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March 5, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Webley and Huxley Live the Life


Published on 14/10/10 at www.artshub.com.au

You can be forgiven the strong feelings of déjà vu you might experience when watching Webley and Huxley Live the Life. For in this story of an adult juvenile recluse, his revolution-fixated dog and his oddly philosophical next-door neighbours, you might see a touch of influences such as Fox TV series Family Guy, BBC comedy hit Little Britain, famed gross-out movie There’s Something About Mary, a self-conscious twinge of the The Great Gatsby and a generous helping of Wallace and Gromit.

The latter is what the audience first sees when casting eyes upon Webley (Michael McStay) and Huxley (Ayesha Tansey). Webley is a reclusive writer obsessed with the hero of The Great Gatsby and his mysterious persona. Unfortunately, the dreamer does not mirror the hero; Webley’s thin frame, general hopelessness in social situations and reliance on his far more quick-witted dog make the connections with Wallace and Gromit very tangible. While Wallace may be something of an outdoor adventurer, Webley holes himself up inside his room, torturing his dedicated canine with innocuous daydreams and spying on the mother-and-daughter gardening team making a mess of his request that they build a barbecue in his back yard. Resembling something like eastern European, feminised versions of Jamie Durie, Bingle (Linda Cookson) and Bungle (Karla Hillam) sit in Webley’s back yard and meditate on the beauty of a shovel, and the secret lives of bricks, with the kind of passion usually reserved for human rights speeches. The humour here is helped greatly by the fact they have been given some excellent lines. This probably deserves due credit to write Bruce Shearer for his quick-witted script, and to director Debra Low for her astute directing.

While Webley stares intently out of the window at his pushy employees and fretting about their progress, Huxley shines as the comedic gem of this play, enhanced greatly by the fact that Ayesha Tansey plays the character with such dedication. For every moment that Huxley spends planning the demise of humans, he is also caught begging for treats, snapping at unwelcome visitors and negotiating with red-back spiders for peaceful cooperation during the overthrow of human activity. At this point, some of you may be aware of the similarities between Huxley and ‘Stewie’ from Family Guy; for those who don’t, think demented, infantile genius with a lack of self-awareness. Tansey is exceptional in this role because she doesn’t stray from character for a moment. This is particularly important at times when most people would be shy away from begging for a treat, eating from the hand or sniffing eagerly at someone’s rear.

Yet Tansey’s strengths do not outshine the comedic talent of the rest of the cast. While Webley is anxiously awaiting the outcome of his so-called barbecue, his new ‘girlfriend’ is obsessing about when he might call. Introduced completely by accident to her agoraphobic lothario, Sterilda puts the Kath in Kath and Kim; she is gloriously, unashamedly repugnant and a delight to watch. And while her screaming fits would put most two-year-olds to shame, it is this extremism which allows the character of her mother, Udder (Nadia Andary) to shine with an understated brilliance. She is the infantile mother most teenage brats probably dream about; endlessly patient, loving and sweet-tempered, she deals with her daughter’s foulest breaches of decency and modesty with the kind of serene smile you should only get from the clinically insane. In fact, the clash of such fundamentally different temperaments in this mother-daughter duo makes for excellent viewing; it allows each character to become ever more mired in their outrageous differences of character.

There isn’t really an underlying message here; the artistry lies in the strong script and dedication of its actors to each outrageous character. With such fertile ground for comedy, the audience is treated to an unashamedly camp final scene, as the separate efforts of each character to wreak havoc in the lives of others comes crashing together. It is a fitting end to seventy minutes of giggle-worthy tomfoolery.

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