to be desired as a location to be visited by society folks prepared to pay what Thomas and his actors are worth; folk who, dare I say it, need to hear what they have to say.
This is no discredit to the mainly young people (under 30's by my estimate) who filled the house on opening night and who chittered and chatted, twittered and tweeted and clearly, by their engagement throughout, enjoyed the 50 minute journey through play.
Sainsbury informs us in his minimalist programme that he has always been fascinated by extreme obesity and themes of ‘isolation and hiding away from the world', each of which he explores in Chub.
Ann van Veen (Janelle Bish in a fat suit) is morbidly obese and lives alone. She has her TV and the internet and a visit from a caregiver every couple of days but apart from these distractions life is totally about gorging.
Into her life comes Stacey (Steven Anthony Maxwell), her new caregiver who, just by chance, happens to be anorexic, ambitious and obsessed with cosmetic surgery, in particular rhinoplasty and apronectomy (a mini tummy tuck). Stacey coerces Ann into using her obesity via the internet to attract ‘chubby chasers' who will pay her for a variety of pseudo-sexual, fat-related services and through this medium she meets Winston (Roberto Nascimento) who works at Mitre 10.
It's difficult to imagine a better set up for both comedy and pathos and the three actors are quite splendid. Spindly Stacey walking a tightrope between pragmatism and caricature without once disintegrating, sweet-natured Ann balanced on the couch like Jabba the Hutt smiling and nodding, and the monosyllabic, somewhat sinister Winston interact and disconnect their way through Sainsbury's vibrant and uncompromising text with nary a flicker of uncertainty, which is credit to the rapport that exists between all members of this excellent team.
Laughter abounds throughout as the cast wring every last ounce of hilarity from their hapless characters and their captive audience. There is laughter of recognition, situational laughter, laughter at truly funny lines, laughter anchored in smart timing, narrative laughter and that horrible laughter we hate to engage in when we guffaw at someone else's short comings.
Sainsbury has no fear when it comes to humiliating his characters and he allows us no opportunity to escape our own inner freak show as he thrusts each poignant point home.
Chub is very good work on everyone's part. The direction (Sainsbury) is slick and undetectable, the acting finely tuned, the pace immaculate, the context wicked and the text honed and economic. The overall feeling is of a work-in-progress but a work that, should it reach its full potential, might well achieve commercial success. Maybe not in Aotearoa New Zealand, land of the wrong white crowd, but further afield where such things are better valued.
Chub is more than a play about a morbidly obese woman living alone. Chub is about you and me and living in today's terror-ridden world. It's a big play in every way with a cast and crew fully up to the task of presenting a work of this magnitude.
It's a must see in my opinion, for very important theatre-going reasons, and deserves a full season. It'll make you laugh, it will make you think - but then it will make you laugh again anyway.
Great stuff, all round.
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