Theater Review

British Invasion performances showcase strong performances, wild theatrical imagination

Updated: 2013-12-19T02:36:05Z

By ROBERT TRUSSELL

The Kansas City Star

The James Bond mystique has been parodied so often and in so many different ways — even by the movie franchise during particularly dreary spates — that you’d think there’s nothing left to spoof.

You’d be wrong.

Actor/writer Gavin Robertson proves that creative performers can still come up with fresh takes on the most familiar material in his one-man show called, simply, “Bond!” It’s a consistently funny romp through Bondlandia. This show, which is part of the annnual British Invasion produced by Central Standard Theatre, stands in sharp contrast to “Robertson’s Crusoe,” that show he brought to the 2012 invasion. That piece, although sharply comic at times, was a philosophical reflection on our place in the universe. This show is strictly for laughs.

And laughs are what Robertson delivers as he dives into the 007 imagery. Robertson, performing in a black suit over a black shirt, is such a skilled physical performer that he can paint images in the viewer’s mind and has no problem playing two characters in one scene. His only props are three rectangular metal frames that he employs inventively in various ways, and two miniature cars.

He opens the show with his own version of elaborate movie credits we’ve come to expect from the Bond films and then launches into a delightfully convoluted story about the title character being brought out of retirement to prevent a madman from detonating a small nuclear device in Los Angeles on the night of the Academy Awards. There’s a scene at a casino gaming table, a car chase and some business involving a time machine in which novelist Ian Fleming travels back in time in an effort to erase his famous creation from existence.

The most clever aspect of Robertson’s show is that he never identifies himself as James Bond — his version of the character’s signature line is, “The name is Bond … just Bond.” We recognize M and Q and Moneypenny, but they are never identified by name. Robertson himself described the show as “fluff” in a post-performance conversation, but his artistry is so impressive that he keeps you constantly engaged. His performance also stimulates the viewers’ imaginations, which is always welcome during a night at the theater.

Also on the bill Thursday night was “Her Big Chance,” a short play by Alan Bennett featuring actress Natalie Castka. It was a night of firsts for Castka: her first performance of the show, her first performance at the invasion and her first performance in the U.S. You’d think that might give a performer the jitters, but Castka was relaxed, precise and charming onstage.

Bennett, best known as the writer of “The Madness of King George” and “The History Boys,” wrote this piece for television, but it has enjoyed a long life as a popular solo play. In it we meet Lesley, a young actress who after an audition is cast as Travis — a woman with few lines whose job, apparently, is to disrobe on a yacht for a film intended for the West German market.

The play is funny on two levels — primarily as a peek inside the mind of a pleasant but deluded actress who invests her non-character with a detailed backstory, but also as a depiction of one corner of the low-budget movie business. It’s a crisp bit of writing, performed with style by Castka.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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