Keep on truckin': The Understudy @Canalcafe

With the Oscars now over, the self-congratulatory season of handing out awards for movies has ended for another year. The Understudy at The Canal Café Theatre seems relevant.

It's a funny take on how theatre and film seem to be at times competing art forms. But in the end it is always about money.

Jake is a big star. He has had a hit action movie open but he is currently on Broadway in a three hour Kafka play. Jobbing actor Harry is going to be his understudy. Stage manager Roxanne has to get them through a rehearsal but it turns out Harry and Roxanne have a history.

And so sets the scene for debates about the worthiness of theatre versus the cheap thrills of the screen.

Along the way there is a stoner operating the lighting board. An intercom system that picks up everything. And relentless noise from the kitchen. Actually the last of those things may not have been in the script but a problem with the staff at the pub below.

Anyway, Samuel John is well suited to the role of Harry with his crazy eyes and comic timing. Leonard Sillevis as the up and coming movie star Jake is a suitable foil. It's fun watching Emma Taylor as the exasperated Roxanne trying to hold it all together.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck keeps the barbs flying at both the absurdities of both the theatre and the movies. There is the sense of nobleness of theatre. Sure it runs a lost Kafka play running at three hours, but it only fills seats with movie stars.  Then there is the banality of the movies, that people love anyway. It's a smart and funny script that suggests in the end showbusiness is just a business.

With occasional lags the piece isn't always as as tense and as absurd as it could be. But there is a lot to take away from it anyway.

Directed by Russell Lucas and part of the American Season at the Canal Café Theatre, The Understudy runs until 11 March.


Photo credit: Production photos by Simon Annand

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