Warts and All | The Canberra Times Review

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Will Huang & Rob De Fries. Photo by Kelly McGannon

Will Huang & Rob De Fries. Photo by Kelly McGannon

In an age when genealogy seems all the rage, Canberra playwright Bruce Hoogendoorn capitalises on popular fascination with such programs as Who Do You Think You Are? to lay bare family secrets in his new comedy, Warts and All.

Hoogendoorn’s humorous entertainment about hidden secrets, family conflicts, skeletons in cupboards and cans of worms is sure to bring a smile to the face and keep one guessing to the very end, when all will be revealed.

The plot is simple enough. Simon (Will Huang) visits his grandmother after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis, which will bring his dream of becoming a champion middle-distance runner to a premature end. Grandmother Margaret (Helen Vaughan-Roberts) and family history researcher Dotty (Elaine Noon) persuade Simon to delve into the family history to discover the secrets of the past.

Hoogendoorn’s opening exposition lacks lustre in the rather sombre setting against the black curtains of the Courtyard Studio, but finds its mettle with the blustery entrance of Robert De Fries’ perfectly played comical ghost.

From here on, Hoogendoorn’s play unfolds its intriguing collection of clues, conundrums and confrontation between Margaret and the uppity Aunt Alice (played with delicious attention to detail and false grandeur by Oliver Baudert).

Warts and All’s dramatic devices clearly owe their allegiance to comedy through the ages from Plautus to Shakespeare and Coward to bedroom farces.

Ghosts, secret cupboards, locked boxes and revealing letters all play their part in Hoogendoorn’s comedy of comment on family, relationships and unfulfilled dreams. Look slightly below the surface and you will find touches of pathos in lessons learnt and realised.

It is the lessons of the past that may pave the way for the younger generation of Simon and his cousin Kirsty (Adellene Fitzsimmons) to forge a happier future.

Playwrights such as Alan Ayckbourn succeed in directing their own work after many years of prolific output.

Hoogendorn’s comedy would have fared better, I feel, with another director at the helm. The constant use of blackouts unnecessarily interrupted the action, which was fortunately sustained by energetic performances from Huang and De Fries, Noon and Baudert’s delightfully ridiculous Alice in drag.

Warts and All is an amusing entertainment from a playwright with an eye for comedy and a cast to carry it off.

That’s a recipe enough for laughter.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Posted on May 1st 2014 in Reviews

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