There are a few impediments to the MTC's new romantic comedy, but this marriage of true minds sparkles nonetheless
Daisy, a young pop-anthropologist, has a theory that men will never commit to a relationship if their mother doesn't first approve the match. It's a theory that, in book form, has made her a lot of money. The problem for Daisy is that the mother of her husband-to-be is one of the country's best known right-wing commentators. This is a problem because her own father is an infamous talking-head for the left. To complicate the match, there's an ex-alcoholic ex-boyfriend hanging about, trying to put himself back in the picture. Anyway. They're all thrown together in Daisy's apartment as Daisy's thesis is put to its mettle. Cue the storm, outside and in.
Despite the prodigious control of moment-to-moment superficialities, of tone and pace, True Minds, for all that it is a light comedy of limited ambition, at times brilliant, is fundamentally unconvincing. The problem, you suspect, is that despite her skill and lightness of touch, Murray-Smith is rather awkward when it comes to romance and warm sentiment.
Shakespeare is pointed to everywhere, from the neat pairing off of couples in the final scene, to the play's title, from the Bard's "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment". Underneath such and other overt signs, however, there's nothing Shakespearean here. The comedy is strictly situational, and even rather straightforward, and the playwright's sole delight is in turning out one-liners and zingers. At best, True Minds is reminiscent of those wonderfully rapid Cary Grant comedies, but it would need a cast of generative geniuses to give this script the charm it needs to really fly.
Nikki Shiels as Daisy has her moments. There's some excellent Fanny Brice-clowning as she struggles with her outfit and makes a mess of the kitchen. But there is no chemistry whatsoever between her and Adam Murphy, the ex-boyfriend and alleged love of her life. Daisy alas, is a little dull, which doesn't help. She may have a "brain the size of a car park", but it is just as featureless. She's also prone to simpering. Murphy's character is a caddish bad-boy. That's fine, but Murphy's decisive lack of machismo turns him into a bit of a creep. He is not, suffice to say, Cary Grant.
Genevieve Morris as Daisy's mother is given even less to work with than Shiels, and seems to have been entirely forgotten at one point, but is likeable, and Louise Siversen as the formidable Vivienne, mother of Daisy's fiancé, makes a sympathetic villain. Alex Menglet is convincingly loud and aggressive as the father.
The real star is Matthew McFarlane as Daisy's hapless fiance, a corporate lawyer with a naive lust for life. He arrives about an hour into the show, but instantly things improve. Bluff, fresh-faced, as soon as McFarlane – who is making his MTC debut – walks through the door you realise how half-hearted and uncommitted the rest have been. His enthusiastic style is crude, but this farce needed much more of his energy and bustle.
You don't need to believe the romance or like the characters or agree with the casting or admire the unglamorous set or understand what on earth all the waffly monologues actually mean to find an easy hour and half of distraction here. Murray-Smith does pyrotechnical back-and-forth living-room badinage as well as any writer in the land, and her dialogue is always spiced with wisecracks and witty asides. She is also wonderful at encapsulation and caricature, able to suggest certain "types" in just a few dashing lines.
This is not Murray-Smith at her best, but it's still inoffensive good fun.