Auckland Theatre Company offers a shortcut to happiness
A Shortcut to Happiness by Roger Hall
Directed by Alison Quigan
SkyCity Theatre, Auckland
Until June 30
Bruce Mason Theatre, North Shore
George Bernard Shaw, in one of his more perceptive or cynical moments, noted that dancing was the perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire. It’s a definition which could have been used as an alternative title for Roger Hall’s latest play, which delves into the realm of folk dance and romance.
In A Shortcut to Happiness we follow the fortunes of a group of disparate people who come together at the local hall for a weekly class in folk dancing run by Russian immigrant Natasha.
It’s a bright, perceptive and clever tale with the added delights of both inelegant and sophisticated folk dance performances by the cast.
Hall's plays are very much about relationships and in Shortcut there are a variety of people seeking happiness and companionship.
Ned, Laura and Coral have all recently lost their partners, Natasha has an on-again, off-again relationship and Sebastian is looking for as many partners as he can have.
Hall has a stock of characters who feature throughout his plays. They reappear in various guises with different names but we recognise them.
They are sometimes ourselves or our partners and friends. They are always people we know.
It always seems as though the playwright has been observing you at home at work or at play, noting down all your personal idiosyncrasies, social gaffes and annoying habits.
His characters may be close to caricatures but he invests each of these with individual voices, ways of speaking and behaviours so they become not only instantly recognisable but also recognisably relevant.
This getting the characters right is at the core of Hall’s success. He portrays New Zealanders with all their personal, social and political qualities.
In Shortcut, having one of the main characters as a Russian import allows him to use an outsider to comment on the cultural facade of New Zealanders.
She is able to ask why our houses are so cold, why our buildings are ugly and why we have such terrible fashion sense.
She also highlights the confusion that comes with colloquialisms and cultural history.
A quip by Ned about Pooh Bear and honey suddenly needs a lot of explanation, while she confuses a standard English term of endearment, managing an even more appropriate one in saying that she loves someone “from my bottom to my heart”.
Hall may write good lines but it needs actors with great timing and understanding top get the comedy right, and this cast delivers.
Stuart Devenie as Ned, the recently widowed retired accountant who has to fend off the approaches of the women, creates one of the few fully rounded characters, providing a strong emotional quality.
Laura Hill’s Natasha is also a well-fleshed out role, with a believable Russian accent and a stylish set of dance numbers.
Bronwyn Bradley (Coral), Catherine Downes (Janet) and Sylvia Rands (Laura) give consistent performances, with each having a few lapses as well as some inspired moments.
Cameron Rhodes and Alison Quigan as Ray and Bev, the earnest couple committed to self-improvement who parade around with their hiking sticks are a clever invention, their snooty image disguising more base desires.
David Aston’s lecherous Sebastian is only on stage for a short time but he puts on a fine performance and provides a nice foil to the more self-conscious Ned.
With two impressive sets, a lively sound track, some spirited dance routines and a laugh a minute dialogue this is a superb evening’s entertainment