Two women take on every odd job under the sun in this new play by Catherine Moore and Genevieve Hegney
Unemployment isn’t funny, but Unqualified, a brand new Australian work about, well, work, by actors Genevieve Hegney and Catherine Moore, is a cracker. The pair star as Joanne Truebody and Felicity Bacon, women from two different worlds who accidentally crash into each other at a local Centrelink office.
Felicity (Moore) is the daughter of a butcher who can’t bear to run the family business forever. Joanne (Hegney) is the brains behind her real-estate-reality-star husband, in control of his realty empire, and her image, until the moment her marriage falls apart. Through a series of madcap events, coincidences, and Felicity’s determination to befriend Joanne, they start a business together: a temp agency.
It’s a bumpy start to the world of small business and employee management – they’re so short on clients they work each temp job themselves – and the two women are perfectly mismatched. Joanne is a Type-A, consciously classist self-editor; Felicity is more goofy, optimistic, and unrelentingly unfiltered. If they were sitcom characters, they’d be Rosa Diaz (at one point, Felicity calls Joanne handsome and ‘cop-ish’) and Charles Boyle from Brooklyn Nine Nine.
The women cater a wedding, teach at a pretentious early-learning facility, and hand out flyers on the street – and no job is uneventful. As they work, Felicity becomes more and more certain she can never go back to being a butcher, and Joanne becomes more and more unravelled. At one point, she descends into a recitation from classic Australian play Don’s Party; her insistence that its playwright, David Williamson, is a national treasure is a big hit inside the Ensemble Theatre, which has enjoyed a long relationship with the writer and his plays.
It’s genuinely and frequently funny. Hegney and Moore both cultivate comic characters with ease, and they step into a number of minor roles with glee. Their script is brimming with great delight for language (a well-deployed “quicksticks” is funnier than you’d expect) and with genuine love for Felicity and Joanne, no matter how outrageous they become. That central core of love helps the comedy soar – it engenders in us plenty of pathos and “I’ve been there” sympathy, and it makes the successes – and failures – of Joanne and Felicity something we can sincerely invest in.
Janine Watson, in her mainstage directorial debut, keeps the show moving at a gallop; this is a playful production, and she lets Hegney and Moore’s gifted gabs be the hero of the piece. Simon Greer’s set design is un-fussy and adaptable (for an extra element of fun, read the classified ads printed on the backdrop), and it’s smartly backed by Alexander Berlage’s cheeky lighting and Thomas E. Moore’s equally cheeky sound.
Unqualified was originally conceived as a TV series, that provenance is still clear in this onstage version. Its potential job-of-the-week premise and lovably offbeat central characters seem to easily lends themselves to the ranks of quirky ABC comedy programming, and it’s a pleasure to spend time watching Joanne and Felicity get themselves into – and out of – various scrapes. There’s a lot of life in this piece, both as a play and beyond, and that’s heartening: we all need a little more laughter in our lives.
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