Fringe 2008, BATS Theatre
Feb 15-19 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

PATRICK (John Hui) is a security guard on the ‘King Kong’ boat, who feels removed from all the excitement going on around him. Approaching 43, he is lonely, bored and depressed. His wife has left him because she no longer loves him and he has fallen for Kelly (Raquel Sims), a girl he went to school with who has become a prostitute. He wallows in his misery – “I live on a boat in a parking lot in Miramar” – and is haunted in his dreams by his imaginary childhood friend, Murky Merv (David Goldthorpe).

The highlight of the play is Carl (Alex Greig), who plays the part of Adrian Brody’s stand-in with wonderful self-possession. He begins the play by practicing his actor’s warm-ups and miming his Oscar acceptance speech as the audience enters. Greig has no interest in others and only wants to talk about himself and his art. He sets high expectations for a play of great promise, but these are never realized once he leaves the stage.

Patrick invites Kelly to the boat and a lot of awkward dialogue ensues before they fall asleep and Patrick dreams, conjuring up his old friend Murky Merv who takes him to revisit all the gawky moments from his past, starting with Kelly beating him in long jump at school. Gouldthorpe has a forceful physical presence, and a ridiculous green costume, as he manhandles his unwilling host through his previous failures.

Murky Merv complains that Patrick is no fun anymore. As a kid, everything had seemed possible as Patrick had imagination and tried new things, but now he has given up. Patrick lays bare his humiliations with his ex-wife Barbara (also played by Raquel Sims whose only change in characterization is to wear a wig) from his truly atrocious dancing to his attempt to win back her affections with flowers and a promise of shopping and a gym membership.

Adrien Brody’s stand-in turns up in the dream for no apparent reason, but it is a relief to have him back, as even his attentive popcorn-munching steals the scene from the stilted dialogue and forced acting of the others. He laments that he once stood around for two hours while they filmed his shadow and that, “It takes a lot of strength to keep going and aim for things.” He explains that you have to emotionally engage with life because things, from films to relationships, will only work if you believe in them.

Merv warns Patrick that the ship is sinking and that he’s going down with it, but he wallows in pity and despair, saying he has used up all his possibilities. They try to kill one another with a fight around a model of the Empire State Building, which provides a bit of much-needed drama and an opportunity to wear a gorilla mask.

With the exception of a couple of gags about King Kong and Peter Jackson, this play could have been set anywhere. The minimal staging and direction is lazy rather than avant-garde; ‘Fringe’ should not mean skimping on essential production values. The Adrien Brody stand-in scenes are amusing, but seem out-of-place, as though they were a great skit which didn’t go anywhere or warrant a full-length feature. There are a couple of good one liners, mainly delivered by Alex Greig and David Gouldthorpe, but most of the conversation is unnatural and the ‘real’ characters are dull and one dimensional.

Patrick makes a poor Everyman, because we just get fed up with his whining. Barbara liked him because he was ‘practical’ and ‘genuine’ which just sounds like a euphemism for boring. Okay, so he never did anything about the dreams he had as a kid (although we never know what they were apart from painting a cat), and he promises to do something about it when he wakes up, but do we care?

Is it better to try and fail than not to try at all? If this play attempts to answer that question, the response would have to be that a lot more work is required. It is floundering in the wilderness and certainly needs to be rescued.