‘What Rhymes With Cars and Girls’ is a romantic comedy about life and love in the Inner West.
Based on and named after Tim Rogers’ debut solo album — the 1999 masterpiece he pumped out after delivering three straight #1 records with You Am I — the Melbourne Theatre Company production retains all the messy charm of the album, without the feeling that writer and director are simply shoehorning one piece of work into another.
A couple meet cute during a pizza delivery (of course), they fall in love, they fight, they split up, then they either get back together or don’t (I won’t spoil it all). It feels like the Inner West, with the planes roaring above, and more importantly, it feels like we are watching a realistic 20s relationship play out: the kind born in share houses and pubs with sticky carpet, the kind that starts as a blur and finds the characters tumbling into a Serious Thing with families meeting, and futures discussed. The kind that feels all-too-familiar.
Class and geographic divide, the steady plod of ageing, and outsized dreams being shrunken to size – these are all weaved throughout the album and, as such, make up the main themes of this play.
Playwright Aidan Fennessy manages to craft something that stands as a piece of art in its own right, while being every bit as romantic and poetic as Rogers’ album – not an easy task given Rogers’ singular flair for the English language and his deft storytelling skills.
Fennessy, like Rogers now, is a middle-aged man telling the story of people in their late 20s, and it’s a credit to both his writing, and the source material, that it seems vibrant and current, not nostalgic or presented through a rose hue. The prose is poetic at times, blunt and colloquial at others.
Tim Rogers is sensible enough to stay out of the way, mostly. His role as band leader is subtle, strumming along at the side of the stage and inserting the odd harmony or backing vocal, and his occasional quips and responses to the main action are few and charming. He is very present, on stage throughout the entire 90-minute play (short, sharp, no gaps, like a Rogers record), and a vital component. But he is far from the main attraction, and never needlessly pulls focus. As with the album’s penultimate tune, he is “the support band.”
The main romantic relationship is prickly, and lovely, and real. The two leads, Johnny Carr and Sophie Ross, share a very real chemistry, playing off each other in a believable, likeable manner. Both actors are strong enough to carry the entire play between the two of them, bouncing off the space and each other’s varying energies in a captivating way. It feels like watching a couple; when they argue you find yourself bouncing between their swinging sides, torn by newly-found devotion and driven by uncomfortable levels of recognition. You barrack for both teams, for their relationship to work out, for things to get less messy.
You know things probably won’t get any less messy though, because you’ve listened to Tim Rogers’ albums and therefore you know better. They are realistic and romantic, and don’t always play out how you’d like. Thankfully, this production plays out perfectly – which is a different thing to saying it’ll wrap up nicely and neatly.
‘What Rhymes with Cars and Girls’ is a brilliant production and runs at Parramatta Riverside Theatres until Saturday October 14. Tickets and times here.