The groundbreaking comedy The Office has spawned a new genre that might be called the theatre of social inadequacy. In skewering the excruciating ineptitude of assorted misfits and losers, it treads a fine line between merciless schadenfreude and the cathartic laughter that comes from confronting our own deeply rooted fear of social embarrassment.
The West Auckland Cardigan Appreciation Society gets the balance right in the unlikely saga of a lonely hearts club that regularly assembles in a desolate community hall to declare their allegiance to the homely item of apparel that is sadly neglected in a region known for its love affair with the hoodie.
The Catalyst Theatre Company are an energetic and enterprising collective of drama school graduates who are following the time-honoured path of creating employment rather than waiting for opportunity to knock.
Playwright Sam Berkley shows minimal interest in topical satire but successfully shows how a desperate need for social connection can be thwarted by fear of failure and agonising feelings of personal inadequacy.
A talented young cast display enormous energy and enthusiasm as they take on an assortment of odd-ball characters who are outrageously exaggerated yet utterly familiar.
Berkley gives an endearing performance as an earnest no-hoper whose lack of confidence renders him incapable of acknowledging the affections of women even when they are throwing themselves at him.
Bonnie Soper shows a natural aptitude for comedy in her portrayal of an unemployed fashion designer, and the play's finest moments come as Soper engages in a vitriolic cat fight with a determined club stalwart played by Kura Forrester.
Ben Van Lier establishes a bizarre physical presence and delivers a touching musical tribute to an injured duckling, while Jonathan Hodge effectively anchors the madness with a convincing take on the self-importance of the beleaguered club president.
The play would have benefited from more rigorous editing and suffers from some unevenness of tone as the appropriate mood of awkward realism is overwhelmed by excursions into surrealistic absurdity or moments of intense melodrama.
But the consistently strong performances deliver plenty of laughs and it is difficult not to be moved by the genuine enthusiasm of the enterprise.By Paul Simei-Barton