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Mr. Marmalade

Sunday Star-Times Review, 12 March 2006



Story of imaginary friendship mixes sweet with sour

Mr. Marmalade
Directed by Michael Hurst, Silo Theatre, Auckland.
Reviewed by Gilbert Wong

Mr. Marmalade is Lucy's imaginary friend, though he's not particularly huggable.  Marmalade is malevolent, more a New Jersey wise guy, complete with sleek dark suit, palm pilot, substance abuse issues and a warm-hearted personal assistant, Bradley, who looks after his schedule.

To Lucy, played by Hannah Tolich, the imaginary pair is more real than her solo mother.  Her working mother has little choice but to leave Lucy in the most rudimentary childcare.  Starved of human contact, Lucy is left to draw a bright primary-coloured world made busy by Marmalade's visits and the eternal rituals of tea parties and playing house.  Their routines are interrupted when Lucy meets Larry, the youngest child to attempt suicide in New Jersey, played by Paolo Rotondo.  If this sounds grim, it isn't--the actors have fun with an adults-only version of Playschool, though the laughs can be uneasy ones.

The cast is great.  Tolich achieves a knowing innocence and stamps a good tantie, and Andrew Laing's Marmalade is genuinely creepy.  In support, Lauren Jackson, Paul Barrett, Charlie McDermott at one point form a hilarious romantic musical trio.  This is a busy, action-packed play that includes infanticide.  An uncertain tone could have seen the production fall flat.  It doesn't despite playwright Noah Haidle really only running rifts off the same joke:  the imaginary friends are grown up and have issues like coping with work stress and the loss of sexual intimacy.  The result is engaging and discomforting.  As Lucy trades precocious quips with Marmalade, it's like watching a pederast with compliant prey.

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