Bad Day Insurance – Lisa Chappell and our hopes for a better future. (Theatre Review)

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Bad Day Insurance

The Old 505 Theatre

August 6 – 24. You can grab your tickets here.

What is the ultimate Bad Day Insurance? That is, what can you control, that can be relied upon to repair the damage caused by a bad day? Is that what insurance is? A stop-gap between you and trouble? A small amount of control in an emotional minefield? Marketers who sell insurance are always told they are selling from emotionalism rather than rationality. You take out insurance so that you are “covered” in case of something bad happening, as if we could ever say, well I lost that leg, but at least I have insurance.  Insurance is a thing for the person who has not experienced what they are trying to control. Insurance companies aren’t much interested in the person who needs their insurance, they prefer the customer who exhibits a record of behaviors that imply they will never need their insurance. What all insurance companies hope to avoid more than anything else, is the payout. So somehow, they must convince the very healthy that they need health insurance, and not the very sick, the young must have life insurance and not the old and so on. Insurance is there to deal with irrational fears, not rational ones.

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In Bad Day Insurance, Lisa Chappell is back with another clever comedy that challenges the mind with large themes perfectly tailored down into a small, intimate hour-long performance that may have you laughing for the duration of the show, but leaves you thinking hard in the days after. In Bad day Insurance she addresses issues of time and quality of life, setting her play in the future, only to make her protagonists (herself and the delightfully deadpan Sarah Hytner ) old women, just to counter that myth that everyone in the future will be wearing skin-tight space suits and look like a cross between Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman. One of the strengths of the show is the way Chappell has played with the tropes of sci-fi, highlighting the fact that even before we get to the future, it contains clichés. Chappell and Hytner shuffle their way around the stage on blue blankets that look like small cloud formations holding them, while the telephone they answer (they work as receptionists for Bad day Insurance) is very much old school. They drink cups of tea while knitting and doing the easiest crosswords in the world, as they wait for clients to phone in their experiences, along with their policy numbers. Your boyfriend cheated on you? Don’t worry, your covered under asshole insurance. You lost your job, your wife, your dog and had a terrible car accident on the way home? Don’t worry, you took out the extended clusterfuck insurance when you paid for your policy, so all those things are covered. Our intrepid receptionists try to resist offering advice to their sad and sorry customers, but sometimes they just can’t help themselves.

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Underneath the clever and very funny premise of Bad Day Insurance is the question of insurance itself and the lengths we will all go to in order to control happiness and quality of life for our loved ones. Chappell and Hytner might ask for forgiveness from Tim Tams and pray to a giant boob, but the reason they work for Bad Day Insurance, as we find out, is due to the worst day of their life, a day that all the manipulations, advice and good intentions in the world can’t fix. As anyone who regularly sees tarot readers knows, the great shock in finding out about your future is not that you have been taken advantage of by a charlatan, but that knowing the future actually has no impact on your present at all. Insurance was invented because of the inevitability of certain truths we secretly deny: We will die if we smoke that cigarette, but knowing that, doesn’t change our reach for the next drag.  It is very rare in life that you can’t know the consequences of your actions, but it is even rarer that we will act according to our best and brightest possible future. These and other giant themes about time, control, quality of life and the relationship between past, present and future form the crazy, abstract plot of Lisa Chappell’s latest play and leave the laughing audience wide-eyed in wonder.

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But with all that cleverness, philosophy and time-mind-bending meditation comes the witty, absurd Chappell script that lucky Sydney-siders are starting to expect from the talented actress. Bad Day Insurance sees Chappell getting cheekier, with a real bite to her gender bending play that casts an erotic eye over proceedings, despite the age of the protagonists. Chappell herself is deliciously sexy – something she really can’t hide – and she incorporates this “sultry sleaze” into the play as if it is the most natural thing in the world that it be there. It is incredibly funny, particularly with lines like, “…I’m a woman, how else would I know about blow jobs?” popping “in and out, and in and out” of the old women’s mouths as they do their best to give advice on how to have a good day. She finds a perfect mirror for her talents in Sarah Hytner and the pair are straggled about the stage by the intimate and engaged direction of Drew Fairley. The three use the space to great comic effect, particularly at one point when Hytner gets stuck in a nook in the wall at the Old 505. With subtle but effective lighting design by Fairley and Dean Joffe’s elegant operations, the small world of the 505 Theatre is transformed into an old-timey living room that somehow seems to be many many light years away.

Bad Day Insurance will leave you scratching your head, even as you laugh it off. It’s another winning show from Lisa Chappell. You can grab your tickets here.

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