The opening night of a new Lally Katz play starring well known Australian comic actress Marg Downey is a hectic affair. The foyer of the Malthouse is flooded with semi familiar faces; playwrights, directors, stars of the stage and screen. They are a large and excited crowd, and for good reason. Katz is one of Australia’s most renowned working playwrights, respected for the comedic lightness she brings to more serious issues.
Timeshare is about an island resort straddling the international date line, with a wonky infinity pool and a cast of lost characters. Sandy (Downey) and her daughter Kristy (Brigid Callacher) are nearing the end of their holiday, and resort manager Carl (Bert LaBonte) is desperately trying to sell them a timeshare before they go. The date line is a central selling point, guests can simply step back into Yesterday, claims Carl. Conceptions of time are at the play’s heart, encapsulated by Katz’ signature mix of comedy, drama and oddity. There are even songs.
The play features music, sung by the actors, though it is not exactly a musical; the songs serve more as jokes than plot propellants. The music, composed by Jethro Woodward, is excellent. The tunes are catchy and well performed, but Katz is no lyricist. The words are clunky, making everything feel like a poorly written Flight of the Concords number. The jokes built on the music, the arrangement or the actor’s singing ability, are strong, but many of the verbal punch lines fall flat. There’s even a Tinder joke that’s exactly the same as something from an open mic stand up comedian’s set.
It’s not just the musical jokes that fall short, a lot of the spoken ones do too. There’s an awkwardness to them, they feel out of place or out of character about fifty percent of the time. The other fifty percent, however, they land perfectly. The awkwardness of their delivery appears deliberate, and Downey’s timing is infallible. The audience love all of the humour, and the writing draws consistent laughs from the vast majority.
Narratively, Timeshare is somewhat bland. Katz’ dialogue is snappy and her imagination is expansive, but the plot here is straightforward. There are two ‘twists’ of a fashion, one delightful and one that borders on the cliché. There’s clever repetition and well defined characters, as well as a playful voice over.
The play is well cast: Katz managed to secure every actor she pictured in the roles. Downey has a fantastic stage presence, coming across as both strong and faltering, lost but solid. She isn’t overbearing though, and LaBonte, Callacher and Fayssal Bazzi all shine and compliment each other. Callacher and Bazzi have electric chemistry when the former is Maria and the latter hotel assistant Fernando, and awkward tension when Callacher is Kristy. LaBonte plays an excellent bent straight man to Downey’s humourless clown. All four actors can carry, belt and hum a tune.
The production elements of Timeshare are unsurprisingly impeccable. Paul Jackson’s lighting design lifts most of the atmospheric shifts and complements the various tones of the play neatly. The transitions are seamless, and the design brings with it a sense of the oceanic, chaos lapping gently at the man made structures.
Ultimately, Timeshare is a middle of the road romp. Katz isn’t breaking any boundaries, and while the play is not her best, it is not her worst either. The themes are familiar territory to Australian theatregoers, but the production is spirited and joyous. It’s a fun, safe night at the theatre.
Timeshare is on at the Malthouse Theatre until May 17th. It runs for 95 minutes without an interval. Shows are on at a variety of times, ranging from 3pm matinees to 7:30pm evening performances. Tickets cost from $30 to $60 and are available from the Malthouse website.