[2014024] Square Peg

[2014024] Square Peg

Scorcher Fest Pty Ltd @ Royalty Theatre

1:00pm, Tue 18 Feb 2014

The précis of Square Peg promised that it would show “that one size doesn’t fit all and challenges the powers that be”; with a line like that, I was expecting this matinée performance to be dominated by a couple of school groups… it just felt like that kind of positive, affirming message. But as I approached the Royalty, I was surprised by the folk gathering in the foyer; the audience appeared to be full of adults of all kinds – builders, hippies, oldies, young ‘uns. It was one of the most diverse audiences I’ve ever seen, and I started wondering why they’d decided to attend this show.

Once inside and seated, I was further intrigued when I noticed that the left-hand side of the stage was dominated by a frame that suggested three doorways; on the frame the words “Learn, Love, Law” were emblazoned, and I start wondering whether Square Peg was acting as some sort of parole rehabilitation edutainment… that’d certainly explain some of the crowd, I figured. While I mulled on this, Pete Jenkins took to the stage and opened proceedings with some acoustic guitar songs underpinning some good-natured but ambiguous lyrics, before migrating to bluesy slide guitar.

Songs sung, Jenkins left the stage, and Fabien Clark came out to warm up the crowd in the manner one associates with a comedy show host. Which – although it seemed a little out of place – was all well and good. But then the theatrical component of Square Peg started…

…and it all turned a bit… well, ordinary.

The narrative thread involves the character Square Peg (played with a naïve charm by Brady Kitchingham), who is introduced to us via his kind and supportive Mum, and his gruff and intolerant Dad. As Square Peg grows up and asserts his personality, it becomes clear that he’s not your average child: Mum is always loving, but Dad is incapable of communicating with a son more interested in art than sport. As an adult, Square Peg encounters the usual trials and tribulations of love and relationships, but as his mother succumbs to dementia and is abandoned (maliciously) by his father, there’s an attempt to tug at the heartstrings as Square Peg battles for what is Right.

It’s all very well-meaning… but I found the direction to be clunky beyond belief. The play was performed as a series of short scenes, often separated by short live musical interludes. But even with the musical distraction, set changes often meant that the scenes often took longer to set up than perform… and that quickly became annoying as fuck. And whilst Kitchingham’s performance was solid, most of the other actors onstage looked like rabbits caught in the headlights: blank stares and wooden delivery only occasionally made way for exuberant over-acting. And Lindi Jane’s evil puppet – that represented Square Peg’s dark thoughts – seemed completely out of place.

It wasn’t all bad: the live band was great – vocalist Dino Jag La Vista was superb, the drummer never failed to grin like a maniac, and Crafty (who I’m sure I’ve seen perform with The Neo) rocked some great guitar and trumpet as The Love Makers ripped through a set dominated by easily recognisable covers. The original songs were good value too, though both the music and the play suffered a little from Literal Lyric Syndrome.

And at nearly two hours, this was verging on painful. Despite all the best intentions of the text, the content of the play was only average… and the direction of the performance seemed determined to stop any momentum building up. A solidly performed musical score saved this from generating more bile… but it simply wasn’t enough. At least I got to wander home wondering whether the hypothetical parole attendees in the audience were inspired to re-offend.

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