What it takes to make 'em laugh

By Dionne Christian , Dionne Christian

Natalie Medlock, Nic Sampson, Kura Forrester and Sam Snedden star in Perplex.
Natalie Medlock, Nic Sampson, Kura Forrester and Sam Snedden star in Perplex.

"You have to be serious to be funny," declares actress Kura Forrester moments after pirouetting around Silo Theatre's rehearsal room where, to relax, she performed an improvised ballet to singer Adele's ballad Hello.

"You have to be brave, bold and confident and not worry too much about what other people think about you and you have to love performing and being a bit of a dork - all that means you can be funny and crack people up; that's my favourite thing to do.

"I used to love doing it when I was a child. Except when people laughed too much then I would cry because I didn't think they were taking my comedy seriously. I'm older now; I've come to terms with that so I don't cry as much..."

Forrester gets ample opportunity to "crack people up" and "be a bit of a dork" in Silo's end-of-year comedy romp, Perplex. Written by award-winning German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, it initially sounds like any number of other polite domestic comedies where the norms and values of the middle classes are picked apart.

Couple A, Natalie and Nic, arrive home from holiday to find their house out of sorts; couple B, Kura and Sam, had been housesitting and haven't paid the electricity bill. Couple B arrive home to find that Couple A have let themselves in and have moved their things around.

Cue an exploration of identity, reality and theatre itself, but Perplex quickly turns into an absurdist deconstruction of all that - "a nonsensical game of blurred lines and morphed characters" - where an elk, volcano, Viking, the philosopher Nietzsche and a Nazi make rapid appearances while one of the characters gets naked for a considerable amount of time.

Forrester is in exceptionally good comedic company.

The four-strong cast also comprises Natalie Medlock, who regularly dresses up as a yeti new to New Zealand and trying to make sense of it all; Sam Snedden, veteran of 10 Silo shows, who can deadpan with the best of them, and comedian/ writer/actor Nic Sampson recently dubbed "the busiest man in show business" by Weekend's sister publication, TimeOut.

Sampson does a great impression of radio DJs who have interviewed him after that story appeared - "so, Nic, you must be really busy", he says all booming and authoritative radio voice. It probably won't be in Perplex, but quite possibly should be - along with Snedden's line regarding Sampson turning 30 and his "boyish good looks" fading, especially under the harsh New Zealand sun: "You'll end up looking like a dried apricot..."

Medlock sits back, taking it all in and looks slightly shocked when I say I always think of her, and Forrester, as being rather serious.

"It's because you were in that play about abortion earlier this year," Snedden suggests.

It's not; it's more to do with Medlock's dedication to writing and creating opportunities for herself and others. Measuredly, she offers her thoughts on whether being funny is, in fact, a serious enterprise.

"I think most people who are funny have a depth of character," she says.

Snedden adds he thinks people who are naturally funny must be observant and have a deep understanding of people and the human condition. Like Forrester, he says the willingness to be brave enough to risk making a fool of yourself is a pre-requisite.

"If you show other people your pain, if you acknowledge your vulnerabilities and your own stupidity, then I think that bravery is what others are often amused by."

Perplex is grounded in the theatre of the absurd which plays with the idea that our lives have no intrinsic meaning and much of what we do is, well, absurd. Director Sophie Roberts, also Silo's artistic director, liked it because it managed to be simultaneously incredibly smart and ridiculously stupid.

She says it riffs on ideas about identity, how we use things around us to become the people we like to think we are and how that usually involves continuous re-invention of ourselves.

"I think it's a joyful play for actors to perform because they get to watch people having a really good time. I give scripts to the Silo team to read and then I sit back and watch and listen to the reactions. When I gave them this one, I could hear them from the room they were in laughing and I thought that was a good sign."

Snedden agrees it's an easy play to like.

"I find absurdism can actually be quite alienating because there's a tendency for the playwrights to be almost telling us what idiots we all are and how they're going to show us, but Perplex doesn't feel like you're being bashed over the head by the playwright's ideas. It disarms you with its silliness."

"It's about everything and nothing," says Roberts. "You can read it on different levels; sit there and try to puzzle out what it all means or sit back and enjoy the silliness of it all. It's a very clever comedy which uses the kind of humour you see a lot of in European theatre."

So, down here, will we find it funny? And are we funny?

"Yeah," says Sampson, without hesitation. "We're very funny and most people find the way we put things and sound amusing."

Is it because of our accents?

"No, I mean that might be part of it but we've got our own demeanour, our humour is inherently dry, maybe a little bit bleak...."

Cheerful melancholics, I suggest?

"Yeah, that's it."

What: Perplex
Where & when: Herald Theatre, November 10 - December 3

- NZ Herald

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