THEATRE: Survival of the wittiest

GIMME SHELTER: Black comedy Delectable Shelter offers an insightful, humorous and surprisingly musical take on the apocalypse genre.THE end of the world seems an unlikely subject for a comedy.
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But Delectable Shelter, which looks at such a dark future, was a hit with audiences when it premiered at the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The comedy begins with five people – four members of a middle-class family and an engineer – entering an underground shelter to escape a world that’s rapidly becoming uninhabitable due to climate change.

The shelter is sealed once they are inside.

The engineer reveals that they have been chosen to propagate the descendants who will repopulate the world when it returns to an inhabitable state in 350 years.

Delectable Shelter shows their behaviour and that of the generations that follow them, leaving those watching wondering whether anything has really changed.

Writer-director Benedict Hardie said he wanted to write a comedy in which unspoken secrets, prejudices and doubts that exist in the world come very much to life.

“It’s not a conventional show,” he said. “It’s surprising in many respects and it runs through a lot of genres.”

Delectable Shelter opens, for example, with its five performers as a choral group in flowing vestments singing Roxette’s 1980s ballad It Must Have Been Love, adapted by composer Benny Davis (from Axis of Awesome) and musical director Nathan Gilkes as a five-part Bach-like a cappella madrigal.

The performers return as choristers at the end of each three acts in the 90-minute work and perform other ’80s love songs in a similar classical style, offering amusing and pertinent comment on what the audience has just seen.

Delectable Shelter is on a two-month, four-state tour that includes performances at Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on July 19 and 20.

Benedict Hardie said the show was very demanding on its five performers.

They have to move between genres as well as deliver statements as affluent First World citizens that are beyond the bounds of political correctness.

And in the third act, set just before the 350-year period in the underground shelter comes to its end, each cast member plays several roles, as the lookalike progeny of the descendants of the original five residents – whose mannerisms and words may be different but nonetheless have the audience thinking about their forebears.

Two of the cast members of the acclaimed 2011 production, Yesse Spence and Simone Page Jones, are in the touring show, with Brendan Hawke, Jolyon James and Andrew Broadbent, all graduates of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

The shelter is far-removed from a concrete bunker. Its floral-wallpapered walls and a Van Gogh painting justify the delectable in the title. And the elegant clothes worn by the four family members make it clear they’re not leaving their past behind.

But Thor, the engineer assigned to guide them towards the future, lets drop from time to time something that opens their eyes. They may not, for example, be the only survivors of the catastrophe that hit the Earth.

Benedict Hardie has updated the script for the current tour and changed one of the songs to make the tale more relevant and funnier.

Delectable Shelter was produced by Melbourne company The Hayloft Project, with the current tour organised in association with Critical Stages.

Billed for the 2011 Melbourne Comedy Festival as “a black comedy about white terror”, the play was hailed by critics and audience members as certainly being that.

It was acclaimed as being funny, biting and social commentary at its most effective.

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