Cafe play full of beans

Amanda Watson and Ann-Marie Biagioni in F*@k Decaf. Picture by Scott Corbett.


F*@k Decaf

By Tyler Jacob Jones

4.5 stars

The Mary Street Bakery

Review: David Zampatti

When T.S. Eliot said "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons", he knew what he was talking about. So does Tyler Jacob Jones.

His F*@k Decaf, which has just finished its run at the Mary Street Bakery in Highgate, is a zuzzed up little triumph of sharp observation and café society comedy, made even more so by piping-hot performances by Amanda Watson and Ann-Marie Biagioni.

Ruby (Watson) and Kate (Biagioni) are friends - whether best, or merely oldest, is a matter of debate throughout. We first meet them at 23 and then again over the next few years, always at the same café, always over coffee. At one low point in her life Ruby announces she's now vegetarian and drinks decaf; Kate's appalled response is the play's title.

They talk about men and how they deal with them. They decide Ruby is an obstinate goat and Kate is a whore. They ogle or ignore the waiter (Jack Walker in a deadly-accurate, all-but-wordless performance), but really their conversation is about themselves, getting by and getting older. It's harder for Ruby, who's needy, reticent and exploitable, than the self-assured and sparky Kate, but when the coffees, and the years, pile up, they find themselves both in the same, precarious place.

Jones and director Scott Corbett have devised a simple, brilliant mechanism to move the action along: the simple ringing of a counter bell instantly takes us from one scene to the next, with neither the actors nor the audience stopping to take breath. When the bell starts ringing non-stop as the play reaches its climax, the effect is as compulsive as Hector Salamanca's apotheosis in Breaking Bad.

But the real genius of the production may be serendipity or just necessity becoming the mother of inspiration. Staging the play in a café on a street corner in Highgate, with people on the Beaufort Street passeggiatori peering in through the windows at the strange goings on inside, was a spectacular success. A scene in which Kate has a spaz attack on her phone outside on the footpath, to the horrified amazement of innocent bystanders, was the single most inspired moment of theatre in Perth this year.

Jones is the real deal, I think. Like many others, I heard about Point & Shoot, his Martin Sims Award-winning hit at the Perth Fringe this year, too late, but the terrific F*@k Decaf sees him join talents like Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Will O'Mahony in the first rank of Perth's exciting young playwrights.