Reviewed by Eleanor Strathern
Everyone loves a good spy spoof. It is a genre rich with cheese, tricks, and darn tootin’, thigh slapping, silly-as-a-sultana-scone quips. Assignment Bonbon leans into this with enviable 1930s-40s costume (where can I get those outfits please?) and set design, cheeky asides, and a wonderfully ridiculous premise. Ultimately, though, the charming show falls short of total spoofery and, in this, cracks begin to show.
Marmalade the cat has eaten the jellymeat bonbon and it turns out that there was something in said bonbon that is crucial to someone… But who? And why? I still don’t think I can tell you who actually needed the contents of the bonbon in Assignment Bonbon’s convoluted web of double, triple, and quadruple agents, but I was definitely on board with Marmalade and his owner, Jean, for the ride. Ngaire Warner as Jean is a delight to watch, portraying a wonderful mix of innocent and badass; the world of spies unravels before our brassiere boffin protagonist and she finds herself surprisingly capable. Meanwhile, Nikki Karki as both the doomed Julia and alluring French entertainer Eve has the audience cracking up at her character comedy and quips, playing to the crowd well.
Moments of physical comedy, including the intentionally frivolous use of a picture frame as a window and a classic walking in place gag, were standout moments that everyone adored. Director Susanne Smith has dropped several golden gags into the show with awareness of Warner and Karki’s strengths and knowledge of the genre, but the bits in between lull. At one point, Warner and Karki drop character completely and discuss between themselves exactly the idea behind breaking character; Marie needs to get changed, you see, and the Director thought it would be a good idea if they broke character for a wee bit just to bide the time. Yes! That is a great idea! However, this technique is only used once, and thus feels a bit odd and doesn’t drive the joke home quite to the door. In between scenes, too, are blackouts and the all-too-familiar sound of scraping chairs, taking me back to some of some more questionable am dram of years gone by. With all of the tricks that could be done with such a fun genre and a large team, dead space on the stage could and should have been avoided.
All of the good bits are there; cast, theme, genre, jokes, costume, and set are all good. But the EU has enforced a progressive ban on a dead stage and the British Government is calling for more gags in the wake of Monty Python’s disbandment. Plot holes need to be addressed and the audience must stay loyal to the
administration play. I must insist that these issues be handled in the only way fit and with the genuinely talented resources on hand. Assignment Bonbon has a new mission: More spoofery.
Assignment Bonbon is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.