Theatre Scenes: Auckland Theatre Blog (Reviews, interviews and commentary)

REVIEW: Pure and Deep (Auckland Live)

Successful Sequel [by Matt Baker]

Ian Hughes and Mia Blake

Ian Hughes and Mia Blake

Breathing and listening. They're key components to acting, and they feature in Toa Fraser's direction and latest script, Pure and Deep. Even for those who haven't seen Fraser's first full-length play, Bare, the nostalgia embedded in this, its sequel, along with performers Ian Hughes' and Mia Blake's trust and familiarity is enough to sense the successful completion – not often found in sequels – it permeates.

While Fraser doesn't pontificate, his liberal voice as a playwright is heavy-handed at times, and may distance audience members of a more right-leaning, conservative political or social philosophy. It's sixteen years later, and where Bare explored two people coming together, Pure and Deep takes the logical evolutionary step and explores these two people and their place in the world.

The first monologue feels forced and presentational, as if Fraser has written a clumsy opening disclaimer to acknowledge the transmedia element and technological advances over the past 16 years, which is unnecessary, as all latter references are cleverly and humorously placed. Hughes and Blake are excellent chameleons, playing both fictional and real-life New Zealand personalities, and although some of Blake's characterisations get in the way of her performance, the subtlety of her pathos is well-pitched.


REVIEW: SEP ARATE (The Basement)

Beyond the Binary [by Matt Baker]

Hair Creation

Hair Mask


From programme notes to performance, choreographer Lydia Zanetti and her performers take an intellectual approach to the subject and theme of gender. The group's etymological exploration delves much further, with Tallulah Holly-Massey's haunting hair-masked crawler (designed by Leonie Nicholls) allowing for Freudian interpretations of castration anxiety. That's not to say that the show doesn't evoke any emotional, simply that any reaction one will most likely be the culmination of a mental process as opposed to a visceral organic response to raw material.

Isobel MacKinnon's character draws on the core, child-like perception of the clown, which prevents the exploration of the phallic symbol being crudely dealt with – an all too common trait on stage. MacKinnon's joy is infectious, and her ability to hold an audience (no easy task) is laudable. Lisa Greenfield gives an incredibly nuanced performance, finding a variety of subtle yet affective variations in stillness. Mattie Hamuera switches from camp and playful to masculine and serious with excellent precision, without ever milking the humour it creates.


REVIEW: Famous Flora (Playtime Theatre)

Famous Flora Fascinates [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

Flora Mackenzie would have approved.

Flora Mackenzie would have approved.

Choosing to stage Elisabeth Easther’s premiere about Flora Mackenzie, one of Auckland’s most notorious Mesdames, at the White House was a stroke of genius. The venue not only gave the show added dimension, being totally apt, but also acted as an eight character in the 7-strong cast that entertained us at the opening of Famous Flora last night.

In keeping with Mackenzie’s bold historical persona in Auckland, that of a madame supreme who ruled the city’s underworld sex scene for thirty years, the choice of venue was reflected on the faces of the audience members as they arrived to see the show. Many of whom made a point of saying out loud at the top of their lungs: “This is the first time I have been here”. Which almost seemed to mirror Shakespeare’s famous quote “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks”. But I digress.

The story flits between Flora in her heyday of the glamorous and stylish 1940s and the moral panics of the 1970s, resulting in comprehensive insight into her public and private lives all rolled into one. Easther’s ability to weave both eras together to form a pretty package is commendable. That being said I think some of the dialogue and build up could do with a little more tightening up as the show’s resolution is reached without much warning. Maybe a bit more time spent on the finale would help balance the meticulously crafted build up.


REVIEW: The Blind Date Project (Silo)

Not just blind luck [by Matt Baker]

Natalie Medlock

Natalie Medlock

In a similar vein to last year's White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Silo Theatre presents a production that's success banks almost entirely on each individual show. Appropriately titled, actress Natalie Medlock literally has no idea whom she is about to meet, the show more or less improvised around some narrative points and direction via text and mobile phone calls. While director Tanya Goldberg mentioned that even the disasters make for interesting dates, there will inevitably be those that come together in a more theatrically fulfilling way. Fortunately, the calibre of actors Silo has supplied is high.

Brad Knewstubb's bar construction and Celery Production's set design successfully transforms The Basement mainstage into a fully-functioning and immersive karaoke bar, where patrons can sing songs pre and post show and even order a drink during. Karaoke Queen Bryony Skillington serves the drinks and cues the characters' songs to assist the narrative structure, though her own willingness to sing is in opposition to her surly demeanour.

There are subtle variations to Medlock's characterisations, but, from the two shows I witnessed, it is more or less the same character but with different objectives. Seeing the show twice, one is immediately able to identify the structure of the play and some of the methods used to incite particular narrative lines, as well as the most obvious variation; the Mystery Date.


REVIEW: Like a Virgin (The Basement)

Abstain [by Matt Baker]

Like a Virgin

Like a Virgin

Contrary to its premise, Like A Virgin does not so much uncover the conversations, secrets, and revelations of people's first experiences, as it does half-heartedly pontificate on these matters without exploring them alongside its audience.

What little narrative exists lacks natural development, with the numerous scenes piling up instead of amounting to anything substantial. Any attempt at pathos, such as Courtney's barren monologue or Taofia's unrequited love, are obvious at best and fruitless at worst. This is not due to the acting, but the lack of depth in the text, which becomes more apparent as the show drags on with a superfluous amount of repetition resulting in the best scenes losing their initial humour and relying on shtick to carry the show.


REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar (Auckland Theatre Company)

Jesus Lives! [by Matt Baker]

Kristian Lavercombe -

Kristian Lavercombe - "the name is one that will not be forgotten"

Jesus Christ Superstar is a deceptively difficult musical. What seems at first a song-list with the appropriate momentum to a presumptuously well-known plot can also be exposed as an inadequate foothold for character journeys and development. Thankfully, director Oliver Driver has handled this difficulty with excellent casting decisions. Conceptually, the most important thing interpreting the Superstar eponymy literally allows is for musical director Leon Radojkovic to modernise the 1970s arrangement while still remaining faithful to Andrew Lloyd Webber's composition.

For those previously unfamiliar with Kristian Lavercombe, the name is one that will not be forgotten. An authentic musical theatre performer of equally impressive singer-actor ability, Lavercombe's nasal resonance and despondent introspection aptly dissociates him from the rest of the cast, without forcibly indicating any superficial otherness to the role. This in turn offers much for Laughton Kora to play as Judas, whose ability to tell story through song and invest emotionally with his fellow cast-mates results in a three-dimensional and resonant performance. Similarly, Julia Deans is able to dissect the Mary Magdalene that is provided in the text, finding a palpable process of reflection over the unforeseen past few days and realisation of genuine love.

The Jewish clergy are the most stylised interpretations of the production, with Elizabeth Whiting's thick black coats reminiscent of the influential Rasputin. Led by Richard Green's insanely impressive bass vocals, Gareth William's piercing, unblinking eyes and Colleen Davis' (metaphorical) moustache-twirling are balanced by Shane Bosher's almost imperceptible yet harrowing post-Crucifixion smile. Driver utilises Jeremy Redmore's natural showmanship to prevent the action around Jesus from stagnating, with Rosita Vai and George Keenan playing at the right level so as to hold interest without becoming a distraction. While the role of Peter doesn't give Kyle Chuen enough of a chance to show off his incredible vocal power, he makes the most of his Denial.


REVIEW: The Cagebirds and The Collector (Wild Boy Productions)

Set them free [by Matt Baker]

The Cagebirds

The Cagebirds

As a double-bill, The Cagebirds and The Collector are a clear and legitimate programming decision by Wild Boy Productions, with each play containing inherent, parallel themes of being trapped, isolation, choice, and freedom. As a Halloween double-bill, however, the choice is not totally clear – other than as a marketing gimmick.

As a text, The Cagebirds is packed with one-liner commentaries that hint at the various points of the wide-ranging socio-political spectrum the playwright perceives, which is most evident in the stereotypical caricatures. While each of the eight actresses fulfils the two dimensions of their respective characters in the script, the lack of a third in their interpretation results in a menagerie of mediocrity. The caged-bird allegory of these various women and their mistress is occasionally imbued with bird-like characterisations, but the inconsistency of it results in a lack of specificity, and the wandering accents question necessity.

While both the director, Lisa Fothergill, and her cast no doubt comprehend the depth of the play at an intellectual level, they are ultimately lacking the incredibly high calibre of talent required to present the allegorical content of absurdism. Whether interpreted under Campton's anthology "Laughter and Fear" or theatre critic Irving Wardle's coined "comedy of menace", the balance of comedy and tragedy is unquestionably vital for the success of this (and other) absurdist plays. While said comedy is there, much of it exists at a surface level through affectations in the acting (excluding Esmée Myers), which prevents the tragedy from fully forming.


REVIEW: Ghastly Dash Grimm: A Tale of Unease (Fractious Tash)

Grimm sparks grins [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

Grimm, definitely not ghastly.

Grimm, definitely not ghastly.

It was impossible to ignore the writing on the wall as we walked up the stairs to the Basement Studio. A closer look revealed the actual script that had been penned by none other than Ghastly Dash Grimm: A Tale Of Unease’s writer/director Benjamin Henson.

Ben Anderson’s dramatic stage design was the first thing that assaulted our senses as we took our seats. The slightly skewed quirky and asymmetrical stage made us feel slightly off-kilter right from the start, which literally set the stage for the entertainment that ensued.

The lack of colour (black and white) used for the set, costume as well as makeup set the tone perfectly, making for the perfect Adams-family–esque and ‘Tales from the Crypt’-like ambience.

Like many others in the audience I was keen to get a helping of fiendish fun and ready to jump out of my skin once the house lights were dimmed. However I must admit I didn’t quite feel as scared as expected – which isn’t a bad thing. In fact what I caught myself doing a lot of the time was grinning from ear to ear – which can only be attributed to Henson’s uncanny ability to push comedic boundaries above and beyond your wildest expectations. That being said both my husband and I thought that the audience didn’t laugh out loud enough – despite the fabulously tongue-in-cheek OTT performances and lines delivered to perfection. Maybe they thought they had come to see a serious horror show instead (because of the title ‘A tale of unease’) – a ghastly mistake on their parts, I’m sure!


REVIEW: Last Chance Cafe (The Hobson Street Theatre Company)

Give them another [by Matt Baker]

The Hobson Street Theatre Company is an arts initiative by Auckland City Mission.

The Hobson Street Theatre Company is an arts initiative by the Auckland City Mission.

The Hobson Street Theatre Company has something significant on their hands: real people with real stories. Founded four and a half years ago, it began as an activity on offer at the mission, eventually developing into a legitimate theatre company, and its company is legitimately developing.

The central conflict for drama is there, a classic 80s kidult movie plot, but it is only taken so far, and the characters are only given so much to work with, resulting in an ultimately positive yet easy ending. Ironically, the real moments of truth are when the attempts to "act" are dropped, and the rawness of the actors is revealed, especially from Shadow and Haretutewake.

Without an apparent dramaturg or playwright the plot remains heavily diluted, and at times it's difficult to find the onstage focus. When the focus is found, and the members certainly prove their ability to find it, the dialogue has a weighted simplicity. What HSTC need now is to trust their members more and delve deeper into what their significance holds for the rest of us.

Last Chance Café is presented by The Hobson Street Theatre Company and plays at The Herald until November 1. For details see Auckland Live

SEE ALSO: review by Cherie Moore


REVIEW: The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey (Auckland Live)

Dionysus would approve [by James Wenley]

Exquisite imagery in The Paper Cinema's Odyssey

Exquisite imagery in The Paper Cinema's Odyssey

For a story that has passed from an oral tradition, and then written down by Homer, it’s intriguing how The Paper Cinema tell their Odyssey mainly through visual imagery and sound, filmed and played live. Even with the technological mediation (or perhaps because of) I felt connected with a story that has been retold and repurposed throughout the ages, as I sat in a darkened room to relive once again Odysseus’ perilous journey home.

To tell their story, The Paper Cinema has quite the impressive set-up. On one side of the stage are work-stations consisting of cameras and an incredible stack of paper drawings, cut-outs, and creations that will be used by Nicholas Rawling and Imogen Charleston to create the show’s visuals. On the other, is an equally incredible stack of instruments and other noise-makers that will be used by Christopher Reed, Hazel Mills and Katherine Mann to create the evocative soundscape, that includes a violin, keyboards, scrunched up paper and a long string attached to wind chimes positioned over the audience’s head. In the middle is a large screen where the magic happens - well some of the magic anyway.

By way of introduction, Rawling inks onto a filmed piece of paper the main characters of the story – Greek hero Odysseus, his wife Penelope, son Telemachus, Goddess Athene, and inventively depicts the suitors that hound Penelope during her husband’s absence as a pack of wolves. For the rest of the show the pieces are pre-drawn, but this opening allows us an insight into the hours and skill that must have gone into creating the paper elements.