By Helena Parker
Possessing a ‘purpose’, a steady sense of drive in your life is a foundation of modern life and all of us, I believe, are beginning to feel the pressure. Today, simply existing from day to day isn’t enough, we must have ambition, we must be dedicated and this sense of purpose is exclusively directed to ones career. Nowadays, your career is paramount to your identity and a lack of success in this is a personal failure, aside from the obvious financial impediments of not succeeding. This state of thinking is very relevant in the creative industry, where ones creativity is monetised. Add on to this the shame of not always ‘doing something’ or having a project on the go and life can suddenly start to feel like a race to the finishing line of success.
Table Manners, an original play by actors Danielle Winsor and Alex Kelly explores this expectation in the creative industry. Playing two rivalling actors, once friends now adversaries, they endlessly seek to one-up each other and hide the fact their acting careers are struggling dismally. Vignettes show us common experiences of the modern actress - auditions with utterly disinterested directors, cringeworthy networking events and the ways in which fellow creatives exploit the connections of their friends. All of this culminates into a messy dinner party, where food is not the only thing these actors throw at each other.
Table Manners itself is an engaging piece and quite relatable to those who have at least some experience with the performing arts industry in Australia. The two actors carry the play well, particularly Danielle Winsor as the highly-strung neurotic actress with a domineering mother.
The play itself is a little rough around the edges which is to be expected in a fringe show but it was disappointing that some of the jokes didn’t get a laugh out of the small, spaced out audience which is never the best environment to encourage laughter. Despite this the show was charming and hits upon a trend within the creative industry, and modern life, that is worth exploring.
The play itself revolves around this fateful dinner party where the women fight, size each other up and reveal their vulnerabilities. As this is the crux of the show as a whole, I was interested in spending more time in this moment. Much of the play is exposition and the actual dinner party scene seemed to end abruptly. Perhaps more time could have been spent here as it was engaging watching the two characters interact.
With such a small cast and crew, this play did well in creating an enjoyable show. The sound design by Ben Tarlinton added to the fun of the piece, with scene changes being played to pop songs and techno music, although these transitions were a little long at times. The lighting by Cecil Ess also gave the play a joyful atmosphere with coloured lighting working to good effect.
Ultimately, Table Manners is a fun show. Being part of the fringe, expect a little clunkiness and roughness around the edges. Given a bigger budget and crew I am sure this play would have the chance to really shine. That being said, Table Manners embodies what is best about the fringe: dedicated people coming together to put on a performance they are passionate about, albeit in a bit of a ramshackle way. Winsor and Kelly ask us to question the societal expectation that we should be consistently ‘doing’ something to attain social credit, that life is one big old rat race, although the play itself does not supply an antidote to this conundrum. So what is there to do? Play the game, like these characters do, and give the impression of success and endless ‘projects’? Or embrace the fact that life is more than success and that constant activity doesn’t always correlate with meaning and happiness in our life.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.