Fringe 2008, Downstage Theatre
Feb 18-20 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

2 b or nt 2 b? takes six characters from six classic plays and re-envisages them as 2008 teenagers, replete with cell phones, computers and plenty of angst. Writer and director Sarah Delahunty wrote the play for her senior drama class – obviously to extend their knowledge of classics, but also to help them connect with the feelings of characters without complexities of language or changing social mores getting in the way. If this diverse mix of tragic heroes and heroines could correspond today, what would they say? Despite my initial doubts this turns out to be an incredibly successful exercise, with the six young actors of the cast throwing themselves into their roles with enthusiasm and skill.

The play begins with Hamlet (Jason Shakes), the only boy in the group calling a help line with voice recognition capacity. When prompted to ask a question he responds “To be or not to be?” This does not compute. An angry and suicidal Antigone (Caitlin McNaughton) gets played the Carpenters after she is put on hold by another helpline. Masha (Alice Lean) is hoping to chat with Konstantin on-line whilst ignoring the text messages she is receiving from Medvedenko. The hapless Helena (Alice Pearce) is complaining about he supposed friend Hermia on in an internet chat room. Irena (Olivia Shields) interrupts her hum drum existence working in the Foxton post office to call a technical support helpline. Hedda’s (Alice Sisley) plans of world domination are interrupted by a call from her Dad to check she is doing her homework.

They all log into a chat room called “What’s the Point.com” to vent their frustrations. Hedda sees her opportunity – this sorry bunch will make a “good line of buttons” for her to knock down. She organises a rendezvous on the “Bridge to Nowhere” in the Hutt at midnight. They turn up, and the debate over who has the worst life story and whether they should end it all, takes up the rest of the show. The final showdown, between Helena and Hedda, pits the optimistic romantic with low self esteem against the domineering but frustrated fatalist against one another. It all works out in reasonably feel good fashion, but humour and irreverence are still maintained – especially when Masha hilariously mimes killing a seagull. The audience is prompted to consider the passivity of these characters and the nature of tragedy. They realise that they could change the plot.

Delahunty and her cast are to be congratulated for this short, sharp piece of theatre. It’s an excellent idea, intelligently realised.