Bums On Seats
Earl Arts Centre
April 21st, 2022
“Farce is a chaotic beast to work with,” says director, Leigh Oswin, and nothing can be more true about Michael Snelgrove’s play, Bums on Seats.
Bums on Seats is a British farce following a cast of ridiculous characters as they attempt (haphazardly) to put on a fictional play titled “Fecund” at the fictional Central Theatre. This show is bursting at the seams with comedic stereotypes of the people you might find in any theatre: a tortured actor, a hungover stage manager, a diva actress and a “hands-on” playwright—just to name a few. We watch the performance unfold and slowly descend into madness, with some of the characters learning important lessons whilst others grow into even more comically ridiculous versions of themselves.
Leigh Oswin excels in his ability to build layers on stage, both in the physical and emotional sense. He uses the space to his advantage, contrasting slapstick comedy in one corner with nonsensical shock in the other. The characters work seamlessly together, each piece of the puzzle purposefully placed. Ultimately, his skill is impressive. At multiple points during this play, I wished I could rewind the scene just to watch it again whilst focusing on another character, because there is so much to be seen in this show. Oswin remembers every detail, his cast each having their own funny little moments you might miss if you weren’t looking in the right place, keeping his audience eager to spot more.
Putting the mayhem of Bums on Seats aside, Oswin also succeeds at adding depth to this show. Depth that’s human, real and devastatingly relatable for anybody familiar with the theatre. If you’ve worked in a theatre in any capacity, you’ve met these characters (although, hopefully, slightly less chaotic versions of them) and you have deeply ingrained thoughts and feelings about your experiences with them. Bums on Seats brings all those thoughts and feelings to light, showcasing what we love, and even what we don’t love, about theatre in an amusing and retrospective way.
As much as I would love to talk about every character in this play (because I truly think there’s great things to be said about everyone), I’d like to highlight my stand outs for the performance I saw. Overall, though, I think the cast should be incredibly proud of themselves. This show made me cackle with laughter and smile in a way that made my cheeks hurt. I always forget how deeply I love that kind of unrestrained joy in the theatre and I thank them for giving myself and others that experience.
Petronella (Tia Landeg) and Jacintha (Tash McCulloch) open the show full of energy, practically bouncing off the walls with excitement about theatre. Contrasted by ready-to-go-home Wendy (Olivia Brodzinski), the three are the comedic backbone of this play. These ushers pace the show, the beats of their witty conversations keeping the audience engrossed. Brodzinski deserves extra mention here. Her great comedic timing and unrelenting sarcasm kept the show grounded in reality in moments where the plot wanted to fly off into space.
Benedict Thrush is a deeply passionate actor who’s tortured by his need to create good art. Ryan Politis throws himself into this role, being intense, complicated and unrelenting in his pursuit for fulfillment. However, I most enjoyed Politis’s performance in the softer moments, during his scene with Werner Meister (Dennis Mann), where the two had a brief but heartfelt conversation about the meaning of theatre. Here, a whole new dimension to Benedict Thrush opened up, along with a whole new dimension of Politis’s skill as an actor.
On stage spouses Zara (Mallory Schipper) and Hugo (Matt Taylor) lead the first act to its conclusion with a series of scenes involving narky jokes only a couple could throw at one another. The pair bounce of each other like ping-pong balls, Zara being believable in her lack of care of Hugo whilst Hugo refusing to give in easily. Hugo’s brilliant monologue at the conclusion of the act lifted the show to the next level of comedy, turning occasional mumbles of laughter into outright uproariousness.
And finally, Matt Harris in the role of Aaron Zoffany III. I think the less I say about Harris’s role in the show, the better. It’s hysterical and I think everyone should go into it blind. However, I will say, Harris’s ability to command a stage and an audience is to be in awe of. He has taken one of the smallest character moments and made it something so much bigger than to be expected with the skill of impeccable comedic timing and first-rate accent use. Bravo.
From a technical perspective, I loved how Bums on Seats used the landscape of the theatre to its advantage. With the set offset to the side and one of the wings exposed in Act 1, the behind-the-scenes of theatre making was brought to the forefront. The staging of the conclusion of Act 1 was fantastic, giving the audience an opportunity to see the theatre machine in full view. I particularly loved being able to see stage manager Mo (Amanda Phillips) guzzling coffee and smoking in the prompt corner. As a SM, I had a very personal laugh about this.
The only technical element of this show—and probably the only element at all—that didn’t 100% land for me was the use of projection. Although I can see Oswin and the creative team’s intentions, I found it a little confusing at times and felt like it didn’t add much to the play. I would, however, like to see the Players experiment more with this style of multi-model performance as I think there’s plenty of merit in it!
As a whole, Bums on Seats is a ridiculous rollercoaster ride of a play built on a strong foundation of comedy and expanded on from there with layers of human imperfection. Leigh Oswin trains the beast that is farce and makes it his friend, delivering an awesome performance all of Launceston should go and see.
Review by Ruby Stevenson