By Flora Norton
‘Three guards on Manus island’ is a play with just a handful of genuinely funny moments and it’s disappointing that I can’t give higher praise since I think the premise has huge potential.
With the audience adopting the role of detainees on Manus, the play revolves around three guards who set up an amateur theatre company on the island. The series of short, satirical sketches are interluded by moments of audience interaction where the actors throw abuse at the ‘refugees’ in what I imagine is an attempt to display the racism and inhumanity reflected in our immigration policy.
Yet this commentary feels distinctly under-developed and the actors are ill-equipped to deal with an awkward or unpredictable response from the audience.
While each of the individual actors each have moments of strength, their performance as an ensemble is generally poor and unconvincing. The calibre of acting is mediocre at best which is evident when they fail to stay in character when not delivering their own lines. The sketches feel scripted yet also under-rehearsed and the frequent moments where the actors are distracted or struggle not to laugh at their own jokes gives the play an unmistakably amateur air. The actors lack the important skill of working from a carefully-crafted and well-rehearsed script but to perform it as if they are thinking of the lines spontaneously and not simply recalling them from a page.
Several jokes that are recurrent throughout the play, such as the gag regarding Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ produce genuine laughter from the audience, echoing the wit and thoughtfulness one would expect in professional comedy. However, most of the punchlines fall flat and the absurd content of many of their skits is not reinforced by the effective timing or flawless delivery that would be necessary to pull it off.
In saying that, the complexity of the play is commendable, and the range of characters, accents and demeanours adopted by the actors is definitely impressive. Scene changes are seamless, and the incorporation of musical interludes and blackouts enables the play to flow smoothly and effortlessly.
The play also covers a wide range of themes and manages to mock upper class brits, lower class yanks, criminal Italians and average Australians all within the short hour. The satirical references to films and references to real Australian politicians are clever and are subtly incorporated giving the performance a credible level of depth.
The play could potentially be improved with further rehearsals and a finer attention to detail. Reducing the number of skits and focussing instead on what works and what’s funny would also enhance the overall performance.
While I couldn’t honestly recommend this play to my peers, I’m excited to see what Cake, Gordon and Whittem come up with next. Their creativity and openness to the absurd is promising and with some fine-tuning I have no doubt they will return to the comedy festival with flying colours.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.