AN HEROIC RARITY THAT PUTS THE BIZARRE INTO BYZANTINE
NZ International Comedy Festival 2012|
by Barnie Duncan with Trygve Wakenshaw
at BATS, Wellington
From 2 May 2012 to 5 May 2012
Reviewed by John Smythe, 3 May 2012
Theatre Beating's Constantinople is truly a 'you absolutely have to be there' experience.
If you read the script on paper – all action descriptions and dialogue included – you'd think it was silly, banal, meandering, contrived, absurd, and peppered with appalling puns. And it is.
But in the hands, or rather the entire bodies, of Barnie Duncan and Trygve Wakenshaw, it is sublimely silly, banal, meandering, contrived, absurd, and peppered with appalling puns.
Constantinople began last year as a solo show, devised and performed by Duncan for the Auckland Fringe Festival, where it shared the STAMP award with The Sex Show. Then, as their website states, he " took the show to London, where he and Wakenshaw re-worked and massaged it, creating an absurd and fresh two-hander that gained unanimous critical acclaim at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival." It played the Adelaide Fringe earlier this year too.
We get a grape reception on arrival from lanky, blonde-wigged Wakeshaw. Is the suited and bespectacled man (Duncan) sitting on a Roman chaise – awaiting an orgy perhaps? [Tip: hold on to you grape; you may need it later.]
Their early and later renditions of 'Constantinople is Istanbul' (recorded by The Four Lads in 1953) set the tone with a melodious strength and confidence that compels us to trust what's happening even when we have no idea what it means or where it fits. It's arguably a dangerous talent to have but they use it with integrity (or have I been mesmerised into saying that?).
While they constantly remind us, and themselves, they are acting (a ye olde post-modern deconstruction device beloved of physical theatre exponents), the odd dramatised sequence does manage to achieve some coherence. Snippets of actual history slip through too, not least thanks to Duncan's tie-wearing narrator. Indeed the ingenious manifestation of ties to denote this role is but one of many memorable examples of their skills.
Other times the trippy visit to Emperor Constantine's idylls plays second fiddle to those theatrical presentation skills. Duncan's evocation of a horse called Tremorbeard (sp?), then Kyle, then back again, is brilliant, and Wakenshaw's DJ is superbly synchronised with the soundtrack (no programme so design and operator credits cannot be given; the media release does not even name the actor/devisors – I had to go to their website to check those details).
As for the peppering (beware the 'sss…knees' gag) … Let's just say the spice trade-cum-drug trade is as old and honourable a tradition as slavery and raves (a.k.a. Bacchanalian orgies). Peter, Paul and Mary get a mention (it's biblical), an apple and mushroom prove the bomb, and togas are ghostly reminders that nothing truly dies.
Only in the 'curtain call' do we learn the secret that reveals the logic behind all that has gone before: Trygve Wakenshaw is Sir Edmund Hillary and Barnie Duncan is a jar of Marmite. I mention this because you may enjoy it even more if you know this upfront, although there is no guarantee the premise won't change. [ends]
So there you have it: an heroic rarity that puts the bizarre into Byzantine.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.
Rosabel Tan (Theatre Scenes - Auckland Theatre Blog);
Matt Baker (Theatre Scenes - Auckland Theatre Blog);