The Australian soap opera is one of the most deeply rooted features of everyday Australian life. From Home and Away to Neighbours to Prank Patrol, the soapie has captured the struggles of the everyday viewer, served with a good old fashioned Australian Toohey’s and a packet of Tim Tams. Director Davis Murphy has taken this iconic genre and put the improvisational spin on it, creating a chaotic mess of pure Australian fun that will make you pine for six seasons and a movie.
On entering the theatre, a local resident welcomed the audience to the town of Rijjidij before asking the audience for typical Australian tropes, locations and problems. These became the base plot ideas for the next hour, but did not dominate the plot too heavily. The cast was able to use these tropes however they wanted and created charming plot points that found themselves perfectly positioned between cliché and original, including the all-healing powers of Lleyton Hewitt’s dick and technologically advanced bees with guns—truly some fantastic soapie goodness.
Despite a few of them never being involved in long-form improv, the entire cast developed consistent, rounded and absurdly funny characters that played off each other so well that it is hard to give particular kudos to anyone. Having said that, Declan Maher’s roles as Lleyton Hewitt with a gun on the first night and Andrew O’Keefe with a sword on the second were centrepieces of the show. The cast worked incredibly well with the minimal content they were given, and while both nights were entertaining, the first night was undoubtedly the funnier of the two, sporting a more cohesive plot that took you on an outback rollercoaster of emotion.
One of the most beautifully crafted things about this play was the format. Mates was not a theatrical soapie; it was a televised soapie in a theatre. The show started with a “Previously on Mates” segment, had two improvised ad breaks for audience-submitted products, and finished on a “Next time on Mates”—all of which were smoothly sequenced together. The format even had its own background music for each situation, provided by the talented Annabel Cameron on the double bass.
In the end, these were two hours of my life that I wish had not ended. My only criticisms would be that the sound effects were occasionally distracting, the dialogue was at times muffled and scenes sometimes lacked cohesion. However, like a soapie, Mates delivered two fun, dramatic nights that left me happy, sad and pondering all of life’s questions like “Do I retain the World Ping Pong Championship or have 30 seconds of Lleyton Hewitt’s cock?”