Four Flat Whites in Italy @ Genesian Theatre

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 (reviewed 15 October).

There’s an irresistible charm about visiting Italy, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Genesian Theatre’s offering of Four Flat Whites in Italy takes us on an “adventure before the dementia”, a theme popularised in several Hollywood indie films (The Leisure Seeker starring Helen Mirren comes to mind). Beneath the play’s comedy there is a subtext of awful tragedy, and beyond the tragedy, there is hope for a fresh start. Audiences of a certain demographic will appreciate these two opposing narratives, because sometimes you need to laugh at all the sh!t things that happen in life in order to move forward.

A brief content note: This play by British-turned-New Zealander Roger Hall leans into lowbrow humour and old fashioned troupes. If the ‘warts and all’ of married life is your cup of tea, then Four Flat Whites is sure to hit a nerve.

Director and and set designer Tui Clark puts the IT in Italy, creating an environment where you can fall in love with the prospect of a delicious, multi-sensory experience. Co-designer Tom Fahey and scenic artist Gregory George leave no corner of the set untouched, immersing the audience in immaculate marble-bound alfresco settings. Two portable steps shift effortlessly from public landmarks to a rental car to a gondola to over-sized sundeck chairs, creating a fluid dynamism against the operatic backdrop. The stained glass windows that are part of the Genesian decor glow with illuminating reverence during a tour of Italy’s most iconic cathedrals. Visually everything looks stunning, taking us on an exciting journey with the characters.

The six actors do an impeccable job of delivering the story ‘warts and all’. Our chief narrator is Adrian (David Stewart-Hunter), a retired librarian married to another retired librarian, Alison (Penny Church). Both have longed for a holiday to Italy, having reached the stage of married life where they are feeling both a bit too ‘anal’. However, when their travelling companions pull out at the last minute, their new neighbours step in. Harry (Christopher Pali) and Judy (Karen Pattinson) are completely at odds with Adrian and Alison, more interested in having frequent sex, flaunting their wealth, and sabotaging Alison’s careful methodical planning. Harry’s and Judy’s behaviour comes across as selfish, rude and annoying. The longed-for peaceful holiday turns into seething resentment, as the two couples navigate the rocky road of forging an unlikely friendship.

Kimberlea Smith and Imran Khaliqi play a variety of ‘generic Italian roles’ including beggars and gypsies operating tourist traps, hospitality staff and local royalty. Smith and Khaliqi have wonderful stage presence, bringing the audience to laughter with minimal dialogue and loads of mischief. Their characterisations was my favourite thing about the show.

Props throughout the show are mostly mimed, which makes practical sense but looks a little odd given the lavish extravagance of the backdrop. Without actual props, the actors at times tend to be ‘more in their heads’ running through the dialogue rather than focusing on real actions with real intent. Perhaps real props could be used in rehearsals to create an authentic response before switching to mime in the live show.

Similarly, ‘showing’ the emotion (surprise, shock, disgust etc) isn’t necessary when the script is ripe with vivid descriptions. It is the moment that needs to land with the lines, not the facial expression.

It’s interesting that the scene where they sit around the telly watching the footy match feels the most authentic and natural, both in terms of body language and vocal delivery; it creates a sense of realism without contrivance.

Four Flat Whites is a long journey to navigate, and no doubt over time the actors will let loose a little more as they get more comfortable with their roles. It’s a fun script that has its moments of insightful truth-telling, and as the audience we are prepared to go all the way.

Four Flat Whites in Italy is playing at Genesian Theatre until 4 November 2023. For tickets and showtimes, go to

Images: Luke Holland, LSH Media

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *