They’re sprawling across the streets, their voices raised in alcohol-fuelled exchanges as they stumble blindly home through the night. In this perfectly timed production at Downstage Theatre, our own alcohol-drinking youth is displayed in its entirety. Sloppy, sluggish words of love and hate, the clinking of glasses against a background of hubbub at bars and house parties across the city, Perfectly Wasted, whilst not perfect in delivery gives its audience a reminder of our drunken nights.
It’s as if the streets of any city have been placed within the space of Downstage, the drunken chorus rises and we laugh heartily with them, until like the people desperate to sleep in their houses we want to shout down to tell them to “shut the fuck up”. This isn’t youth theatre as you know it, this is the truth of 20-something life, on the stage. Just like Ontroerend Goed’s Teenage Riots or Junction 25’s pounding theatre, Long Cloud in a collaboration with Leo Gene Peters (otherwise known as A Slightly Isolated Dog), give their take on the drunken mess sprawled across our streets. It’s messy, it’s raucous, but it’s oh-so-true, which makes it all the more appealing.
Taking interviews from people on the streets around the theatre, Perfectly Wasted puts drunken nights on the stage with force. We observe night clubs with pounding bass and strobe lighting melt and merge into the hushed voices of a fledgling romance sparked by a beer too many. Peters’s direction sees the cast sprawled across the space, moving like shoal of fish from nightclub to house party. Their voices raised, we eaves drop on conversations through the use of microphones that move from group to group. Jason Longstaff’s lighting makes excellent use of handheld lights and lamps to illuminate the cast, whilst Oliver Morse’s set, constructed from discarded bottles and cardboard, forms a miniature Wellington inside the theatre. It’s remarkably simple and clever device, that brings the extremes of the subject matter into an intimate space for the audience.
The cast are fluid and make full use of the direction from Peters, and whilst there could be improvements to the piece (tightening of movement/vocals and more narrative) the intention to display the tangled mess of drunken nights on the stage is richly achieved. Like any night out that we witness as sober observers, the chaotic discussions and fights that erupt from alcohol continually surprise, frustrate and illuminate the way that society operates when we ‘let our hair down’.
Perfectly Wasted might be aimed at a disjointed, youthful crowd, but the messages are universal. There’s a thin but understandable narrative involving love and separation that spans the performance and, whilst you want more, it offers a glimpse into the fragile potential of alcohol-induced confidence. Boy wants girl, boy gets girl, boy fucks up with girl. It’s simple but heartbreaking all at once. This is greatly aided by the music, delivered by the talented ensemble, mixing karaoke with love songs and the pounding music of a dance floor; you can’t help but to get caught up in the motion of the show.
It’s not perfect, but heck, when was any evening on the town perfect for everyone? As director Peters notes in the programme “It’s more about energy than reality”, and boy was he right. I left the theatre buzzing. If this is the future of New Zealand acting talent then I’m all for it. Long Cloud won me over.
Perfectly Wasted is playing at Downstage Theatre in Wellingting, New Zealand until 16 February. For more information and tickets see the Downstage Theatre website.