- The Forge
By Dan Bain & Brendon Bennetts
Directed by Mark Hadlow.
Simon’s getting married. Time to celebrate!
A stag party hunting trip to the West Coast for four overconfident and under-qualified city boys becomes increasingly dangerous – and hilarious – as they fumble towards discovering what it means to be a Kiwi bloke in 2014. It’s an unwise combination of boys, beer and bush. Add incompetence, insecurities and illegal substances and everything that can go wrong does go wrong. The hangover from this stag weekend will stay with them forever.
Stag Weekend is a laugh out loud comedy and is a guaranteed great night out for anyone who is, or knows, or once saw from a distance, a man.
It’s wonderful to see fresh talent being nurtured by Christchurch’s biggest theatre company.
Stag Weekend has been a six-year-long undertaking for writers Dan Bain and Brendon Bennetts, both no strangers to the CourtTheatre.
It’s a show about men, friendship and responsibilities – a comical look at the quest to solve the age-old question ‘‘What makes a man?’’
Naive and a little wimpy would be how I’d describe Simon, the groom played by Cameron Douglas. He needs reassurance about his manliness status before he ties on the ‘‘ball and chain’’.
Best man Andrew, played by Andrew Ford, is the camp, overbearing worry-wart who shines in the second act when the audience is treated to a slightly deeper view of his personality.
There’s Tim, played by Owen Black – a ladies’ man experiencing some sort of existential crisis.
And there’s Gary, played by Tom Trevella – a crass Kiwi male with a hidden softer side.
Plonk all four men into a basic West Coast shack for a weekend of booze in the bush and you have Stag Weekend.
For me, the problem with light-hearted comedy is that I’m always missing some greater meaning, some thought-provoking discussion and characters, but Stag Weekend is what it is and it’s blimmin’ good at it.
I preferred the second act, as it seemed to have more structure and a sense of male camaraderie that was entertaining, whereas the first half was all jokes and blokiness.
The set is among the most impressive I’ve seen at The Court and the use of real trees gives the theatre that distinct forest scent.
Trevella is excellent in this role, as he combines natural comedic timing with character acting.
Stag Weekend is uplifting and entertaining. You should see it – if only because it’s a world premiere and written by two of Christchurch’s own.
27 October, 2014
Simon (Cameron Douglas) is a nice, middle-class, Pakeha guy: a bit vanilla, risk-averse, up for a few drinks, and more at home in the city than traipsing through the bush. He’s also about to get married, and Stag Weekend charts his attempt to make it through his pre-wedding rite of passage by heading to a West Coast hut to prove his masculinity by bagging a stag.
With him are urbanite best man Andrew (Andrew Ford), who’s left his husband at home and who would rather be out wine tasting, and ladies’ man, vegetarian, self-proclaimed free spirit Tim (Owen Black). Rounding out the hunting party is Simon’s boorish schoolyard bestie Gary (a scene-stealing Tom Trevella), who Simon hasn’t seen in years, and whose brash blokishness, propensity for vulgarity and interest in weaponry startles the three city boys.
Together they are only kind of prepared for a weekend of, as they put it, drinking piss, getting shitfaced, and shooting stuff, and it doesn’t take long for their quest for manhood to get completely out of hand.
Brendon Bennetts and Dan Bain’s witty and clever script swings between the low brow and the sophisticated. It sets the lads up against a number of increasingly ridiculous challenges, ultimately asking two things: how do we become the person it is we’d like to be, and what does it mean, in 2014, to be a real man?
Crass jokes at the expense of one another and about the nature of what it means to be a man (getting scars? having fights? wrapping things in bacon?) mask an undercurrent of anxiety about the expectations of partners, parents, mates and society at large. The script excels in highlighting the uneasy tension between laughing at and laughing with, particularly in its exploration of how Andrew deals with (and often co-opts) jokes about his sexuality.
The overall sense is that the most dangerous thing of all is the expectation itself to fulfil and enforce the sort of mythic, normative heterosexual masculinity that populates ads for beer and liquor and stories of hardass, pioneering adventurers – a fiction that informs, and is celebrated within, national fantasy while restricting other forms of feeling and expression.
As directed by Mark Hadlow, the characters sit on the knife edge between caricature and pathos, with the character of Gary best balancing the roles of comic foil and the Ghost of Hard Men Past. Tim’s eventual trip down his own personal rabbit hole tips my suspension of disbelief scales a little in the wrong direction.
Nonetheless, everything ultimately makes sense within the world of the play and the men’s ridiculous antics move toward a meaningful moment of catharsis in which each of them is able to finally open up to one another and to themselves. The characters’ relationships are real and believable, and the movements in the group dynamic and the shifting allegiances are particularly well-played.
The production design is very impressive. Nigel Kerr’s ingenious set makes full use of the breadth and depth of the large stage. The rustic 4×3 metre cabin, which is tucked in the middle of an imposing forest of tree trunks that fill the theatre with a rich woody smell, is kitted out with a remarkable eye for detail. Some excellent mechanical trickery allows for set changes that quite rightly earn the cabin its own round of applause at the end of the show.
Other design elements, from Sean Hawkins (lighting), Anneke Bester (properties), Peter Booth (sound) and Tina Hutchison-Thomas (costumes), all assist in creating a wholly believable, immersive environment that features some clever pieces of stage magic.
All up, this is both a thoughtful and sensitive examination of the construction of masculinity in 21st century New Zealand and a witty, engaging evening of larrikinism. Stag Weekend is bawdy, funny, and unashamedly local. It more than earned an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience, and it’s likely to get bums on seats for commercial and community theatres alike.
26 October, 2014