Fringe 2008, BATS Theatre
Feb 17-20 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

WITH Babycakes, Georgina Titheridge has written a Kiwi version of Closer. That’s not to say that it is derivative, but that it shares the same tight script and cutting-edge characterisation of the award-winning play and subsequent film. Four people, who have not been together as a group since they all worked at a Westpac call centre, get together at the wedding of an acquaintance.

Each tries to impress the others in their own way; whether it be boasting about their illustrious career; handing out business cards; acting like a tosser and throwing food about; or getting drunk and throwing up. We make assumptions about these people due to their primary characteristics, just as they judge each other. Anais says she wanted to see what had happened to them, but finds them, ‘a bit munted and in exactly the same place as you were three years ago’. Each time you think you like someone, there is a twist in the script until you realise that all of these people are horrible.

Anais (played with animated gestures and a wide range of facial expressions by Anya Tate-Manning) manipulates people and communicates through fiction. Hayden (a study in social cringe by Bryon Coll) takes his new role at the bank so seriously that he talks about being a ‘people-person’ and ‘work-life’ balance as though he has swallowed an HR manual. Lee Smith-Gibbons is fantastically flirty and ditzy as Haidee – think Kaz, the rabbit in the Telecom ads – and Matt (Aaron Cortesi) is utterly convincing as an obnoxious bloke hiding his insecurities beneath layers of bigotry and bravado – Anais must be a lesbian if she doesn’t fancy him.

The single setting works well as the action unfolds over the space of the reception. The table is clearly set some way back for the rejects, and the audience feel they are actually guests at the wedding too; a sense heightened by disco lights and distant chatter. The actors’ genuine reactions to the speeches from laughter and encouragement through bewilderment and boredom are excellent. The dialogue is fast and authentic – people really do talk like this. The discussions are well captured – one person’s debate is another person’s conflict – and the tension is palpable. At times it is almost too realistic as the characters talk over the top of each other and don’t wait for the audience reaction.

Despite the frequent laughs, there is an undercurrent of unease. The two women are essentially fighting over a man who is entirely inappropriate for either of them because no one wants to be alone at a wedding, where emotions are close to the surface. It may be demeaning to suggest that all women want is marriage and a man, but when Hayden announces, ‘I love you because you’re the only person who’s ever really liked me,’ it is clear that it works both ways. The ending has an almost Shakespearean quality as there are pairings among the couples but we know they are unlikely to last through the honeymoon period.

This is a great little play from the winner of the 2007 New Zealand Young Playwright Competition. On the strength of this, it is a well-deserved award and I look forward to the next offering.