The Pitch

August 31st, 2008 Features, Xpress

One man satirist, impressionist, writer and performer Peter Houghton’s play arrives in Perth after playing big all over the country, and it’s worth every minute.

More a travelogue through the torture of selling a movie script than a straight narrative, it introduces a hack screenwriter (Houghton) in his apartment counting down the minutes until a big pitch meeting to three film producers.

Houghton channels a grizzled, old-school producer giving him sage advice on Hollywood stories and how there’s really only four of them, then proceeds to take us through the gestation of his cliché-ridden action adventure script that incorporates every marketing-friendly theme he can jam in it.

It’s a redemption tale of love, revenge, rapping and the Taliban …and a buddy movie. If our hero can convince the three-person panel to fund his idea he could be a star, but it’s not going to be easy when the panel consists of an upper crust, old-money British literature scholar, an Australian academic with political correctness in her DNA and an old-style Hollywood tycoon.

Houghton is a one-man movie himself, spluttering the dialogue, sound effects and script notes — even impersonating that pinwheel printer sound that accompanies explanatory supertext on screen. He doesn’t stand still for a minute, bouncing from one side of the apartment set to the other, locking himself in the cupboard or throwing himself across the desk while imagining an exploding hillside.

His face, voice and body are his canvas, spitting expletives, rapping, crying plaintively, his eyes wide when another hackneyed idea grabs him or terror-stricken as he realises how close the meeting of his life is drawing.

But best of all are the impersonations. Blink during the transitions and you’ll think Clint Eastwood’s stepped offstage to give way to Anthony Hopkins, Robert De Niro, Catherine Zeta Jones, Chris Tucker, (who sounds more like a terminally angry midget Michael Jackson), Sean Connery and an absolutely uncanny John Gielgud. And it’s not just the voices — Houghton draws his mouth in De Niro’s tough guy mug, tosses his hair theatrically for Zeta-Jones’s locks, bares his bottom teeth like Eastwood’s Man With No Name, and stretches his face into Gielgud’s doddery old Brit.

Like something wound up and let loos, Houghton’s on the go for what feels like a little over an hour, bringing tics and mannerisms to every beat of the narrative as well as his performance. The Pitch is a riot, and Houghton can feel vindicated — the climatic pitch to three moneymen actually happened to the playwright in 2001, when several heartbreaking years of work went down the drain as soon as he realised there was no way he could please three such disparate personalities with their own agendas.

In what might be the final irony, The Pitch has been such a hit on the Australian theatre circuit there’s now talk of making it into a movie. It’s unlikely to have the urgent, riotous energy of Houghton leaping all over a stage right in front of you, but it’d be poetic justice.

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