Printable CopyMATT & BEN
Oily Rag Theatre
Star Theatres
Until 26 Oct 2018

Review by Anthony Vawser

In the world of Adelaide theatre, it is always encouraging to see smaller companies taking chances with lesser-known material. “Matt & Ben”, staged as part of the Back 2 Back Short Show Festival, is a cute little one-act two-hander that gets a reasonable amount of mileage from its quirky premise, helped by an enthusiastic cast and breezy direction.

The gents of the title are not only of the families Damon & Affleck, but are played by ladies, the talented pair being (respectively) Louise Byrne & Jennifer Barry. This casting reflects the format of this show’s original production, performed by its authors Brenda Withers & Mindy Kaling.

Whether or not the gender disjunction on display really does result (as per the hopes of director Kristin Telfer) in a consideration of “the social construct of masculinity” is debatable, but the selection of Byrne & Barry has resulted in enough chemistry and electricity between the principles on stage – and from the performers out to their audience – for “Matt & Ben” to be worth the evening out.

Withers & Kaling have devised a piece of nostalgic fantasy/comedy that will take its audience back to the point in time when its two heroes really were essentially unknown and struggling – then imagines one possible explanation for their seemingly out-of-nowhere blockbuster-level success with “Good Will Hunting”. The fact that this is technically a two-hander does not mean that Byrne & Barry are restricted to a mere pair of characters – while there are enough possible levels of interpretation (and dimensions of reality) to ponder here that the show sustains itself quite cleverly.

Perhaps the biggest potential impediment to success for anyone attempting to stage this script in 2018 (it first premiered 15 years ago) is the relatively far-away nature of the events that it depicts, and the possible feeling of its central theme being more-than-usually ‘showbiz insider’ in nature – but “Matt & Ben” aims broadly (as per the programme notes) to be “an entertaining satire about ambition, the cost of success, and the complex dynamics of male friendship”. Certainly it manages to at least touch base – and entertain - with all of these elements, even if falling slightly short of an unequivocal bullseye.

This reviewer is glad for the giggles generated by “Matt & Ben”, in its modest-but-enthusiastic way, and awaits with interest the further exploits of Oily Rag.