Metatheatical fun abounds in The Play With Speeches at the Jack Studio Theatre
“Are you going to audition or not?”
Returning to the Jack Studio Theatre after a successful run last year, Olive & Stavros’ The Play With Speeches is a metatheatrical romp that delights in gently blurring the lines between play and audience. From the anxious whispers from the cast as we arrive, to chats about ticket prices, outright participation for some and votes on crucial decisions, there’s no snoozing in the balcony for this one!
Those anxious whispers come because as per the conceit of the show, we weren’t expected. Penny and Anthony (with a th, natch) reserved the theatre for auditions for a new show and the compromise is that we’re allowed to stay and watch the parade of would-be thespians. But this former couple are struggling to adjust to their new relationship as director and writer, which only worsens as they go through the auditions.
James Woolf’s play is cannily constructed – a series of audition speeches from a series of amusingly fictional dramas make up the play-within-the-play, all prefaced with hilariously pretentious intros from Anthony and interlaced with the rising tensions between the creatives. And then thrown into the mix are the mini psychodramas of the auditionees themselves, adding to the emotional maelstrom and raising the comic potential.
Directed by Katherine Reilly and Ursula Campbell, there’s a real warmth to proceedings that keeps its humour inclusively fun. Matthew Parker revels in the fruitiness of Anthony – the handbag moment, mouthing along with lines – and Reilly’s drily long-suffering Penny plays off him really well. There’s great support from the rest of the company and if I might have trimmed a little and junked the interval to make it run straight through, it’s still highly enjoyable.