by Adelaide Shotwell
The props are minimal and minimalistic: wooden chairs and benches aid the use and need for imagination as in turn they become a dining room table, tractor, town hall, and cemetery. In contrast to stark black draping enclosing the space is a collection of signs introducing the audience to common features of a small town, pointing out the bank, church, and sports field. I found that this brought up memories of my own experiences from living in a small town.
Intimate performances such as these often make me uneasy due to the use of interactive engagements, but Easy Living introduces two-way conversation with ease. When asking the audience for their first impressions when thinking about ‘small towns’, the responses include gangs, cemeteries, ‘big things’, skate-parks, tractors and bogans. These then prompt scenes depicting stereotypical small town New Zealand.
A stand-out feature of Easy Living: Life in a Small Town follows on from its improvisational style, and through mutual laughter the performers seemed to be as entertained by the scenarios as the audience was. Some situations - including quirky marriage proposals and fundraising sausage sizzles - had some members of PlayShop Performance Company giggling through their scenes, presumably at the sheer bizarre factor of the discussions. Rather than coming across as unprofessional, the onstage laughter added to the relaxed and low key feeling of the show.
Interactions between actors are generally kept between small groups, which showcased their voices quite well. While the performance as a whole was based on life in a small town, each scene focussed more specifically on the motifs provided by the audience. Characters are established quickly and before long a township, complete with rebellious teenagers, the divorced couple next door, the serial proposer and a town mayor is developed. The conclusion of Easy Living: Life in a Small Town brings the twelve performers together for the first time since the introduction, in which they reiterate the small town motifs through summaries of the plot. This is a clever reminder of the skill behind lengthy improv such as this, and once again includes the audience through the use of their ideas. The low-key vibe of Easy Living: Life in a Small Town is kept alive through having no real conflicts or resolutions - simply a comical display of mundane daily routine.
I applaud the PlayShop Performance Company for their use of creativity and initiative, particularly through their interpretation of audience engagement. With use of simple humour adding to this easy interpretability, Easy Living: Life in a Small Town is a great employment of comedic imagination.