Christmas play is fuelled by fun

11 December 2020

WAAPA’s Performance Making students rip into Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information with gusto, reports David Zampatti.

Love and Information, WAAPA 2nd and 3rd year Bachelor of Performing Making students ·
Enright Theatre, ECU Mt Lawley, 10 December ·

The best way to show how the British playwright Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information works is to imagine you’re walking your dog, a ridgeback kelpie cross called Lachie, at Yokine Reserve, and listening to snippets of conversations as people walk by – shorter as they walk past the other way, longer as they overtake (you can try this in supermarket aisles if you don’t have a dog).

Each conversation you hear is only an idea, or a factoid; there’s no actual narrative, but the snatches and pecks aggregate into a panorama of concerns, of frustrations (there’s lots of office talk), friendship, hopes and disappointments with a vast cast of mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, friends, lovers, sons, daughters. And pets.

It’s theatre of accumulation, even in the park, and in the hands of a playwright as radical and crafty as Churchill, it can have a clarity and sense of purpose every bit as effective as traditional dialogue and narrative, and a cast of characters as vivid as anything by Harold Pinter or Alan Ayckbourn.

I mention Ayckbourn partly because he and Churchill are near contemporaries (she 82, he 81), British, astoundingly prolific, and each is subversive in their own fashion. (I also note that he is Sir Alan and she has no gong at all. I bet they’ve been offered; I’m sure she has declined).

They’ve also both written Christmas plays, and Love and Information is hers; helpfully, the 16 actors who play its 100 parts are all merely called “Santa’s Little Helper”, so forgive me if I don’t mention any of them by name.

A male actor on the shoulders of another male actor, holding something aloft. Behind them female actors bow. It looks like a scene from Jesus Christ, Superstar
The fun is helped mightily by a karaoke-load of production numbers. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

And correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time the Performance Making students at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts have presented work that wasn’t self-devised or created in collaboration with professional artists, and you can understand why they’ve done it, and why they’ve chosen this play. 2020 has been as brutal for WAAPA’s students and staff as anyone, and taking an established work “off the rack” rather than work something up from scratch, would seem a necessity rather than an option.

And Love and Information presents challenges enough; as the director Tamara Cook explains, “it is an actor’s challenge to establish the objective and intention of the scene and character quickly, then move with lightning speed to the next”.

Cook manages that process adeptly, and the cast of second and third year students rip into it with gusto and a great sense of fun (for the third years this is their graduation party after all), even when the themes the play develops; pain, fear, paranoia, all the usual Christmas stuff, percolate to the surface.

The fun is helped mightily by a karaoke-load of production numbers – a chook ballet to Blondie’s “One Way or Another”, some Pan’s People moves to Europe’s “Final Countdown” and a Big Production Number to “Jesus Christ, Superstar” that WAAPA alumni and high-profile Judas, Tim Minchin, would approve of.

It will be wonderful to (hopefully) have the WAAPA performance program back at full steam next year, but, in the meantime, its talented students and dedicated staff deserve praise for getting through and making the best of a very bad 2020. Bravo!

Pictured top is a scene from ‘Love and Information.’ Photo: Stephen Heath Photography

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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