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

REVIEW: Vice (The Basement)

Perverse [by James Wenley]



For the past few weeks, Jordan Mooney has been posting a series of clips promoting a range of different vices. The crazy-eyed front man has whipped himself, walked naked in the wilderness, shoved his face in a toilet bowl, and lit his hair on fire.

Turns out these are child plays compared to some of the predilections in Vice, a sophisticated monologue show pairing seven writers with seven actors*, and assembled by Director Jordan Mooney (who also acts as crack fiend Peter Pipe) and dramaturg Benjamin Henson (whose work Confessions, the style and content remind me of). “You’re allowed one vice” Belle, played by Amanda Tito, states in the second to last monologue, and the writers take us into some dark and disturbing territory as each character’s vice is revealed.

Vice sees one of the most outrageous transformations of the upstairs Basement Studio, taking the Peter Brook approach and painting the stage end of the space stark white, instantly making this a defamiliar space indeed.  But John Kaminski’s set design doesn’t stop there, plastering the audience’s walls and roof with glossy advertisements (might our vice be advertised here?). Rachel Marlow’s lighting gets the best out of this space, swapping shadows for a harsh white reflected back at us. Marlow’s design, and Sam Mence and Amber Molloy’s unsettlingly effective sound design, work together to emphasize beats within the monologues, and also positions some sort of exterior controlling threat, jolting the actors (and occasionally us). What I appreciated most from this design was the otherwise subtlety of the lighting states, slowly lighting and involving the audience in a way we are barely conscious of. It’s an environment we can never relax into.


REVIEW: Carousel and Clothesline (Vague de Cirque)

'Circustastic'! [by Sharu Delilkan]

Captivating comedy at its height.

Captivating comedy at its height.

Carousel & Clothesline is a great lesson in life not to take ourselves too seriously.

Yes the strong ensemble demonstrates their precise acrobatics reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Éloize but it's their emphasis on exploring the sense of play that sets this show apart from other live performances in this genre. And it is this honest humour, peppered throughout the show, that endears the dynamic troupe to the audience right from the start. In a nutshell it was refreshing to find a circus troupe that simply brought us back the childish enjoyment of comedy, happiness, wow and oooh all at the same time!

To begin with the numerous post-their-bedtime-kids' comments and laughter complemented the already established theme of gentle comedy, outstanding gymnastics, coupled with the troupe's good-natured performance and entertainment.

Opening with backing music, dominated by the harpsichord, introduced us to the players immediately drawing us into a feeling of an Elizabethan troupe performing for the first time at the royal palace. And if Will and Kate had chosen to attend their opening night show in Auckland I think they would have applauded warmly rather than politely.


REVIEW: There’s A Bluebird In My Heart But I Tell It To Shut Up (A Playwright Production)

It should’ve listened [by Matt Baker]

Inspired by Charles Bukowski's poem 'Bluebird'

Inspired by Charles Bukowski's poem 'Bluebird'

Thirteen writers were given the poem ‘Bluebird’ by Charles Bukowski, and asked to write a scene based on what it meant to them. It’s a straight-forward premise, and one that primes an audience for an insightful night of theatre. However, while such inspiration affords writers the opportunity to produce successful works, such as Gary Henderson’s Skin Tight inspired by Denis Glover’s ‘The Magpies’, or Darren Aronofsky’s 7th grade poem about Noah inspiring the multi-million dollar box office film of the same name, there is always the danger that inspiration simply does not take.

Of the fourteen scenes that follow the obligatory performance of the poem itself, the majority aims for a comical, absurdist tone in both dialogue and delivery, which results is an overall lack of substance across the board. While comedy is a valid response, and each scene producing the same amount of insight as the original piece not being a grand expectation, it seems that absurdist comedy has become the final refuge of writers who don’t have much to say.


REVIEW: Real Fake White Dirt (Mouth to Mouth)

Realism at it’s whitest [by Matt Baker]

Bottle it.

Bottle it.

What better time for such a show to be performed in the wake of proposed flag reform referenda. Advertised as spoken word meets theatre, writer and performer Jess Holly Bates has successfully amalgamated the components of poetic monologue and theatrical presentation in the inaugural homegrown production of her one-woman show. Monologue, however, may be in the incorrect word, as, although there is no dialogical response from the audience, there is a constant self-observation, analysis, and questioning that arises throughout the text.

The tone is set instantly with a karanga, the response to her call generated through the audience’s laughter as Bates sneaks in the given circumstances of the event without irreverence to the cultural context. A simple, isolated set, designed by director Geoff Pinfield, surrounded by openly acknowledged dance lighting from the sides, designed by Ruby Reihana-Wilson, both sculpts the performance area and fills the void of additional space in the theatre.


REVIEW: My Bed, My Universe (Massive Company)

Bed Bound [by James Wenley]

My Bed, My Universe

My Bed, My Universe

With the prospect of NZ Trio, composer Chris O’Connor, graphic artists Cut Collective and playwright Gary Henderson collaborating with Director Sam Scott and her cast on a new Massive Company show, the last thing I expected to come away from My Bed, My Universe was a feeling of underwhelming flatness.

Its starts beautifully – the 6 member cast tossing and turning on wooden boxes as beds, the music of NZ Trio swelling as lights breaks like the day through the concert chamber. The cast have been awakened – a miracle - and they share that feeling of first consciousness. They share with us their rooms, their beds, talk of angling their beds just right to catch the morning light (and action this too – pushing those boxes around till they find their special spot). Now they are into their morning routines, and suddenly there’s a gaggle of joggers zooming round the stage. It’s classic Massive, the ensemble building a world together.

It’s the level of the physical and aural that the show feels most alive, bursts of expression from the performers – leaps and rolls, but also clicks and body percussion - matched by the urgent energy of the piano trio, all onstage feeling and feeding each other’s vibe.


REVIEW: Soo-Young: The Musical! (The Basement)

Infectious [by James Wenley]

Soo-Young: The Musical

Soo-Young: The Musical

The comic creation of Renee Lyons, Soo-Young first appeared in her brilliant show Nick: An Accidental Hero, a hospital orderly who narrated the show. It was an oddball choice about for a solo show about a man with locked-in syndrome, but she was an irrepressible and upbeat antidote in a story of adversity. Following up Nick, which toured to the Edinburgh Fringe, is not an enviable task. Inspired by Soo-Young’s wish expressed in that play to tell the story of her life as a musical, we now have this spin off to enjoy (and whether you have seen Nick or not, it stands on its own).

Soo-Young is an affectionate character created from her Lyon’s experiences as an English teacher in South Korea. There are some laughs at Soo-Young’s unique pronunciation of words (and even better – when Soo Young attempts the kiwi accent of an immigration official!) , but Lyons, who writes of her “secret desire that everyone in the world would have a little bit more Soo-Young in them”, successfully resists the caricature.

Soo-Young is excited about the opportunity to tell “the most beautiful story of my life”  – popping her head round the heavily sequined curtains as we pop down in her seats – and we are drawn to be excited for her too. She looks absolutely smashing in her sparkling dress. With big vocals and choreographed dance moves (which, I have to say Soo-Young is executed with enthusiasm if not precision) she launches us into her story.


REVIEW: Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika (Silo)

Poetry in Motion [by James Wenley]

Roy Cohn's physical deterioration

Roy Cohn's physical deterioration

“The Great question before us is: Are we doomed? The Great question before us is: Will the Past release us? The Great question before us is: Can we Change? In Time? And we all desire that Change will come”

That’s a grab quote from the start of Part Two. Alison Bruce, donning a wispy beard and wrinkles as  “the world’s oldest Bolshevik”, delivers an outsider’s critique of modern America as well as developments within the Soviet Union. This character does not return, but his question hangs over the sequel, titled Perestroika, referencing Gorbachev’s political reforms of the Soviet Union. While Kushner takes on an epic expanse of thematic territory, it’s the possibility (or is that inevitability?) of change – deconstruction and reconstruction-  that the characters are compelled to obsess over, the fantasia’s major note. America was a country made out of thin air by words – nothing is fixed, chaos awaits.

All week I had been impatiently waiting the prospect of returning to the theatre to revisit the characters of Angels, and continue on from THAT cliff hanger ending of Part One. Part Two represents a rare chance in the theatre, where sequels are few and far between, to deepen my experience of these characters and their world. Kushner is at pains to point out that Part One and Two are “very different plays”. And they are. Where Part One was more overtly focussed on the body of the nation, Act Two is focussed on the body of humanity. Beliefs and certainties are painfully ripped apart, and the characters need to make themselves anew.

It’s possibly a funnier play too. Bosher gets his statement early in this one as well in a hilarious moment involving Bruce’s blind Bolshevik and a mobility scooter (good symbology there!). It’s a nod to the farce of life, and that ever slippery line between the comic and tragic. Kushner has a love of bathos (the angel’s greatest power is giving orgasms), and for all his wordy socialising, an aversion to pretence. Bosher too treats the play with respect, but not reverence, and we move between belly laughs and dramatic intakes of breath (with some truly terrifying moments from Matt Minto and Stephen Lovatt too good to spoil) in a way that always feels earned.  Bosher and Mia Blake have unholy fun sending up the grand gestures of an angel that has vision, but lacks imagination.

The idea that when Angels in America first played in New Zealand (and indeed when it first debuted) it was sans Part Two is incredible to me. Part Two completes Part One by complicating it.


REVIEW: Crunchy Silk (Junket Theatre)

Less silk, more crunch [by Matt Baker]

Crunch, crunch, crunch...

Crunch, crunch, crunch...

Jess Sayer has inarguably established a firm and justified reputation for herself as one of the leading New Zealand playwrights of her generation, so, when a play like Crunchy Silk comes along, I am torn between what is ultimately a good play with potential, and the feeling that Sayer has not packed her usual punch. That is not to say that her usual twists and turns, and symbolism and imagery are not skillfully peppered throughout the script, simply that they don’t seem to equal more than the sum of their parts when taken into account as a whole.

The themes, however, are not without their impact. As the play progresses and the world begins to unfold, Holly Shervey finds a nice variety of pitch and play in her performance, her constant wonderment never coming across as one-noted or irksome. Samuel Christopher finds some nice moments of emotionality, in what is possibly the most difficult role in the play, but lacks a constant internal struggle bubbling under the surface. Claire Dougan’s relentless internal process makes her incredibly easy to watch, and her avoidance of over-illustrating the more poignant beats of the play results in an appreciatively natural consistency in performance.


REVIEW: Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches (Silo)

America Rediscovered [by James Wenley]

Prior and Louis

Prior and Louis

It is very subtle, and depending where you are sitting, invisible. Etched onto the stage floor is one of the most famous sentences from world history: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

For his final offering as Artistic Director of Silo, Shane Bosher has given the people of Auckland Tony Kushner’s two-parter Angels in America. A play eight years older than the company Bosher has led for the last thirteen years, performed in a venue (next door to his old stomping ground) that didn’t exist when he first started, Bosher has been preparing the way for some time.

Part One: Millennium Approaches is a moment in time and place. Written by Kushner in the late 80s and debuting in 1993, it is set at the end of 1985. In this vision of America, the only Declaration of Independence-type equality is that death comes to us all. In the arms of the Reagan administration, republicans look forward to a vision of enduring rule and exceptionalism; “America has rediscovered itself”. Meanwhile AIDS and its horror are ravaging the gay community. Harper Pitt, a Mormon housewife, obsesses over the hole in the ozone layer. As a millennial play it has more than a hint of impending apocalypse: “the world is coming to an end”.

One of the many provocative theses espoused within the show is that in America, there’s only the political: “no gods here… no angels in America, no spiritual past, no racial past”. Is the “Creator” named in the Declaration merely a political creator? Are Americans a people without souls, political power being the only end-game?


REVIEW: Paniora! (ATC)

Magnificent Maori Matadors [by Sharu Delilkan]

Spanish-Maori heritage intriguingly explored in Paniora!

Spanish-Maori heritage intriguingly explored in Paniora!

The ‘Len Brown Sux’ protesters outside The Maidment Theatre provided a rather obscure start to the evening. Fortunately everyone seemed more pre-occupied with the opening night of Auckland Theatre Company’s Paniora! to care. Within the lobby though it was so refreshing to see more ‘Browns’ than just Len. Often many ATC shows tend to attract a predominantly pakeha middle class audience so it was great to see the tonight’s crowds’ rich diversity. The play’s content no doubt was a big contributor, but I’m sure it can also be attributed to ATC’s drive in recent times to spread their appeal with their hook ups including PIPA (Pacific Institute of Performing Arts), KKK (Kila Kokonut Krew) and the Mangere Arts Centre for shows like Pollyhood in Mumuland and Being Brown.

Tonight’s show Paniora! by Briar Grace-Smith was truly unique in terms of its content – the portrayal of Spanish-Maori. It had an appealing and intriguing premise, one I had never heard of or even imagined before.

The Spanish-Maori mix provided plenty of rich pickings for culture, humour, confusion and contrast, with great success. The accents were awesome and the programme along with the writing gave us just enough clues to keep track of the flamboyant and complicated family tree portrayed in the story.