For a journey of self-discovery, go to Italy they say. Whatever it is about this place – the history, the culture, the music, the food, the wine, the landscapes, the people – something changes you within! And then, to see Four Flat Whites In Italy, many chords are struck. Written by New Zealand playwright Roger Hall, this gem of a play has all the ingredients for good entertainment. It is one of the better ‘pick-me-up’, feel-good comedies seen in recent times.
Retired librarians Adrian and Alison have downsized to an apartment and spend their time playing Bridge and planning occasional holidays. Without a sizable nest egg, money must be spent wisely. Newcomers to the apartment building are retired plumber Harry and his new ‘trophy wife’ (and former secretary) Judy. Harry’s big bank account is only matched by his big passion for bedroom pursuits. Opposed in many things like politics, social issues and ethics, via a twist in circumstances, the two couples agree to travel through Rome, Venice and Tuscany. Initially, their differences are money-related as Adrian and Alison can’t keep up with Harry’s freestyle spending habits. Cost sharing restaurant bills is awkward and Alison’s demand for early starts each day is widening the wedge between her and Harry.
Roger Hall’s writing is like an easy-listening music station. His characters are relatable and the storyline develops predictably, so there are no burdens placed on the audience for deep thinking. The character of Adrian also acts as a Narrator. This is a great tool for explaining each character’s backstories and motives and provides context for scene changes.
Four Flat Whites In Italy is presented simply. Directed by Tui Clark, focus is deliberately on the characters and script delivery. There are many humorous lines and comic scenes, so complicated sets and props are unnecessary. What this production does exude is warmth, bright, earthy colours and interesting persona’s – just like Italy itself.
Of special note are the cast. David Stewart-Hunter plays Adrian and the narrator. He brings a certain gravitas to this role. His character is easy-going and he must navigate a careful path between being adventurous and supporting his insular wife. He carries a massive guilt-complex over the death of his daughter; an issue which only Alison can mitigate. In the role of Alison is Penny Church. The character is highly retentive and commands the Italian tour like an Army general. But Alison’s bossy demeanour is her way of keeping sane. Her daughter’s death bought an end to her career goal of Head Librarian. Penny has portrayed this damaged woman magnificently.
Harry the retired plumber is played by Christopher Pali. With his knock-about manner, Christopher is perfect in this role. Harry’s conservative political views and disinterest in all things history and culture are a persistent thorn in the sides of Adrian and Alison. He parades his expensive gadgets and shouts meals much to their dismay. At one stage Harry is outdone by another tourist with a better camera, declaring “His has twice as many pixels as mine.”
A character with a secret past guilt is Judy, performed by Karen Pattinson. She’s a survivor in the real world, understanding that one should flaunt the gifts her Catholic God gave her. Karen taps into the intricacies of this character so well. Her Judy becomes the catalyst in everyone’s personal renewal and growth. Imran Khaliqi and Kimberlea Smith deliver some terrific comedy moments in their multiple roles.
Four Flat Whites In Italy will resonate with anyone who has travelled abroad, especially with friends. It’s a travelogue with many places brought to life and many moments relived. Four Flat Whites In Italy is the on-stage road movie you need to see!