Comedy in the dramaSave
By Ethan Sills
It's a storyline familiar to many soap fans. Two characters lost in the bush, forced to camp overnight: what will happen next? Are they being followed through the trees, will they connect after weeks of animosity? Or are they going to get stoned and spoon by the campfire?
It may surprise people that Shortland Street settled for the latter last year, but it is one of many comedy escapades that have befallen former rivals turned besties Boyd Rolleston and Drew McCaskill.
Though the soap opera may be better known for murders and explosions than its humour, for actors Sam Bunkall and Ben Barrington, their characters' comedy act has been a welcome delight.
"The comedy's much more fun to do, and it's great that the show has gone in that direction, and that it's less about us as medical professionals and more that we are just people in this environment," Barrington, who stars as Drew, says.
"It's fun to do because the writing is so good. The scenes are just laugh-out-loud when you are reading them."
When Barrington first joined the cast in 2015, neither actor expected this comedy path, with Drew initially a love rival for Bunkall's Boyd.
But after the romantic feuding had passed, the writers saw an opportunity to mine the characters' opposites for comedy gold.
"It was that comedy thing of putting people together who'd never normally be together," Bunkall says.
"It's like chalk and cheese, there are endless things you can do with them," Barrington adds.
For Bunkall, the comedy has been a welcome challenge after years of playing the usually stuffy Boyd. "It's great learning for me at the moment, as it's quite a different tone. It's quite broad, quite physical comedy, and you've got to portray it a certain way. That's been a real learning curve for me."
It's not just on screen that the two have bonded. Barrington and Bunkall have become firm friends after they started sharing a dressing room, despite some initial misgivings.
"We heard you were coming into the dressing room and I was a bit gutted to be honest, I wanted someone else," Bunkall jests.
The chemistry between them is strong, ribbing each other back and forth throughout the interview, so much so that it seems they have known each other for years, rather than the two years since Barrington joined the soap in 2015.
"I knew of you because you're tres famous," Bunkall says to Barrington.
"I knew of your work, but very little is known about Sam Bunkall the man. But certainly Sam Bunkall the performer is well known. A lot of mana in the industry, a lot of respect," Barrington responds with faux seriousness.
The ability to crack each other up can cause trouble on sets, with the two sometimes having to avoid eye contact during scenes to prevent themselves from laughing.
That's one reason why Bunkall is pleased they didn't deliver the now classic cry of "Please tell me that's not your penis".
"I remember reading that and going 'that is a great line'," he recalls. "I was kind of pleased not to do it because I have a terrible habit of corpsing, and if I'd been7 given that I'd probably have to do a few takes. Especially if it was the two of us."
While it is all a lot of fun, the biggest reward for these actors is showing a new side to both their characters and the show itself.
"You'll still hear people say 'it's just a soap opera', but now you get all this zany comedy stuff," Barrington explains.
"As an actor, you just get to act in totally different genres, it's great."