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Stage Review: East West's Triple Bill

Treading the boards once again with East West, who present three one-act plays at the historic Mansion Hotel, this Wednesday to Saturday.
Jul 2, 2012 | 12:17 Mon

This and all photos by Sarah Martindale

If East West Theatre’s thinking with their latest offering was that putting on three plays in a single evening would triple the likelihood of coming up trumps with at least one of them, they were absolutely spot on. Featuring two Tennesse Williams short plays alongside Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, the trio of performances is heavily unbalanced but nonetheless more than worth checking out.

Kicking things off is The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, directed by Ann James. This piece is more of a snapshot than a play; a tableau of Southern decay brought to life. In a dismal room a faded, hung-over Southern Belle (Elena Yeo) is berated by her landlady (Andra McKay), who attempts to strip away the fantasy world she inhabits. It’s easy enough to watch, but one of the best things about it is that it’s over quickly; there’s no doubt that a moment longer for this play would be too long.

Up next is Something Unspoken – the second Ann James-directed play of the night – which examines the relationship between a well-to-do older lady, Miss Cornelia Scott, and her live-in secretary Grace (McKay and Yeo again). The two dance around the unspoken something of the title while Cornelia waits to hear if she has been elected to office in the Daughters of the Confederacy.

Unfortunately, despite a sprinkling of a few fine moments, there’s not a lot here to make us care about either of those things; and it doesn’t take long to start wishing the characters would just come out and speak whatever the unspoken thing may be, thus ending a scene that becomes stagnant all too quickly. At this point you may be harboring some doubts as to how wisely you have spent your money. You might be reflecting wistfully upon the all-you-can-eat teppanyaki that could have been.

The good news is that once the third and final play gets going, those regrets will be banished. The Real Inspector Hound, directed by Christy Shapiro, is a hyperactive treat that could easily stand alone despite its short length. Drawing on Stoppard’s own spell as a theatre reviewer to send up the conventions of criticism, the play opens with two theatre critics, Moon (Arran R. Hawkins) and Birdboot (Mustaq Missouri) sitting in the audience for a ludicrously OTT country manor murder mystery.

We watch the play and watch them watching it, as they rain many grandiose critical idioms upon it whilst also discussing other matters, such as Birdboot’s extra-marital activities. The two eventually find themselves drawn into the play, whereupon everything gets increasingly meta.

Hawkins makes an ideal Moon, giving the role his embittered, downtrodden, centre-parted all. Meanwhile Missouri’s boomingly wonderful performance would steal the show even without the short musical interlude he pulls off to full hilarious effect. The cast of the play-within-the-play provide plentiful laughs as well, with each of them visibly reveling in going energetically overboard in their performances. It’s pure fun, without distraction or dilution, and a highly welcome departure from the melancholic torpor of the two preceding pieces.

And yet as unruly as it is, there’s also something pleasingly ordered and precise about the way it all comes together bit by bit, in line with its own mad internal logic, as it approaches its completely ludicrous climax.

The Real Inspector Hound is definitely one not to miss – although the two other plays, unfortunately, are only unmissable in the sense that you have to get through them to get to the good stuff.

East West Theatre’s triple bill plays this Wednesday-Saturday at the Mansion Veranda Restaurant and Bar in the Mansion Hotel. Tickets 150rmb (presale), 180rmb on the door. For tickets call 135 6410 2955. For a full listing and ticket info click here.