Review: Unqualified at Ensemble Theatre

Gina Fairley

A writing debut by seasoned actors changes the direction of comedy with a play that starts by dodging a pen-stabbing in the Centerlink queue
Review: Unqualified at Ensemble Theatre

Photo Phil Erbacher

Careers - life without them, or a lack-lustre version of them – can be both demoralising and depressing. Hardly the topic for a light-hearted, fast paced comedy. But playwrights Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore pull it off with erudite gusto in their new work Unqualified, which premiered at the Ensemble Theatre last night.

While these two may be veterans of the stage and screen, Unqualified is their writing debut. It started as a unproduced six part TV series that, with the encouragement of Ensemble’s Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry, turned from a cast of 50 into an 80-minute play with a cast of two.

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Director Janine Watson makes up the trio in this all women team – a rare find on Australian stages. And, with glut of female comedians more broadly, it’s a tough gig to get a new production up. But Hegney and Moore have with Unqualified.

They prove not only to be a writing duo in perfect tempo, but perform this two-person play with an incredible range of emotions and theatrical command.  The pace is perfectly pitched; the segway between scenes is nicely managed and there is great emotional range and moments for people to connect.

Catherine Moore in UNQUALIFIED at Ensemble Theatre, photo by Phil Erbacher

The play is a contemporary comedy about two unqualified people - Felicity (Catherine Moore) who has falling into the expectation of the family business as a butcher, and Joanne (Genevieve Hegney), who has left her TV star husband and a cloud of bankruptcy – both with the hope to start afresh.

When Centrelink didn’t provide, it was a “parental white lie” that became a reality as the duo strike up a business partnership in a quick response employment agency. But with no employees on the books, they are left to fill all the roles themselves – everything from pamphlet delivery dressed as billiard balls, to dodgy teachers teaching ethics, to multi-tasking caterers.

It is a rolling delivery that keeps the audience rolling in laughter.

Hegney’s portrayal of a South African-accented kindergarten owner is spot-on, while Moore’s flow between personas and deliveries adds great texture and dimension to this play – her roller skating karaoke singing finale is a high note.

Genevieve Hegney in UNQUALIFIED at Ensemble Theatre, photo by Phil Erbacher

But it is not all punch-and-giggle comedy. Unqualified strips us all down to the lowest common denominator - unemployment, separation, isolation, failure, disrespect, insecurity – we are not beyond such things. And in their wake it is a story of empathy, friendship and resilience. 

At a point in the play Felicity forces the more stoic and self-affacing Joanne to deliver a list of attributes that she admired in her. Not an easy one to hide from. While this may be your typical “journey play” genre, it had a freshness to it and an authenticity that lent to its success.

That authenticity on stage may very well come from their writing of the play – it’s them – but also more literally too. Eight years ago Hegney and Moore lived the experience of that shonky backyard wedding where, tasked as creche mums, a kid threw up in Moore’s hands. Inspirational.

Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry has said that Ensemble Theatre has committed to developing new work, particularly new comedies. If Unqualified is an indication of that future, then bring it on.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Unqualified

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli

DATES until 21 July 2018

Written and performed by Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore

Director: Janine Watson

Assistant Diretor: Liz Arday

Set and Costume Design: Simon Greer

Lighting Design: Alexander Berlage

Sound Design: Thomas E Moore

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.

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