Everyone knows most theatre is terrible, yet the average theatre-goer probably doesn’t appreciate just how difficult it is to make it work.

Part of what makes the exercise so frustrating for practitioners is that if just one element breaks, or under-performs, or is just plain wrong, an entire production can blow up like the Hindenburg. You mean hydrogen is flammable? We better hold more previews.

A current production of the 1980s comedy Beyond Therapy is an aching example of this, because there’s one thing wrong with it that makes the whole jamboree deeply funless. But it’s a biggy.

The actors are too loud. Huddled in the basement of the Cat & Fiddle Hotel, the audience is blasted senseless by an ensemble who think they’re performing in the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Given the playtext it’s understandable why director Adrian Barnes encouraged such relentlessly over-the-top performances. Bruce (Berynn Schwerdt) has a boyfriend but wants to be open to experiences, so tries to meet women through personal ads. He meets Prudence (Julie McKay) at a restaurant, an unmarried woman being stalked by her shrink Stuart (Brooke Hender), a man she once bedded.

Bru and Pru fall in love, sort of, and Bruce’s boyfriend Bob (Damien Warren-Smith) is unimpressed. Can Bruce’s psychiatrist Charlotte (Annie Cossins) save the day?

It’s takes two hours for the answer to get squeezed out like an embedded blackhead. Warren-Smith’s 80s fag performance is all pout and no punch and McKay’s neurotic Prudence is appropriately pitiful, but that doesn’t make her any easier to watch (think Ally McBeal, but without the confidence).

There are numerous laughs to be had, despite all of this. It will also appeal to those who enjoyed the 1987 film adaptation, or to bisexual theatre enthusiasts tired of the rigid sexual politics of gay theatre. Everybody else is warned to sit in the back row.

Beyond Therapy is playing at the Cat & Fiddle Hotel, 456 Darling Street, Balmain, until 19 December. Phone 9554 7006.

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