Adelaide Fringe 2011
Right up front I have to say my specialty is dance and physical theatre and when I find myself watching the more wordy works of theatre I often feel verbally slapped in the face with the rest of my body left hanging limp beneath my frontal lobe. So when confronted with Guy Masterson’s super fast information heavy cultural commentary American Poodle I wished I had read the program notes (and done a couple of cryptic crosswords) to suitably warm up my brain first. Masterson, as co-writer and performer of this dense but deft comic commentary, is awesome in his facility as an orator delivering some 80 minutes of fast paced satire without missing a beat.
American Poodle is one in a suite of ten shows being toured to the Adelaide Fringe by the UK based Centre for International Theatre. Artistic Director Guy Masterson directs four of these works and performs in three including this satire on UK-US relations, American Poodle. Masterson single-handedly delivers two 40 minute acts, each with a different director and writer and depicting, in turn, the viewpoint British or American. The staging is stripped back to give space to the detail of the words. In the first half (from the mouths of the British/colonials) the setting is a simple chair and table draped in a Union Jack on one side of the stage and a lone chair on the other, in the second act a solitary duffle bag. Masterson moves on, around and between these objects flinging us through characters and events from the British colonisation of America to the present day. His progress is anticipated and isolated in a series of lit spots keeping our attention firmly fixed on his relentless address delivered in a direct pacing stand-up style. He barely takes a breath, in fact at times I feel he is surely riding this tsunami of words and characterisations toward disaster. I do miss a lot of words, the speed combined with his British accent and idioms making me feel like English is my second language. But it is a feat of verbal virtuosity that does physically engage, sparking electrical connections in my brain.
It is the second act written by Brian Parks that is the most satisfying for me—there is a dance here between the content and performance. There are wonderful poetic passages of text that build in rhythm and musicality, descriptive and dramatic builds that lend themselves to being sung up and sucked over by the character’s yankee drawl. A present day American takes in the tourist London on his way to a business meeting and we are treated to some exquisite asides on the American ‘opinion-condition’ as he comments “It’s nice to be in London where capitalism was invented, before we perfected it” or describes Stonehenge as a cock-fighting arena.
There is a hilarious punch line in the bag at the end of this high-speed novel with its digressions into the ridiculous. This is a show I would try to see again if it’s brief 2-night season weren’t already over for this Fringe. Fortunately there are still six CIT shows on at Higher Ground until March 13.