By Chenoah Eljan
Nicole Gulasekharam has adapted her 2021 short film The Quirky Best Friend for the stage in this year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival. It is a one-woman rom com–esque tale that relies heavily on the tropes it parodies, to great comedic effect. Gulasekharam brings a lot of energy to this show, and not just of “the Mr Potato Head” variety. She plays quirky sidekick best friend Beth to beautiful, talented, and sophisticated Sophie. Gulasekharam also tries her hand at playing several other characters, shuffling from one side of the stage to the other firing comebacks at herself. It is intentionally awkward and executed with an astute self-awareness that makes it both endearing and hilarious.
The premise is that hopeless-at-dating Beth is required to go on ten dates under ten days to write a story for the magazine where both she and Sophie work. Beth’s character and her “main character energy” evolves through these dates in a process of self-discovery. There is Dave The Larrikin, to Tom The Office Boy, then the Woman with the American Accent, this is 2023, after all. As Beth’s confidence grows, her enjoyment of the dates develops an inverse relationship to the amount she learns about the other person on the date. Throughout these dates Beth is dispensed pearls of wisdom by the all-knowing, never-seen bartender, Andy. All dialogue with Andy and Sophie is done by voiceover and the same voice is used. Whether there is deeper meaning to this duplication, or Gulasekharam just had only one female housemate willing to help out with her festival show is not evidentially clear. There are a several choices in the show which are either clever and well-considered deliberate decisions or accidents. It is a little vexing that, if intentional, director Harry Lloyd has not given the audience quite enough to be certain. For example, the show ends at a wedding and the audience is never told whose wedding it is: Beth or Sophie’s. More definitive cues could have resolved this nicely (such as the direction of the bouquet toss), or if the intention was to leave to the audience to form their own views, the uncertainty and ambiguity could have been more deliberately communicated.
“Be the main character in your own story” is the moral at the heart of Quirky Best Friend, but importantly, as Beth says, “you can’t be the main character all the time, that’s called narcissism.” There is an underdeveloped allusion to Sophie being a good friend to Beth, which with a bit more thought could have extended this moral to an appreciation that even main characters are somebody’s quirky best friend.
Gulasekharam’s comedic timing is superb. It often appears as though she is improvising, muttering awkward banter and she does, with great skill and to hilarious effect. Also, she can sing. And throw her whole heart and entire flailing body into a river dance. Quirky Best Friend makes for a very entertaining fifty minutes.