Part of the charm of Alexander Upstairs (as the theatre space of Alexander Bar in the hub of the CBD) is that it functions as a lovely theatre lab. Here independent theatre makers can stage new productions, and theatre lovers (and hopefully theatre producers too) can discover new gems. Sometimes the gems already sparkle at first sight, others are diamonds in the rough, with an occasional faux gemstone in the mix too. But that gamble makes seeing a show at the Alex an exciting creative excavation.
Currently the two shows on offer are Winging It! The Turbulent Revelations of Meghan and Shivan and The Match. Totally by chance, both deal with the idea of being trapped or perhaps even emotionally entrapped if one gets very philosophical. In Winging It, your Air Bermuda cabin crew are caught in looping panic, while The Match sees two performers caught in the snare of a manipulative audition process. That is where the similarities end.
Winging It (7pm, 4 to 9 March) is a quirky new comedy by Kei-Ella Loewe in collaboration with Rosa-Karroo Loewe, Tazme Pillay and Tarryn Naude. As a workshopped production the text suffers from a fate that often befalls collaborative plays at an early developmental stage: It tries to hero too many narrative angles and in so doing loses focus of the main plot. If this was an improv show they would have had me on my feet, but as a pre-constructed, rehearsed show I would have liked a bit more clarity of where the play was taking me. At least, that's the impression Winging It left on me. There are just too many issues (from divine hellishness, sexuality denial, parental estrangement, to Dear Abby drama) at the heart of this mid-air storm. However, in saying that, the text has great one-liners that can set one off on a giggle-tangent when the delivery hits its target, while the setting within which Winging It is presented to its audience is a refreshingly off-kilter one. With a good text-tightening and edit by an objective dramaturg, and given some time to settle early-day production nerves, Winging It has the potential to be not only interesting in concept (which it is now), but also very entertaining as a fully developed product with a 'Romy and Michele' type energy.
Meghan and Shivan's mid-air shenanigans (who surprise with some fast-thinking slow-motion musical acrobatics at times) in this diamond-in-the-rough show can be followed up with a late night The Match (9pm, 1 & 2 March) experience.
In The Match, the trap-setting presents itself in the form of a psychological thriller, written by Tash Futeran, performed by Futeran and Yasmin Hankel (producer) and directed by Allistine Bo Grady, with a voice-over insert that features Vash Singh. The manipulation concept at the heart of this play is not a new one: An ambitious youngster is tricked into a stand/play-off with a well-known 'scandalous' figure, with the submissive character morphing into the dominatrix during a sequence of games that attempt to push them to personal, professional, and moral breaking points. Because it's a familiar concept, the show's blurb has a very appealing hook, but also, because it's not a novel idea the show must be absolutely thrilling and suspense-driven to live up to its blurb promise. Sadly, The Match did not get me to, or keep me on, the edge of my seat. I can see where they wanted the show to go, but the plot twists are too predictable to trap one with suspense and intrigue, and a physiological thriller that truly believes in its own punch need not have a video insert at the end explaining its premise of to the audience —trust your story and product to do that, don'tfall into the trap of making it all too gimmicky; less sometimes really is more.
The fact that The Match didn't captivate (and I really wanted it to) may be linked to the delivery style and direction choice, as the performers seem so intently focussed on the action of telling of the tale (in relation to their character reveals) that it never looks as if they're in-character selves are ever really shaken by the trauma they profess to be experiencing. As per the paraphrased advice of Sir Ian McKellan, an audience member must never see the effort behind or preparation that goes into a performer's character portrayal. In The Match, the effort (which is always admired as part of the preparation process) overshadows the onstage story that's supposed to be unfolding. Perhaps if the performers let go off their centre of focus just enough to tumble into the trap set for their characters, the audience will tumble into the darkness of the plot along with them.
As such, The Match is a bit of a faux gem, but don't give it a skip because of that. In fact, go see it exactly for that. The Match has the potential to morph into a cult-like phenomena if the performers rather opt to intentionally overplay the effort-focus to the extreme (like someone playing serious in a spoof setting) instead of overthinking their every next step and trying to play to a real suspense scenario. The Match has entertainment promise, the direction and the point of impact that entertainment can take may just need to be revisited —but, that's a completely personal preference observation, as the truth of vision can only be sought and revealed by those who create that vision.