With little cover for sluggish scripts and less for patchy performances, a two person play can go off the rails very quickly. Director Louise Alston’s Sidekicks, starring Dan Ilic and Emily Rose Brennan, has no costumes (with the exception of a tie and a wig) and sets — at least decorated ones — that exist only in the mind. If there were big problems in the dialogue of Stephen Vagg’s verbose circumlocutory script, you’d notice them. If there were big problems with the actors, it’d be game over, move along, nothing to see here.

Mercifully, the talent behind this edgy romantic dramedy have nailed it by embracing and conquering the low-fi properties countless others have chanced and failed. Terrifically flustered hot-blooded performances from Ilic and Brennan gobble up a heavy downpour of dialogue like high-powered beasts from a Woody Allen joint, providing Sidekicks a big heart and a smouldering sense of first world righteousness, somewhere between the pedantic minutia of Seinfeld and something more bittersweet – like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Blue Valentine.

Ilic plays Mac and Brennan plays Emily, two “sidekicks” to popular attractive friends (also played by them, in gender swapping roles) who meet and marry. Mac and Emily’s emotional trajectory is less smooth: they meet, bicker, taunt and jostle, bulldozing from jokey camaraderie to exasperated whining and the odd (in more ways than one) moment of romance.

The fast pace of the show provides cover for a scrambled storyline that lunges restlessly between thought bubbles, whisking the audience into playfully self-aware meta segments and familiar relationship situations rendered warmly but cagily, Vagg’s writing acutely conscious of the lines that separate playful banter from vacuous frivolity and wholehearted drama from syrupy emotional coddling. There is an inspired sex scene that uses just the right amount of mime to come together (so to speak), beautifully authentic moments such as an awkward pillow talk exchange and plenty of quality jokes delivered by two infectiously energetic performers.

Sidekicks shifts gears with lightning speed, from obscenity to neurosis to pathos without battling a cross-dressed eyelash. Playing in the cozy confines of a small theatre underneath Trades Hall, perfect for the the show’s up close buddy-buddy vibes, the expanding sweat patches beneath Ilic and Brennan’s arms are a visual reminder that executing a production this good isn’t nearly as easy as it seems.

Sidekicks is playing at Trades Hall – The Bookshop, Tuesday to Saturday at 10pm and Sunday at 9pm from March 28 to April 6. 

Luke Buckmaster writes about films on Crikey’s movie blog, Cinetology. Follow him on Twitter: @lukebuckmaster

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