Ah. A good old satire. It’s been a while since I experienced a show that made the audience laugh so loud, actors could quote Spiderman for a good minute after a joke and no one would even notice (because the laughter in the audience was so overwhelmingly loud!). “Eureka Day’s” scriptwriting at the end of the 1st act was the funniest theatre moment of the year for me, and balanced with a serious, emotional 2nd act, all together created a magnetising performance.
The story is simple. We observe the school committee as they meet to discuss school issues big and small, from expanding the options in the drop-down on the school sign-up form to a petition to make vaccinations obligatory for the students. It goes without saying that in a small private school, parents have strong opinions on all matters, which leads to earnest debates on social justice, vaccination, and the pull of conspiracy theories. A zoom meeting with the parents starts calmly but ends with nazi references and the Big Pharma theories thrown at each other at an alarmingly quick pace.
It would be too easy to classify this show as a funny play with celebrity actors. Instead, what I’d like to especially appreciate is this production’s power to grasp the audience’s emotions and steer them as it wishes (beautifully done by Jonathan Spector’s writing). The first act lets the audience settle emotionally and enjoy the fun side of the show, just to get hit in the face with the seriousness of the script as the second act starts. Spector enjoys keeping his audience on their toes, and he does it extremely well.
Saying that, I did feel that the second act was stretched a bit too much, and ended with too much on a cheesy note. Compared with the first act which seemed like a flawless sketch, the second act – maybe because it was emotionally more demanding, drained my energy significantly. It felt just a scene or two too long.
The staging is fun and seems a bit stale at the beginning, but it hides a couple of surprises. A colourful classroom with kids’ chairs and beanbags creates an on-the-nose contrast with the serious, and sometimes aggressive discussions we follow during the play. And when the parents’ zoom meeting starts, the set comes to life with the walls and ceiling acting as a computer screen. This way, despite the size of the audience space at the Old Vic, fonts and visuals on the “screen” were large enough for everyone to follow.
I have to say, I’m a big fan of Mark McKinney (who plays Don in the show). I absolutely enjoyed his creation of Glen in the sitcom “Superstore” (available on Netflix) where created a character of an unforgettable supermarket manager. At “Eureka Day” he continues his benchmark style as a warm, friendly dreamer who just wants to make the world a better place. His awkward comments and moments when he tries to facilitate the discussion with the parents were pure gold. This role just seemed like it was written specifically for McKinney.
Helen Hunt is Suzanne, the naturally proactive parent who, in my case, triggered the memories of overly ambitious people who cause the group discussions to drag on forever. Hunt does her best to create an annoying persona that we kind of dislike from the start, only to deliver a soul-bearing monologue in act 2, which changes everything.
“Eureka Day”, besides being the top comedy moment of this year, delivers on many fronts – from making the audience feel the emotions and the strong arguments, to the relief most people feel knowing they don’t have to personally participate in what’s happening on stage. It’s an energy-wise uneven show, but with its charm and wit, it would make your theatre evening memorable for a long.
By: Jonathan Spector
Director: Katy Rudd
Cast list: Helen Hunt, Mark McKinney, Ben Schnetzer, Susan Kelechi Watson, Kirsten Foster Set: Rob Howell
Costume: Rob Howell
Lighting: Donato Wharton
Sound: Andrzej Goulding
6 Sept – 31 Oct 2022