Booom! delivers theatre gold for Arts Festival

20:53, Feb 17 2013

Being no student of 17th century drama I cannot vouch for how closely Booom! follows the plot of Ben Jonson's 1610 play The Alchemist.

What is happily apparent though from the farce's opening moment is that the conceit of updating material set originally in Restoration England to fit the greed and banality of 1980s New Zealand is inspired. 

Jonson may not have heard of the television classic Gloss, was happily ignorant of Rogernomics and the New Rightest extremes of the Fourth Labour Government, and most certainly did not shop at David's Emporium, but his insights into human nature retain their relevance and universal appeal.

Rather than directly satirise the 1980s' stock market rise and fall writer Michael Switzer and director Stuart Devenie elect to use it as a comedic backdrop.

The financial volatility of the era becomes a metaphor for its amoral excesses.   In a world of get-rich-quick schemes, religious hypocrisy and venal politicians a couple of unapologetic con artists become natural heroes. 

They at least have the virtue of knowing who and what they are. The logical extension of 1980s vapid materialism, they are best placed to exploit all fools and suckers.

Booom!'s cast is uniformly excellent but first mention should go to leads Kirsten Romano and Carl Watkins.  As the versatile and quick witted criminals Chastity and Sachs the pair demonstrate a mastery of accents and comic timing. 

It is debatable which is funnier, Romano's Irish nun character or Watkins' faux spiritual antiques expert.  Suffice it to say these are but two of the guises assumed as a variety of over-lapping scams are played out, each threatening to undermine the other.

Jenna Hudson again proves herself capable of embracing the blonde bimbo stereotype and making it her own.

As Astrid, a stupid and talentless Gloss actress, she shows uncanny accuracy in voice and attitude, assisted in no little measure by some garishly fluorescent apparel.

Equally amusing in his own way is Will Collin as Astrid's brother Falconer.  Switzer clearly enjoys poking fun at rugby head attitudes and the rural, anti-Yuppie prejudices of the day.

Julia Watkins threatens to steal every scene she is in as the bereaved heiress Mrs Ascot.

An actress of experience and technique, her facial resemblance to Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker - a fact well exploited in Full House Productions' otherwise lamentable Christmas show - is at times spooky.

Rounding out the cast are Marlon Fitzpatrick as a Brian Tamaki caricature, Switzer himself as the bored, swinging City Councillor Spencer-Fitting and Conor Maxwell as the archetypal up-tight bureaucrat, Downer.  The play's religious jokes work better than the politically themed ones if only because Tamaki is such an excellent candidate for satire.

Christian hypocrisy is also easier to mock.  Switzer's trademark sodomy jokes hit their targets every time.

If I have a criticism it relates to the self-conscious, strained manner in which Hamilton references are inserted into the material.
Alluding to street names and suburbs doesn't so much make the work feel "local" as induce a culture cringe.  There's no real need for it.

Some of the early scenes are also overplayed.  A gag about fake pills no doubt references the original Jonson play but is a little repetitive.  However, in both pace and structure "Booom!" improves as it goes on, building from one moment to the next and climaxing as all good farces should, with much hilarity. 

For those of a prurient disposition it should also be noted that Ms Romano looks rather fetching in her undergarments.  For those sensitive
to fleshy spectacle I would add that Mr Switzer does not in his.