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Review: A Night at the Theatre at the Bakehouse Theatre

By Theodora Galanis

In opening the show, director, Tony Knight, asks us whether we’re familiar with American Theatre of the Absurd.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of Donald Trump before”, shouts a man in the second row.

Along with the audience, Knight bursts into laughter. It was a fitting start to a show that is brimming with social commentary and quick-witted quips.

Presented by STARC Productions, A Night at the Theatre showcases a selection of one-act plays written by internationally renowned American writer, David Ives. Adelaide actress Stephanie Rossi stars alongside Marc Clement as they play a multitude of characters both across and within each of the five sketches.

Emerging in Paris after World War Two, Theatre of the Absurd was a dramatic movement inspired by the existentialist thought of Albert Camus. Absurdist theatre mediates on the idea that the human condition is essentially devoid of purpose, poking fun at the logical structures of traditional theatre.

Ives’ playwriting career began a little later in the Absurdist movement. First published in the 1970s, his plays add an American twang to the originally European genre.

A Night at the Theatre opens with Sure Thing, first produced in 1988. In this sketch, two New Yorkers meet at a café for the first time. The conversation is constantly interrupted by a dinging bell, which has the effect of pausing, slightly rewinding, and restarting the action. With each ding, the characters have the opportunity to adjust what they said, until they eventually arrive at an ironically romantic ending. Here, we start to grasp the essence of Ives’ absurdist theatre: a style which hilariously destabilises conventional functions of reality. 

In the third play, English Made Simple, Knight’s acclaimed background as a professional acting teacher shines through as Rossi and Clement deliver exceptionally dynamic performances. The play follows two characters, Jack and Jill, who meet at a party. The tension builds as Jack and Jill morph into other personas, almost as if inhabiting the personalities of other people at the party. Rossi and Clement demonstrate a kind of performative fitness as they breathlessly jump from one character to another, switching accents and physical expression in an instant.

The Absurdist style becomes most obvious in the final play, The Universal Language, where a con-artist named Don speaks utter gibberish to Dawn, an innocent woman. Dawn manages to understand Don by interpreting his vocal inflections and body language. The play comments on the arbitrary nature of sound and language, and hints at a mysterious universal essence of communication.

The genius of David Ives’ writing can only be handled by expert performers, and that is exactly what STARK offers in A Night at the Theatre. The neurotic brilliance of this production can only be witnessed first-hand. One must not be intimidated by the philosophical underpinnings of this genre: it is accessible, hilarious and engaging from start to finish. I left the theatre making little sense of the world, but feeling all the better for it.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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