Benny Davis' Baroque settings of banal 1980's love songs for Benedict Hardie's absurdist comedy, Delectable Shelter, are so clever that I felt I was getting two shows for the price of one.
It's the end of the world – well, of human life on Earth, anyway, and in the best speculative fiction tradition a small family, with an outsider to provide dramatic tension, is safely locked away in their subterranean shelter. It is expected that their descendants will eventually return to the surface to establish a new civilisation.
The shelter is a large box, reminiscent of a shipping-container, mounted centre-stage. Walls are painted in an eye-watering grey and white pattern of stylised leaves, and a large reproduction of Van Gogh's Wheatfield With Cypresses reminds inhabitants of the world they have lost. Furnishings consist of a number of ergonomic seats on castors and access is from a doorway in the rear wall. All the drama takes place in this stage-within-a-stage, at a double remove from reality.
As this is on the Festival of Voices programme it may be assumed the music is the primary performance, but even when extremely well done, popular music in the style of different genres is seldom substantial enough to sustain interest for an entire evening. In this show music and drama are indispensable to each other, scenes in the shelter alternating with performances on stage by a small choir clad in the elegant orange robes of stereotypical Advanced Beings from the future. The dramatic interludes provide a back-story for the unusual choral pieces: the only music to survive was a book of 80's hits and Bach's St Matthew Passion.
Delectable Shelter is a delightful romp, pure entertainment. Absurd situations, a ridiculous sex scene, shifting relationships between protagonists and the evolution over centuries of fears, mannerisms and arguments from the original group into important social mores keep the humour going, although in the earlier, "twenty first century" scenes I found the characters slightly stilted and jokes laboured and predictable. Still, there were moments of sheer silliness, the choral pieces were magnificently performed, the right people won, and all in all I had a jolly good night out.
You can see shots from an earlier performance and a video promo here.
written and directed by Benedict Hardie; presented by Critical Stages and The Hayloft Project
Cast: Andrew Broadbent (Reginald), Brendan Hawke (Grayson), Jolyce James (Tor), Simone Page-Jones (Malory), Yesse Spence (Biddy)
Theatre Royal, Hobart; 12 – 13 July, 2013