ReviewTwo to Tango

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Theatre ReviewTwo to TangoDAPA, at DAPA Theatre, HamiltonEnds May 27THE two plays on this double bill, Haiku and Last Tango in Little Grimley, each run for about 35 minutes, and they show just how engaging and universally entertaining short plays that are well written and staged can be.
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Haiku, by American playwright Kate Snodgrass, is the moving story of an ageing mother’s efforts to get her married daughter to help care for the live-at-home sister who has suffered from autism since childhood. The autistic girl wears a helmet to prevent her damaging her brain when she frustratedly beats her head.

Director Philip McGrath and the actors – Karen Lantry as the mother, Nell; Alison Cox as the autistic daughter, Louise; and Leanne Guihot as the demanding sister, Billie – affectingly bring out the relationships, with Billie shown in childhood flashbacks bullying Louise, and not believing her mother’s assertion that beautifully expressed Japanese haiku-style poetry that was published under her name was actually voiced by Louise.

Lantry’s Nell shows the warmth the mother has for both of her daughters, trying to make Louise feel comfortable in dark moments she experiences before Billie’s arrival, and giving understanding responses to Billie’s sharply expressed scepticism about Louise’s capabilities. Cox’s voice and expressions change swiftly and movingly as she responds to the words and movements of her mother and sister. And Guihot’s Billie, unsurprisingly, repeatedly makes clear her belief that she suffered in her upbringing because of the attention her mother gave to Louise.

McGrath takes to the stage in British writer David Tristram’s Last Tango in Little Grimley as the chairman of an amateur theatre company with just four members that is facing closure because of declining audiences. Much to the concern of the other members – played by Karen Lantry, David Yarrow and Allison Van Gaal – he writes a sex comedy aimed at selling tickets. Director Isobel Denholm and the players amusingly take the story through rehearsals and a post-opening night meeting. It’s easy to see real people in these actors, each of whom see themselves as having the right idea for saving the company.

McGrath’s Gordon ignores the often sensible suggestions made by the other company members, and his behaviour as director during the play’s rehearsals, while it has the audience laughing, will be familiar to many people who have been involved in theatre. Lantry’s Joyce sees herself as the company’s star, but her performance in rehearsals amusingly contradicts that. Nonetheless, there is often sense in her suggestions. Yarrow’s Bernard, a set builder who is cast in the play to make up the numbers, is certainly aware of the limits of his abilities. And Van Gaal’s Margaret, while the most sensible participant and a peacemaker, is a follower, not a leader, and invariably finds her suggestions ignored.

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