According to director Iris-Edwige Gaillard’s notes, Banana Republic, a live performance in which a roving video camera relays certain aspects to a screen, aims to make the audience think about the differences between experiencing the text as theatre and sitcom. The acting was of a good standard throughout, and Avi Wanono’s set design made good use of limited space, but if I was watching this on TV, fairly quickly the story would have made me change the channel.
There’s not much motivation to make comparisons between experiencing the text in different media if the script and characters don’t appeal. These are three house mates: dole-bludging Dill (Mat Furlani), burger-flipping uni dropout Julian (Scott Jackson) and his cousin, law student Jen (Andi Snelling), who are joined by Jen’s new boyfriend, student activist Geoff (Alex Duncan). Smitten with the crusading Geoff and not wanting to look averse to his values, Jen is manipulated by Julian into forming a commune in the share house, effectively making her subsidise the lifestyle of her housemates while they get to use her property.
The script suffers from substantial repetition that made the piece feel an overly long and ultimately tiresome 75 minutes. We didn’t need to keep hearing Dill being told to get off the internet and do some housework to work out that he was a layabout. Fewer scenes could have adequately demonstrated that Jen was a reluctant and ineffective participant when accompanying Geoff on a protest or action. Critically, it wasn’t at all clear why Jen, actively seeking to climb the corporate ladder, should have a strong enough attraction to Geoff to make her want to tolerate the inconvenience of living a double life and having to share Geoff with his myriad causes.
There was some minor interest in seeing elements that are not usually part of a theatre performance. The piece employs a laugh track, used at times when the action wasn’t funny, although I’m not sure if this was playing with a sitcom convention or due to error given the repetition of some lines. It was a surprise to see Julian being sprayed to simulate sweat from a day at the grill rather than walking to his mark in the next scene already in that state, but I wouldn’t say that this added much. I only glanced at the TV screen occasionally, such as when the camera operator moved in for a close up, but as the theatre isn’t so large I could see just as well without the screen. Overall I’m not convinced that these elements amount to more than gimmicky intrusions or interruptions of the theatre experience.
The flaws in this pilot suggest that Banana Republic would need some more pruning and ripening before it was ready to become a series.