Monday, June 25, 2012


Michael Sieders and Griffin Independent present PORN.CAKE by Vanessa Bates at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross.

Two contemporary couples, of the vintage of near 40 odd years, are traversing that marriage rite of passage where familiarity may be making an itch or two for change. Scratching at it becomes an inevitable thing, for some of us. These couples are experiencing a growing familiarity that is breeding, if not contempt, then, a vacuous absence that  they all seem easily to be able to vacate to, both, in mind and presence. In this modern world of easy access Internet flirting, and further discourse by arrangement, on the smart phone - and other media, the world can move us very, very quickly. It can be commandingly constant and awfully present. Temptations can be easily turned into actions without much difficulty, and that old fashioned conscience dilemma can be often short-circuited into behaviour of a deleterious kind. And it is speedy, and, seems to be able to be, even speedier, today. Do all these modern fast lifestyle connections make one happy? If  Georges Feydeau were writing today, PORN.CAKE, by Vanessa Bates, might be part of his output.

How does one keep one's partner from wandering? It seems the bloated sexualisation of our culture can offer solutions in an amazing range of environments, quickly. Belle (Olivia Pigeot) and Annie (Georgina Symes) have found, for instance, the Cooking Shows of Jamie and Nigella and, especially, their recipes for cake, have led them to deduce that "Cake is the new Porn". So, 11 beautiful cakes (Epicurean Kitchen) are produced during this action packed show and are sliced, served, mashed, smashed, thrown, and sometimes eaten, not only by these desperate housewives, but ,also, by their partners, Ant (Glenn Hazeldine) and Bill (Josef Ber). Cream, jams, sugar decorations, icing, sponge and glittering knives seem to hurtle through the space. Tongues, hands, hair, clothes, carpet and sharp metal come to meet in a cream and sponge interaction - even we, get to eat some of a birthday cake!!.

Shannon Murphy (who last year directed THIS YEAR'S ASHES at the Griffin), is clearly the right director for this new play by Vanessa Bates. On a set (Justin Nardella), that looks like a tiered, carpeted sex pit from the film set of BOOGIE NIGHTS (or a brothel of some distant memory [!?]), this one, with secreted drawers filled with cake, knives and serviettes, the actors  juggle a text recipe of verbal interplay, physical farce, direct monologue and dance (Sam Chester) in to a delicious heightened comic style. It's stylish airiness allows this cake to rise, and even if  it is a trifle too feather light (the subject matter a little too light [banal] on post show reflection or summary), it is kept frenetically paced, and, so, one is kept delightfully distracted. The theatrical ploys and tricks of the writing 'offers' - e.g. an apparent allergic reaction by one of the cast to the ingredients of the cakes, bringing the production, momentarily to a halt, rescued by another of the company - a sweet icing, that allows one to swallow the night with pleasure and ease, in the moment of 'eating'.

All of the performers are stretched to a disciplined ensemble, but show best in their extended monologues. Here, the writing is best, and each of the actors take possession of the opportunities with appetite and relish. The comic turn of Ms Symes, expert (if not quite lived) - a stand up natural. Mr Hazeldine, however, mines his 'turn' for all the human pathos that it and us can bear, and is the highlight of the night - disconcertingly moving in the craziness of what has gone on before.

The conception of this play, and the exploration of the material in this exaggerated comic milieu is an adventurous surprise success in the Australian play-wrighting canon that we usually see. More of it I say, and take note, clearly, the director is an essential asset to this success. Having recently heard a new short piece at the Griffringe Season, early this month, by Alli Sebastian Wolf , it made me to reconsider the writing in her play, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST DRAGONS, AND OTHER GOTHIC TALES, AS TOLD BY AN OCTOPUS,  and wonder what would have been arrived at with Ms Murphy in charge as director. And, although I am personally, a bit over, monologue as theatre, and there are four extended monologues in this play, they are the "heart" of the work, and is the best part of the writing. So, bearable, if not totally convinced that they are a necessary form.

Ms Murphy, comes up trumps with this work, the stylistic modes, beautifully rehearsed and executed, not an easy thing to do - it requires a delicate and  special temperament - with courage being a very necessary ingredient. The lighting by Teegan Lee is detailed and a complex support to the tone of the night. While the Composition and Design of the Sound by Steve Toulmin is a necessary energy for the work to keep afloat - well estimated.

Light weight stuff ( and why not?), but, in the eating fun, fun, fun.

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