November 01, 1993

The Meet Market

by Roxxy Bent

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Although their seasons have included a variety of writers Vitalstatistix’ work has always been characterised by founding members Ollie Black, Margaret Fischer and author of Personals, Roxxy Bent. Bent’s work is consistently self-descriptive. Even early rambles like A Stitch in Time had a daft quality – reinforced in that instance by the writer’s own performance. Waiting for Annette (collected in Around the Edge, the excellent Tantrum Press collection of South Australian women playwrights) also epitomises the Bent style. She over-reached herself with last year’s Yellow Roses and it was unsuccessful, but the latest work, Personals, captures her idiosyncratic comedy at its quirky best.

Which is not to say that it is without its problems- but it is a lively three-hander which more than engaged the mostly female audience at the matinee I attended. Personals is about the ever-expanding business of introduction agencies, companion cruises and other getting-to-know-you strategies for the modern professional isolate. Lonelyhearts columns are no longer refuges for the socially desperate and physically inedible. Dinners for six, planned events and computer matching can now come, socially approved, to the aid of the single party. No more of the imprecision of chance encounter, no more pick-up bars, an end to recreational darwinism.

Well that’s the theory. Personals is about three people discovering that the new world order is pretty much like the old disorder. Phoebe is a cynical librarian giving herself one more chance at a relationship, Phillip is still half demented from the acrimony of his first marriage and Linda is the tour leader for Geraldine’s introduction agency. When Phoebe and Phillip mutiny and leave the Love Boat Linda follows to lure them back to the cruise. Instead, all three are marooned for a night of self-encounter on a desert island of uncertain location.

Plonked in Kerry Reid’s sand-filled set surrounded by a bright blue canopy the three struggle against their demons and the improbabilities of the plot. As Phoebe, Nikki Price is so nicely sardonic that it is hard to accept that she might warm to the bucolic stanzas of so batty a figure as Geoff Revell’s hypochondriac Phillip. Revell is a likeable comic but Phillip is loaded with too much satire to maintain even minimal interpersonal credibility. Roxxy Bent is in constant top gear as Linda, the neurotic agency rep full of chatter about her perfect man, Crocodile, and hell-bent, even on a sand dune, to complete her clipboard of activities – quoits and conversation cards, gladrags and champers, dressing for sex-cess and much else dredged virtually verbatim from the real world of the introduction industry.

Director Christine Totos has allowed Bent a very free rein – perhaps sharing the writer’s evident belief that it is only Linda’s manic energy that will drive the play. The effect is that Roxxy Bent plays the part like Mollie Sugden on speed – a not unfunny spectacle but, like much of the knockabout in Personals, it is at the price of some promising satire.

As it lurches towards a jittery conclusion Personals loses some of its puff- which is a pity because it has funny material and engaging performances. But the successful elements of Personals are perhaps also its unmaking. The mad mix of high farce and telling social commentary raises laughs and makes good skit comedy but is too chaotic and unwieldy to sustain this kind of stage play.

The Adelaide Review, November, 1992.

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