What the Dickens [by James Wenley]
You know the silly season must be upon us when you find yourself thinking: “for the love of baby Jesus, not another Christmas Carol adaptation”. Dickens' morality tale has been trotted out so many times that you’d think they’d be no bah-humbing curmudgeons still left to heed the message. What is there left to say?
Nothing really, but this Christmas, push past any Carol fatigue and fill your heart with the joys of A Christmas Carol, Basement style. What other version has a mad-butcher, a time-travelling suffragette, a mutant corn, and an entire children’s choir?
In this “Suck my Dickens” edition, writers Nic Sampson and Barnaby Fredric, and director Sophie Roberts, have taken to the tale with a subversive kiwi-mocking glee. It’s the ideal showcase for The Basement’s annual Xmas show bonanza complete with a rotating Xmas pot-luck cast (will you get David Farrier as John Campbell? Michael Hurst as the Mad Butcher?) Here, Gareth Williams' Ebenezer Scrooge heads that great Christmas rort: a Christmas hamper company. Christmas is a business to be exploited. His sole employee is overworked solo Mum Bobbi Cratchitt (Bree Peters), whose son Tiny Tim is afflicted with almost every ailment known to science including the most terminal of them all: hope. Each night Williams and Peters are joined by a different grouping of cast to help teach Scrooge his holiday lesson.
Back in the Hood [by Matt Baker]
Following a twelve month hiatus, The Outfit Theatre Company returns to the stage with possibly their most commercially and critically successful of enterprises; the kids’ holiday show. The ensemble nature of the company’s management has been reduced to the show’s producers; Sarah Graham and Ema Barton, seemingly in exchange for a plethora of writers; Colin Garlick, Andrew Ford, Jatinder Singh, and Christ Tempest, who have been charged with penning yet another adaptation of the legend of Robin Hood.
Said titular legend is played by Jordan Mooney, a truly fearless actor, whose commitment to the role has children (surprisingly) quietly engaged. A quick gesture or line to the audience, however, has both adults and children laughing out loud, the fourth-wall comedy proving to be the most successful. As the Sheriff of Nottingham, Ford uses his full vocal range and the physical particularisations unique to pantomime to present a brilliant caricature. His dastardly drive, with hints of Alan Rickman, picks up the energy of every scene into which he enters, regardless of the fact that there is very little motivation behind the character other than a stereotypically villainous ethos.
Homeward longing [by James Wenley]
Gloria quickly washes over you with a warmly sentimental “feel-good” factor. This is partly invoked by the knowledge that the one-woman play is based on the true story experiences of war bride Gloria Stanford, and the accompanying nostalgia associated with New Zealand in the World War II era. Then mix in a little national pride: her character speaks of a beautiful country from the view point that you can only see when you have left the country, and long for it again. As she says, the stars are nearer here. But the feeling is especially warm because it is a play written as a tribute to her by Gloria’s granddaughters Amy Waller and Catherine Waller, and Gloria is spiritedly performed by Amy.
There’s that school of thought that everyone has a story to tell. Certainly Gloria’s is a doozy. After marrying an American serviceman, and having his child, at the age of 21 she is to travel to America to join him and start her new life far away from the one she has known. What happened next made a local headline. A fascinating article from the period is reproduced in the TAPAC foyer – “The Bride Who Wouldn’t Leave New Zealand”, and details how Gloria insisted to the ship’s captain that she gets off, and told the reporter that “I don’t want to go to America. I want to go home”. Her mother, tellingly, is quoted is saying it felt like her daughter “had come back from the dead”.
Of course, we might all have stories, but that doesn’t mean we all deserve our own theatre shows about us. What’s most important is the telling. In the telling of this story the Waller’s have borne out some classic themes: the allure of overseas, young love, the troubles of war, the need for personal fulfillment and happiness, and that feeling of home. Theatrically they keep it moving, interspersing Gloria’s monologue with stylised movement and era-specific dance, which Amy carries off with aplomb as she energetically dances with an imagined partner.
A fish out of water [by Matt Baker]
Having seen the original production of Zooquatic earlier in the year as part of the Short+Sweet Auckland Theatre Festival, I was excited to see in which direction this full-length adaptation would be taken and how much further the parody of the content would be pushed. Absurdist in its comedic style and melodramatic in its plot, the show comes across like a live action cartoon crossed with a classic ‘Odd Couple’ inspired television episodic. Not that there’s anything terribly odd or unfamiliar about the main characters’ relationship other than the portmanteau title it inspires.
Larry is a pragmatist, a slightly pessimistic one at that, played with a crisp (albeit unnecessary) vocally English twist by Chelsea McEwan Millar. Although the opening night opening scene is slightly flustered while the actors find their rhythm, McEwan Millar kicks into gear when given strong actions to play. Our protagonist and the ‘straight man’ of the piece, McEwan Millar selflessly drives the story forwards, maintaining attention on the other actors.
Lorenzo, on the other hand, played by Elizabeth McMenamin, is a lavish lover of life. An optimist even when literally faced with the concept of death. McMenanim, also with a (again, unnecessary) vocally English influence, relishes her big open vowels and indulgent physicality, which aptly carry her emotional intelligence and juxtapose McEwan Millar’s tightly-wound predatory pacing.
Lessons in Love [by Sharu Delilkan]
The tension was palpable from the start. Between the Sheets opens with a go-getting high-flying power suit-wearing woman Marion (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) grilling her son’s teacher Teresa (Beth Allen) on his successes, failures, weaknesses and future.
The beauty of Canadian playwright Jordi Mand’s writing is that we think we know the premise of the show, fraught with drama and conflict, but very quickly realise that this is not the case. The subsequent beautifully crafted dialogue skilfully tips a seesaw of emotion and power through repeated bombshells of revelation.
The opening night audience was clearly pleased in the knowledge that that they were in good hands, given the calibre of the leading ladies on show tonight. But the icing on the cake was that unlike many shows that promise and under deliver, Between the Sheets promised and over delivered in spades.
The minimal production values cleverly highlighted the Mand’s writing skill and the tautness of the play’s tension as a whole.
Not the Six O'Clock News... but close enough [by James Wenley]
Recall when Judy “Mother of the Nation” Bailey had to read the auto-cue about herself on the six o’clock news when her pay packet became a top news story? That’s one way to respond when the newsreaders become the newsmakers: continue on as normal.
Now imagine if Judy Bailey had made a (seemingly) drunken spectacle of herself at an industry awards night and it had all been caught on multiple cameras. Or perhaps imagine it happening to that nice Wendy Petrie. That’s the real-world equivalent of the premise of Live at Six, when One News anchor Jane “face of the nation” Kenyon (Jessica Robinson) is caught out, and faces the spectre of going live to the nation on the topic of her embarrassment. At One News, the network execs go into overdrive to protect their star asset. Over at Three News, they salivate about bringing down their government funded rivals.
There’s early talk that “this is not news”, but when the story goes big on the social media, there is no stopping the public’s hunger for salaciousness. The question becomes not one of whether it is news or not, but what kind of news it is. Is Jane a victim, a fool, or something darker? What is the angle? What is the story?
Live at Six, written by Dean Hewison and Leon Wadham, and directed by Tim Spite, first debuted as part of BATS Theatre’s STAB program in 2009, and has had major development of both its script and technology since then. After a New Zealand tour (which included the dubious honour of being the last “Downstage show”), the show finally arrives at the six o’clock capital.
What makes Live at Six such a thrilling show is how it blends the possibilities of live performance with the possibilities of real-time technology, so that we get a fly on the wall view of how the story is shaped from the point of breaking up to the 6pm deadline. The show begins first in the Lower NZI lobby, where we have been warned to have our smartphones ready. The sign outside the theatre doors says, refreshingly, that “Photography and videography on your mobile phone is encouraged” (and also encouragingly mentions that “some content may offend”).
Enough said? [by Matt Baker]
While I wholly appreciate writer/creator Miranda Harcourt’s personal sentiment that “The poetry of the way real people speak has always been [her] favourite form”, I cannot help but reflect on exactly how it is that verbatim theatre has the ability to make the impact that it can. Recently, I was confronted with the contention that it is impossible for dialogue based on, for example, a legal transcript to ever come close to the prose of the greatest playwrights. The answer, I believe, is the editing of the text into an engaging narrative.
Verbatim was co-written 20 years ago with William Brandt, but, as director Jeff Szusterman himself discovered, the material is in no way dated. Renee Lyons plays six characters in total, from both the offender’s and victim’s immediate families, the format being yet another testament to her chameleonic abilities. The variation of attitudes from the people on both sides, Szusterman’s pacing, and Lyons’ characterisations, result in not only contrasting shades of light within the inherently dark content, but a punchy piece of theatre that seems almost too brief.
Portraits, on the other hand, written with Stuart McKenzie 10 years later/ago, plays out more like a 20/20 interview without the stimulation of television editing. Actor Fraser Brown is incredibly easy to watch, commanding the audience’s attention as much in his silences as with his dialogue, his naturalistic cadence resonating that of a once happy now melancholic man. Actress Jodie Rimmer starts off slightly theatrical, especially in her vocals, but eases into her role as the victim’s mother, and her role as the offender’s ex-wife gives some relief in what would otherwise be an incredibly depressing show.
An evening with Mandy Patinkin and Nathan Gunn... and you? [by James Wenley]
You probably know Mandy Patinkin, current star of Homeland, and Inigo "You killed my father" Montoya in cult hit The Princess Bride (which incidentally has just been announced is being turned into a stage musical!). True Musical Theatre fans will know that Mandy is a phenomenal Broadway performer - I rate him highly for originating the role of Che in the Broadway version of the musical Evita.
Mandy was last here in 2009 with his Evita co-star Patti LuPone, and the two gave us a true slice of Broadway, and wow can this man sing. Mandy returns to Auckland on Sunday 24 November, this time bringing along opera baritone star Nathan Gunn "for a special evening featuring their favourite music" including solos and duets from musicals including The Wizard of Oz, Carousel and West Side Story along with a sampling of opera, traditional folk, pop and Yiddish tunes.
Both Mandy and Nathan have appeared on stage and screen in roles other than those you'd expect. Complete our quiz and send your answers to email@example.com by Sunday 17th November to be in the draw to win two tickets to the concert:
1. Who appeared in 1990 film Dick Tracy?
2. Who made a Cameo in Family Guy?
3. Who played Buzz Aldrin in Man on the Moon?
4. Who Appears with Taylor Mac in The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville?
5. Who played Lisa Simpson's fiancé on The Simpsons?
6. Who appeared in the film Elmo in Grouchland?
7. Won a Tony Award for his first Broadway leading role?
8. Who appeared in Showboat?
For each, tell us if it was Mandy, or Nathan! Don't forget to send those answers to firstname.lastname@example.org
An Evening With Mandy Patinkin & Nathan Gunn is performed at the Aotea Centre on Sunday 24 November, 6pm. Details see The EDGE.
Twenty Years Later [by James Wenley]
“New generations of actors and directors keep theatre alive” says NZ Theatre legend Miranda Harcourt, who toured New Zealand prisons with Verbatim, about a home invasion that ends with a murder, in the early 1990s . Miranda had been studying drama therapy in London and returned to New Zealand to create a project with the women at the Arohate Women’s prison. With writer William Brandt she devised Verbatim as a docu-drama, using real-life transcribed interviews with violent offenders, their families, and their victim’s families. “The poetry of the way real people speak has always been my favourite form”. She revisited the form a few years later in Portraits with Stuart McKenzie, this time about the rape and murder of a schoolgirl through the eyes of those mostly closely affected.
Now both works are for the first time are to be performed together as double bill by a new creative team led by Last Tapes Theatre Company, for a mini-tour to both Auckland and Wellington.
“I am thrilled to hand the work and these wonderful characters over to a new team. These were the most intense and rewarding experiences of my career, I love these plays and feel as proud of them as we all did 20 years ago” says Harcourt.
Renée Lyons, who recently took her own solo show Nick to the Edinburgh Fringe, performs in Verbatim, while Fraser Brown and Jodie Rimmer perform in Portraits, under the direction of Jeff Szusterman.
Szusterman was initially “scared” that Verbatim might be too dated for 2013. “When I heard Verbatim at the read through I knew it wasn’t. The thing that initially dated Verbatim is the technology. People stealing videos. I didn’t want to update it to say DVDs. What has endured? Everything. Unfortunately.”
Vaudevillian tease [by Sharu Delilkan]
TAPAC appears to have had a penchant for cabaret and burlesque shows in recent years and we’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed many an entertaining evening there. So naturally we were curious to see what Lilly Loca’s Vaudeville Cabaret Voix de Ville could offer that was new, exciting and sexy.
The show began in a promising way with our MC Lilly Loca, the alter ego of the show’s creator Nat Hugill, in a traditional feather dance to set the scene for what seemed to be the prelude for a good evening’s entertainment. But unfortunately the show didn’t quite hit the mark.
Lilly Loca’s attempt to introduce the flimsy ‘storyline’ that runs throughout the show is difficult to follow to say the least and ultimately lacks depth, which is where the show really falls down. If I’m honest I’d say that the overall ‘plot’ of trying to solve a mystery was not particularly well thought out and could have easily been dispensed with altogether. Dare I suggest that the show may have benefitted with that whole element being substituted with a couple of additional performances from the rest of the cast. And the ‘interaction’ between Lilly Loca and Patty Haag (Patrick Haag) billed as “The Hideously Fabulous Stage Kitten” was an equally weak device. The fact that Patty was never allowed to speak proved more counterproductive than enhancing. My preference would have been to hear her thoughts rather than making her sole purpose as the MC’s foil.
Traditionally in vaudeville/burlesque you only need a vaguely believable thread to join the performers but in this case it just didn’t make any sense – which frankly was a bit of a shame since the performers were fundamentally good.