Couch Soup, Directed by David Foote, 22-26 February Newtown Community Centre
Take four actors, twenty-seven mini-plays and one really big chunk of lounge suite. Brew for approximately one hour.
What Urban Vineyards came out with was an eclectic mix of tasty morsels, ranging from poetic, farcical and hilarious through to unintelligible. Starting as a festival of mini plays in Hamilton in 1998, Couch Soup challenged thirteen playwrights to create original, presentable theatre built around one running theme, the ever-present prop, set-piece and fifth actor, a moulding brown couch.
The plays explore in miniature; conflicts, personality clashes, exceptional and exceptionally weird people and situations; they include new-age religious rants and a travel guide to hell.
Keeping with the minimalist theme, practically the only props used were costumes. These were symbolic rather than realistic but effective nonetheless. Blackouts and slightly creepy atmospheric music signalled each new round of action.
Ross Macleod, who also wrote a third of the plays, gave a painfully realistic portrayal of Brian, the villain bad flatmate in parts one and two of Operation Settee Freedom. Impassioned by pseudo-ideological laziness, “It’s not a couch, it’s a Freedom Seat!!” one couldn’t help but admire his odious determination. Maria Quigley said much without speaking a word in her poignant piece Flowerday, which was about living with a crippling shyness.
My major qualms were that the energy wasn’t consistent and that the absolutely minimalist set and sound were taxing on performance. My attention did waver during some of the quieter monologues, which were not improved by the venue’s acoustics. The dialogues were not seamless either but this was usually less noticeable thanks to the fast-moving plots.
The big questions managed to get sandwiched between the surreal (Santa’s good couch elves and Jane Austin ninjas) and the comic (a beginner’s guide to domestic murder). Death, relationships, and the “what the hell are we all doing here anyway?” question are all addressed. One could be tempted to overanalyse; in Soup-bones the couch is out of place and the actor subsequently gets “broken”. One must ask what is really essential to the theatre. But then again it finished with the actors becoming monkeys and chasing each other off set with sticks.
Basically you can take what you want out of it; there was something there for almost everyone. Couch Soup pushes what can be done with theatre but remains accessible; it is perfect for those with a love of theatre and a short attention span. Or those who are just after a nutritious evening out.