Review: The Amateur Amateur Dramatic Society – charming, darling, mwah, mwah

Erin Harrington reviews The Amateur Amateur Dramatic Society, a roaming show that developed over three afternoons during the last weekend of the Bread and Circus World Backyard Buskers Festival. This was originally published on Theatreview, in what may be their last review from Ōtautahi Christchurch.

This year’s World Buskers Festival is, necessarily, a pared down and home-grown affair, whose shows include traditional street performers, cabaret acts, musicians, and performances taking place, quite literally, in people’s backyards. Skirting around the edges of all these is The Amateur Amateur Dramatic Society, from Two Productions, a delightful roaming show that wandered through Riverside Market, Cashel Mall and The Terrace over the last long weekend of the festival.

Performers Tom Eason, William Burns and Ola Ratka play a trio of toffee-nosed troubadour thespians who flounce their way through town in their actors’ blacks, air-kissing and fussing, living their best Royal Shakespeare Company fantasy. This is a work in process: the performers then move through a series of beats that have been developed over the previous days to suit the space and the conditions.   

I watch significant chunk of the three hour circuit, or thereabouts, which starts as the performers stretch ostentatiously, run muddled vocal warm ups, and get changed in and out of frock coats. They drag around a bin full of props and costumes, fiddle with a snare drum and play a melodica, rolling and unrolling their theatre company’s hand-painted banner so that everyone knows exactly who they are.

The public is regularly called on to assist with the preparations and then the show. The performers berate passers-by for walking through their very private dressing room (the footpath) or across their stage (also the footpath) and tell them off for watching because they are not ready yet (because they are on the footpath), then solicit help with costume zips and fastenings. One child is co-opted to help Burns with his foundation – “don’t forget the chin, darling” – and is promised he’ll be credited in the non-existent programme as make-up designer, while another is asked to give notes on a stage combat rehearsal (“Thank you darling, thank you!”).

Eventually the performers are ready to gift flouncing, plummy personalised 90 second performances to people who are sitting by the river, or demolishing souvlakis and tapas at the market. Audience interaction can make people feel ill, but all this asks of the public is to be a mildly attentive and even disbelieving gallery for a bit of messed up Wilde, Shakespeare or jazz dance for a brief moment, before offering bemused applause. It’s a neat disjuncture between a style of interaction that can be a little confrontational, and the complete self-absorption of the characters.

It’s a lovely way to spend a sunny, bustling afternoon, less RADA than Waiting for Guffman. Charming, darling.

The Amateur Amateur Dramatic Society ran (around, literally) from 12-3pm, Friday 29 – Sunday 31 January, 2021, in various spots in central Ōtautahi Christchurch.

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