Last night some of Tychy’s friends were expelled from one of the Underbelly’s novelty bars for throwing the hay bales at other drinkers. I am back at this purple, labyrinthine, cow-themed venue today, to wade across its mire of bovine puns in the direction of Daniel Henry Kaes’ new comedy “Way Back.” The venue staff are still wearing t-shirts adorned with “Cud I Help You” and the shows are still “Ox-cellent.”
The genuine comedy waits inside. Either “Way Back” has not been competently publicised or else it is a bit too intelligent for this early on a Saturday, but it can surely expect more of an audience than five? I am outraged by the injustice and at the end I try to generate the applause of fifty people.
Part of the difficulty is that “Way Back” has an appearance of being issues-based – a play about suicide, young people and so on – when it is mostly innocent and Wodehousian in application. Its three characters are in the end delightfully silly. The lovely Carol (Aynsleigh Turner) works on the chaplaincy team at Beachy Head. A typical comedy set-up you might think, except that, however kitsch it sounds, there is genuinely a chaplaincy mission at the suicide hotspot. I am sure that they have a prodigious success rate, but that people only dwell on the few who slip through their fingers.
We observe what may be an average shift at Carol’s work. She has to help a bereaved chef (Matt Lim) and an embittered ex-pop star (Stephen Bermingham) to find their “way back” from the brink. Such is the innocence of this play that she often looks like a dismayed child who is adjudicating in a quarrel between two pompous and conceited teddy bears. She is the clear-headed one.
There is a lot of squabbling and it will at times degenerate into fisticuffs. The plot occasionally rambles but it rarely slows down. The comedy is ultimately character-based and this aspect of the play is spread thickly, through some good comic acting. I found the satire against the pop star to be indiscriminate and not very sophisticated: his band is called “The Mammary Glams,” and they offer a muddled echo of Morrissey and T-Rex. Yet Bermingham cranks up the character to maximum effect and a surprise ending, in which he embraces his destiny as a sort of glam-rock Colonel Kurtz.
Kaes is evidently an effortless comic writer, as can be seen from the generous Youtube “trailer” for his show. Yet there is a danger that the characters sink into their own depths. Carol’s backstory merely affixes an unnecessary decoration to this character and she does not require such a level of explanation. Without this and the rather flat horror which surrounds the chef’s grief, “Way Back” would have been less ambitious but much sweeter.
Still, this remains an impressive and enjoyable comedy.