80 Minutes No Interval

80 Minutes No Interval
Written & directed by Travis Cotton. Hot Mess Productions. Theatre Works, Acland Street, St Kilda. 21 November – 2 December 2018

80 Minutes No Interval runs eighty minutes without an interval.  It’s a theatre joke.  In Travis Cotton’s play’s first scene, Lewis (Mr Cotton), a wanna-be novelist, currently a theatre reviewer, intends to propose to his girlfriend Claire (Martelle Hammer).  But Claire reveals that she hates theatre and catalogues all her reasons why.  It’s pointed, on the money and very funny.  What Claire wants is a story - something eighty minutes, no interval!  But there’s more.  With a wink to the audience and a sort of act of defiance by Mr Cotton, the joke goes on: the rest of the play has an example of just about everything Claire hates about contemporary theatre, including masks, symbolism, absurdity and a longish stretch of complete darkness with weird sounds. 

The story is of a man – Lewis - who can’t take a trick, who is his own worst enemy, who is inhibited if not crippled by indecision and over-thinking, and for whom what can go wrong, does go wrong.  That’s the narrative thread, illustrated by a series of sketches showing us the stages of Lewis’s decline: dumped by girlfriend, sacked by his boss (Robin Goldsworthy), thrown out of his parents’ apartment, betrayed by his novel’s publisher (Mr Goldsworthy again) – down to the bitter end.

There is some sharp satire here and a lot of laughs.  The waiter at a Lewis’s and Claire’s aborted engagement dinner (a fine, controlled performance from Tom O’Sullivan) has ambition only to be a good waiter.  Naturally, he succeeds as Lewis fails… and fails – or, more exactly, is dealt blow after blow.  Mr Goldsworthy is riveting as two kinds of monster – Lewis’s editor and his vulgar publisher – and he is a ball of focussed energy as both.  But the reason Lewis is sacked is arbitrary, even silly (here’s your absurdity), and his scene with his publisher is shocking, but neither has much to do with Lewis’s character flaws.  Things just… happen.  As scene follows scene, the laughs grow thin.  We’ve got the point: no matter what, Lewis will lose – somehow.  But it’s not about Lewis; it’s about the accidents that happen to Lewis.  Tamzen Hayes as a young florist provides a touch of sweetness and hope – but that’s soon dashed too.

80 Minutes No Interval is ‘funny’ from point to point, but these points have the feel of ‘what would be funny now?’ – rather than ‘what does this hapless fellow do next to bring about his downfall?’  An energetic, talented cast – including Mr Cotton himself – deserves better and more coherent material.

Michael Brindley

Images: James Terry Photography

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