Review: No Post on Sunday
Adam Goodall reviews the latest collaboration between Everybody Cool Lives Here and Active Youth Wellington, the irreverent and perceptive No Post on Sunday.
Two years ago, Wellington theatre company Everybody Cool Lives Here started a collaboration with Active Youth Wellington, a non-profit that advocates for and supports young people with disabilities. The first show to come out of that collaboration was Wake Up Tomorrow, a wild comedy about a long-haul flight powered by an idiosyncratic, anything-goes logic, a joyous, fuck-the-rules piece of storytelling. The second show to come out of this collaboration, No Post on Sunday, is smaller, less anarchic, more focussed. It’s also one of the most compassionate stories I’ve ever seen about how complicated being compassionate can be.
Smithville’s “just a little town, but it’s got everything you could ever need”: housing, schools, a dog biscuit factory, and all the high-strung oddballs required for a light-hearted caper – a caper, perhaps, like the one that David Stanley (Duncan Armstrong) and Harry (Jacob Dombroski) get caught in the middle of. David’s the owner of Smithville’s only post office and an inveterate prankster, so much so that he’s aggravated everyone else in town, including his on-again off-again girlfriend, local television news reporter Wendy Martin (Nicholas Smith). Harry, on the other hand, is the town’s star postie, well-liked by all. When mail starts disappearing from the post office, everyone turns on David, and it’s up to Harry to set things right.
No Post on Sunday is a fun romp even if it takes a while to settle into its story, spending around 20 of its 70 minutes setting up all of the above. Director Isobel MacKinnon and her devising team bring some of the curiosity that made Wake Up Tomorrow so unpredictable and exhilarating, building absurd and surprisingly dark games out of otherwise small moments in the collective life of the town.
This silly spark of curiosity burns brightest in the music. A percussion-heavy interlude early on shows us how the Smithville Post Office works, a massive number of ransom notes passing through the sorting room without comment; later, David’s getting ready for dinner when a pair of maître d's pop up out of nowhere to help, their assistance climaxing in an a capella rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.
These moments have an exciting momentum, driven by the myopic energy of someone thrilled by their own ridiculous discovery and chasing it to the most absurd conclusion possible. It’s a really fun energy to perform and a really fun energy to watch, but it flags when MacKinnon and the cast shift focus to the story’s necessary emotional beats. Harry and David’s heart-to-hearts are particularly rough for this: static and sparsely-lit, it feels like the show’s grinding to a halt to get us to where we need to be.
No Post on Sunday works because it’s blunt about what it’s trying to say and unapologetic about complicating that message.
It would be more exciting to dig into Smithville some more, too, and get a better sense of its community. Barnaby Olson and Andrew Gunn do charming support work as a small collection of the neurotic archetypes who live in Smithville, all contorted posture and old-school Kiwi accents – a no-nonsense mayor, an old man with unsightly sores, a local craftsman whose name, Eco-Bill, says all you need to know about his aesthetic. We’re just scratching the surface, though, particularly during the scene-setting first act, and the the performance possibilities of bringing an entire town to life are really only close to being seized during a handful of musical montages. The same is true of the retro production design; its patchwork-style wall of wooden rectangles, some filled with garish ‘70s fabric designs, and its modular cardboard boxes are familiar and utilitarian, a muted backdrop to a play that’s appealing forcefully to the present.
That’s not to say No Post on Sunday isn’t charming or funny or entertaining: it’s definitely all that. Armstrong and Dombroski are a formidable double-act, generous with the other performers and never too ashamed to go hammy if it’s going to make a scene funnier. Dombroski, in particular, is a charismatic, relaxed performer; as Harry, he’s suave with some people and blunt with others, but there’s a good heart underpinning everything he does. Meanwhile, Smith’s an attention-getter, tall and loud, and he and the rest of the devising team have built a character to match his energy. Wendy forces everyone else to treat her as the centre of their orbit, and Smith throws himself into that with gusto, reacting loudly and viscerally to everything Wendy thinks is “gross” or “outrageous”.
More than that, though, No Post on Sunday works because it’s blunt about what it’s trying to say and unapologetic about complicating that message. Under the surface of this small-town lark is a story about the importance of treating people with good faith and empathy, but it’s open about how difficult it is to do that when someone fucks up and hurts you or people you know.
MacKinnon and the cast keep these thorns on the surface (Smithville’s surprisingly chummy for a place with all these kidnappings), but all of this is best embodied in David Stanley, even though he’s as prone to running his mouth and lashing out at other people as anyone else in Smithville. What sets David apart is the way Armstrong plays him: with a bit more aggression than you’d expect for a prankster, enough to make his practical jokes look like a defence mechanism, a way to fight off loneliness by forcing people to pay attention to him, even if it’s negative attention. It’s also enough to make us understand why Smithville’s reluctant to rally in support of him when shit hits the fan, and why that support is important no matter where it comes from. That’s a drum No Post on Sunday beats a lot, particularly towards the end, but it’s a powerful beat that rings especially true because David, Harry and Wendy are such direct people with an uncompromising compassion for everyone else in their hometown, even if everyone else in that town is fickle and hard to please.
No Post on Sunday may not be Wake Up Tomorrow, but that’s because Wake Up Tomorrow was a celebration – of its actors, of their stories, of the many crazy possibilities of theatre. No Post on Sunday is a little bit more complicated than that, and even if it isn’t as moment-to-moment thrilling as its predecessor, it’s got a lot more to say with a much louder, more forceful voice.
Circa Theatre, Wellington
from Saturday 27th August to Saturday 10th September
For tickets to and more information about No Post on Sunday, go here.