Review: The Receipt ~ theatre notes

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Review: The Receipt

The Receipt, by Will Adamsdale. Performed by Will Adamsdale and Chris Branch. Comedy Festival @ The Malthouse until April 29

Now I've got over the hangover (and have nevertheless - I expect unbounded admiration - posted my treadmill minimum of 2000 words towards The Novel - did I ever tell you how boring novelists are? I must corner you one day and make you suffer for my art as I do) - nevertheless, having banished the small animal that appears to have used my mouth for unspeakable private necessities, and having - brain akimbo, fingers radiant with the gleam of honest sweat - hacked away for the necessary hours at the coalface of the imagination, Little Alison selflessly dons her Theatre Notes hat again in the interests of - not, as you might imagine by now, in order to rival the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Award for the World's Longest Sentence, no! - but to faithfully report my recent theatre shenanigans.

As you might judge by the preceding sentence, they were fairly prodigious. I went to the launch of the Malthouse's next season, and then on to a show. Dorothy Parker, eat your heart out.

I don't usually preview seasons, but the launch of Season 2 '07 was noteworthy. Flushed with the current sell-out successes of Exit The King and The Pitch, they're riding high at the Malthouse, and this launch was concomitantly upbeat. Wine flowed in rivers, conversation rose like iridescent bubbles over the excitedly vibrating crowd of culture vultures, and all was well in the gilded kingdom.

And the grazing classes were spoilt: we were treated to songs by the bewitching Paul Capsis, resplendent in a sequinned pinstripe suit, diva legend Renée Geyer and Ian Stenlake, hitherto unknown to me, whose performance of David Bowie's Rock'n'Roll Suicide brought the house down. Yes, I know Stenlake was in Stingers - now, that is, after a hasty Google. TN has never been much of a television hound. But that doesn't begin to tell you what kind of talent he is. The best thing I can say is that he more than held his own with Capsis and Geyer.

And yes, they're all in the upcoming Malthouse season, which is well worth a serious look. You can see Michael Kantor puckishly imitating Isaac Newton here, but drag your eyes away to contemplate the actual shows while I segue gracefully to the review of The Receipt. Which is on, coincidentally, at the Malthouse, although it is not a Malthouse show, but touring here under the Comedy Festival aegis.

The Receipt is a wittily sardonic and, in the end, surprisingly poignant reflection on the perils of modern quotidian life in London. With a moog synthesiser and three filing cabinets, Will Adamsdale and Chris Branch conjure a world of electronic bureaucratic insanity which is not so far from ours. It's a world in which the security guard to whom you are speaking on an intercom outside a building might be 100 km away, in which the inflexible details of office procedure permit the construction of miniature tyrannies. There's the coffee maker, for example, who requires a ticket before you can order a coffee, the security guard who requires a piece of paper every time you enter and leave a building, the boss who never listens but demands impossible and mysterious labours.

Will Adamsdale narrates the story of alienated office worker Wylie, a minion in a corporation called Rotoplas, who finds himself dealing with the Kafkaesque pointlessness of working life less and less well, and finally cracks up altogether. He escapes into an obsessive and equally pointless quest - to find out the exact person who bought a coffee at a particular bar (nattily titled Bar Space Bar - it doubles as a real estate agency) on a particular day. He has the receipt, picked up at random on the street, and the receipt has the numbers which hold the key to enlightenment. Or something.

As Wylie loses everything, he gains the city: the show finishes with a beautiful miniature evocation of a cityscape. Adamsdale and Branch use ordinary objects with something of the inventiveness and charm of local troupe Suitcase Royale. Adamsdale's narration is interrupted and enhanced by the virtuosic sound effects and dialogue of Chris Branch, who plays most other characters as well as managing the lifts, ringtones, security buzzers and other perils of modern urban life, evoked via Moog synthesiser and filing cabinet.

It occurs to me that this kind of observational comedy, absolutely pertinent in contemporary Britain, doesn't quite carry to Melbourne. Melbourne, after all, has mostly resisted the ubiquitous charmlessness of Starbucks, and we are yet to enjoy what is known in London as the Oyster card - coming our way soon though, in the guise of the winningly named Myki (those guys have been watching waaay too much bad anime). But The Receipt is nevertheless a lyrical and touching reflection on modern life, performed with charm and precision by Adamsdale and Branch, and definitely worth a look.


Statler said...

I caught "The Receipt" at the Edinburgh Festival last year found it to be an excellent piece of comic theatre. Most of the joy came from the performances of Adamsdale and Branch, and I particularly liked their use of "out of character" discussion between the cast.

While I agree the ending description of the cityscape was effective I didn't think it sat well with the rest of the piece and it seemed it had really just run out of steam. I felt I'd seen a really high energy piece go out with a quiet whimper rather than the big bang it deserved.

There is definitely a bit of "style over substance" here but the style is hugely entertaining, even for someone who caught it at 11am on a Saturday morning. I'm really pleased to see Fuel Theatre have managed to take it out to a wider audience - I see New York is next on their world tour. Well worth catching these two performers at the top of their game.

Anonymous said...

I saw this in London and the end was very effective - offered a lovely perspective shift on the wit of the rest of the performance. Bear in mind, Statler, that the high rotation of shows at the Edinburgh Festival compromises what companies can do - and that the show may have developed since then. It's quite possible that what Alison saw Adamsdale and Branch do wasn't the same as what you saw.

Statler said...

I did have it in mind that the show may have been tweaked as it went along and that the ending may have been slightly different. Unfortunately I can't think of any easy way to establish this one way or another - unless it returns to Scotland and I get the chance to see if it has changed in the intervening period. Unless someone wants to send a return ticket to Melbourne or NY in my direction?