Chicken Legs Theatre
The Basement, Auckland | June 26-30
Pokémon. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Star Wars. These are things Richard (Hamish Parkinson) and Max (Eli Matthewson) spend their days with, their eyes constantly drawn towards the TV screen. Square Eye Pair follows these two best friends through their TV-driven days, whether they’re watching a Buffy marathon, playing videogames or just plain liking each other’s Facebook comments. The show returns to The Basement after winning Best Comedy at the Auckland Fringe Festival 2011 and touring to Dunedin earlier this year, and is set to go to the Edinburgh Festival later this year. It’s a slick, endearing lo-fi romp with a lot of spontaneity, energy, and wit to it.
Right from the Sailor Moon-driven opening, to the precisely choreographed lightsaber-broom-fights, to the spot-on parodies of television shows like Jeremy Kyle, it’s clear that this play knows the world of these characters intimately. Parkinson and Matthewson’s script is loaded with quick humour, wacky physical comedy and references that are totally authentic to these characters and this world; they draw from a wide range of sources, from Shortland Street, to Dawson’s Creek, to Pokémon. For a generation, or at least a group of people, who seem to speak entirely in references, it’s an apt choice and one that really brings the audience in, and I’d be very surprised if audiences don’t catch most of the references, either from their youth or just cultural osmosis. The script doesn’t pander or use easy targets either, it frames these references in intelligent ways, and sometimes in surprisingly touching ways. I never thought I’d see Yvonne Jefferies name-checked in such a poignant way!
Parkinson and Matthewson rip into their roles with gusto; there’s a great chemistry between them and they seem to feed off each other’s energy, much to the play’s benefit. Parkinson handles the physical comedy especially well, a moment with a ‘tiny blender’ is cringe worthy in the best way, and Matthewson handles some of the darker parts of the play very well. Neither he nor the play lose sight that there is something a little bit off about these people, as funny and adorable they may be. It’d be an oversight not to mention Elise Whitson, playing a number of roles throughout the show, and who provides some of the biggest laughs with a voice that seems to effortlessly swing from a butch schoolgirl to the female Jeremy Kyle. All three performers have great comic timing, and the fun they’re clearly having is infectious, palpable, and an utter joy to watch.
I need to give special props to the staging of the show, as it makes great use of the relatively small space of The Basement, and the small space they’ve given themselves to use. Not only is the staging inventive, with some particularly hilarious entrances and exits, but the set defines these characters from the moment we walk in: Junk food and just junk in general scattered around, things we think are trivial at the start end up being more integral to the plot, and the scene, by the end. Credit to Chris Neels for not only framing the show in this way, but for lending the show an easy-going style that allows it to shift between the more comic and more tender moments gracefully.
What makes Square Eye Pair such an endearing, genuinely funny show is its razor sharp observation and critique of its characters: These are the kind of people who are socially awkward, obsess over things on various screens, and who make tight bonds with like-minded people. You might call them nerds. I might call them nerds as well, but I realised about halfway through that almost everybody I know falls into some of these categories. It’s hard to run into a person who isn’t obsessed with one TV show or another, whether it’s My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings or Breaking Bad. In this way, Square Eye Pair feels as much of a critique of a generation than it does of these particular characters. It never forgets the fun, though, and that one of the best things about all of the media that our generation is saturated by is the ability to share it with another person, another nerd out there just like us.