The opening scenes of First Time Last Time mirror another romance for the ages, where two lovers meet in unlikely circumstances and completely transform each other’s lives—the ubiquitous and hilarious Fifty Shades of Grey.
But while Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey negotiate a contract involving butt plugs and genital clamps, eccentric gothgirl Airlea (Madeleine Suddaby) and hopeless dreamer Ben (Mat Busby) define different, though no less strict, terms for their relationship: “You say no commitment. I believe you. You say the first time is the last time. OK.”
Speaking directly to the audience, Airlea and Ben narrate and then act out significant episodes from their relationship. They fumble from a bar into bed, trampling all over each other’s attempts to be suave. They mock each other’s hobbies, from amateur astronomy to live-action role-playing.
And they continually stress the key term of their contract: they can never repeat themselves, they can never succumb to habit or routine and so they’ll never become a stale, broken couple full of resentment.
“I’m invested in your kitchen!” cries Suddaby in a moment of panic. “How many steps from that to babies?”
First Time Last Time takes this amusing anxiety and runs with it, relying on Suddaby and Busby’s comedic chemistry to invigorate familiar scenes which could be plucked from any young relationship.
Our double act establishes a straight man/funny man dynamic, reminiscent of Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman. Airlea’s definitely the more wild and colourful of the two characters, but both of them get some great lines and big laughs.
The second act slowly sheds its comedic cocoon, until the final scenes become full-blown romantic drama. If not the script, then certainly the actors know that they’re balancing on the razor’s edge between maudlin melodrama and heartfelt humanity. They deliver their more sentimental scenes with winking self-awareness, which lets them (for the most part) get away with the hokier plot developments.
The show’s ending is more mushy and conventional than its quirky, laugh-a-minute beginning would suggest. But if nothing else, with all its cheeky humour, the journey there was worth it.
Until Sun, Mar 29 (7:30 pm; 2 pm Sunday matinees)
Directed by John Hudson
Varscona Theatre, $11 – $27