One year ago Joanne and Felicity formed their temp job agency as a hare-brained scheme for them to do all the jobs themselves, no matter how unqualified, and rake in the money to help stabilise their lives. Now, post-COVID lockdowns and Joanne’s divorce, the end of their plan is in sight. But without the agency and their partner in literal crime, what will they have?
A few things have changed since audiences last saw Joanne (Genevieve Hegney) and Felicity (Catherine Moore), Felicity has moved in with Joanne temporarily and Joanne has finalised her divorce with her two-timing Golden Logie-winning husband, but much is still the same with the temp agency and the women’s frantic, roller coaster friendship and business partnership. But their overly-close relationship, developed through traumatic experiences as co-doulas, ghost whisperers, and cross-country truck drivers, has blurred the boundaries of their personal spaces allowing them to feel comfortable, say, rummaging around through each other’s things or answering the other person’s phone on their behalf. The consequences of which, of course, is Joanne and Felicity discovering secrets about each other that will shake the foundations of their senses of self, understanding of their pasts, and plans for the future. Maybe, finally, they have found the things they are least qualified to do and they have the potential to ruin their friendship for good.
The focus of the Unqualified duology is the friendship between Joanne and Felicity, the kind of friendship not often shown in popular media, two women in the middle of their lives who found each other at just the right time. They are yin and yang characters with Hegney playing Joanne as rough, stern, and abrasive in nearly every interaction and Moore’s Felicity as perpetually upbeat, optimistic, and often a bit out of left field. This new script, written by Hegney and Moore, played to that juxtaposition with the characters amplifying the best and worst qualities of the other, especially demonstrated in a courtroom scene where Felicity’s confidence and Joanne’s stubbornness melded for an expertly inexpert defence monologue. Hegney and Moore are a well-practised duo and their performances bounced skilfully off each other for some excellent comic timing and unexpected silliness.
Directer Janine Watson harnessed the disparate temperaments of Joanne and Felicity for a high-energy production that kept its heartfelt message of friendship in sight. The set and costume designs by Hugh O’Connor brought together the dull mundanity of beige vertical blinds in the temp agency with a variety of nutty uniforms for the women to embody their temp roles. Add the bright, ever-changing lighting design by Kelsey Lee and the large video projections by Morgan Moroney and the production design offered the same abundant enthusiasm that Felicity poured into each new job. The main substance of Still Unqualified was the many jobs Joanne and Felicity accepted in order to make up the money they each needed to establish their new lives. Watching them attempt to indoctrinate themselves into a spiritual retreat about communing with ghosts or lecture on the history of post-Impressionism was the bulk of the storyline and the humour. (Think of Lucy and Ethel in that iconic chocolate factory episode of I Love Lucy.) This meant that, while there were underlying complications and honest emotions in the story, they were not the focus and were rather used to flesh out the physical comedy and ineptitude of the other scenes to create a rounder and more realistic context for the comedy storyline.
What shone through Joanne and Felicity’s antics was that neither character’s approach to life led to more control over the future but there was something to admire in both Felicity’s penchant to say, “YES!” and Joanne’s to say, “Hold on a minute.” What worked in their relationship was balance, a bit of yes and no, a bit of compromise, and lots of love.
Unqualified 2: Still Unqualified is running at Ensemble Theatre from April 29th – June 4th
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