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Under The Table - Kalamunda Dramatic Society

Reviewed by Paul Treasure

 

The Comedy Whodunnit is an interesting genre that has a tendency to go one of two ways. Either it will prioritise the comedy over the whodunnit, which unless it is extremely well done has a tendency to fall flat, or it will take the whodunnit aspect seriously, but with a massive twinkle in its eye and a huge wink to the audience. Under the Table, the latest offering from KADS, falls squarely in the latter, much to its credit, and the enjoyment of the audience.


Written by Darwin author and playwright, Sean Guy, the play takes the interesting conceit of having the victim present throughout most of the play, as one of the detectives trying to solve the case tries to picture him and how he fits in with the various suspects in his death. The humour can be a bit low-brow and may upset some of the pearl-clutching set, but is never not funny, and helps to maintain a lightness to the material. The actual whodunnit side of the play is incredibly ingenious and quite believable in a contemporary setting.


The action of the play flits regularly between a police interrogation room, and the dining room where the death occurred. The set presents both rooms onstage at the same time, with actors frequently stepping from one to the other as need requires. The set is quite simple and does not detract from the action at all. The Stage Right wall is dominated by a massive and realistic two-way mirror, which originally held some promise, but it was quickly evident it was just to be very effective set dressing.


Director Anita Bound has made an excellent decision to get the actors to play big. Giving the actors ample opportunity to really sell the comedy of the piece. To that end, she has collected a formidable quartet of actresses for this production.


Viviane Testa plays The Doctor with charm and a saucy wit. Her stage presence is excellent, and it is difficult to take your eyes off her when she is on stage. From a technical point of view, her diction and enunciation are impeccable allowing every single word she says to be clearly heard and understood even with her thick accent, and she puts many other actors who are native English speakers to shame.


In many ways the central character of the play, Officer Thalia is brilliantly played by Fi Livings. Officer Thalia’s observations about the proceedings provide a lot of the comedy of the play, and there are few actors with Fi’s impeccable timing. She manages to throw out double (and single) entendres with savage accuracy, knowing when to set some jokes flying, and when to give others the weight and heft they really need and deserve. Fi is always a delight to watch, especially when she is possibly taking more of the weight of the show than originally intended, and doing so effortlessly, as I believe may have been the case when I saw it on opening night.


Fiona Forster, as Ophelia, has a speaking voice that seems to have the range and precise command of an opera singer. She seems to know exactly when anxiety or panic will send her character's voice in a sopranic spiral through the roof, and when to drop and cut with a forceful contralto. When she is given her head and allowed to play, this side of her acting arsenal is astounding. Thankfully for the audience in this play, she is able to use this skill in both its comedic and dramatic settings, giving life and considerable agency to her potentially thankless character. 


Completing this quartet, Lauren Buckels is a delight as the flirty and sensuous Margaret. Her character is supposed to be the “sexy one”, and she conveys this with hilarious effectiveness, especially through the small, almost imperceptible, gestures that could easily slip past unnoticed, like the way she regularly adjusts her cleavage exactly the same way throughout the show. 


Of the male characters of most note is John Pomfret as the victim, and ever-present figment of imagination, Edward Hush. John plays the role quite realistic and believable, rarely going as broad as the other characters. This provides a nice and interesting contrast between him and the other characters, especially as his presence is mostly only in the mind of Officer Thalia.


I attended the show on opening night and there were a few opening night jitters that should soon iron themselves out. But overall it was a very entertaining evening, with solid chuckles and a few guffaws all the way through, combined with a mystery that kept this reviewer and his plus one guessing. We may have guessed the murderer relatively early, but we were left guessing HOW they had managed to do it right to the end, and I think I can guarantee we weren’t the only audience members who did a quick Google search once home to confirm that the method used could actually be used to murder someone.


It is relatively easy to get a new play produced the first time, it’s getting it produced again afterwards that takes the really hard work. I believe this is now the play’s third production since it debuted at Darwin Fringe two years ago, an impressive and worthy achievement for author Sean Guy. And apparently there is now a new sequel due to premiere in Darwin in July.  This was a great choice of play by KADS, it worked exceptionally well in their intimate theatre and deserves to have a full season.

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.

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