A precious piece [by Matt Baker]
The Glass Menagerie is a magical play. From the opening Brechtian monologue, to the blatant symbolism and dialogue surrounding the titular menagerie, playwright Tennessee Williams does not shy away from using a light theatrical shroud to expose truths. It would be easy to rely on these conventions and consequentially not find the true weight in his writing, but Auckland Theatre Company’s production of The Glass Menagerie is a beautiful blend.
Edwin Wright sets a wonderful pace for the play and continues to push through with a strong internal drive. He also finds a great amount of humour in Tom’s sardonic wit. Once the trap is set and Amanda really has something to play with, Elizabeth Hawthorne shines with total southern abandon. Hawthorne finds all the colours and tones to her vocals, and turns her words to flesh, a reminder to all actors that, according to Peter O’Toole, eighty percent of what an actor does is with their voice.
Antonia Prebble takes on what could be considered the most difficult role in the play, in that Laura could be easily distanced from the audiences' empathy with too much ‘poor me’ acting. To counteract this, Prebble is slightly showy, but ironically maintains an equal amount of theatricality to her co-stars. The limp comes and goes, but the innate nature of Laura is always there.
Some things you can’t learn in school [by Matt Baker]
Composer, lyricist, and musical director Vicki Millar has a Masters Degree in Musical Theatre (specialising in Writing), so I am surprised that I Wish I Learned came across as such a primary level production. The story is devoid of plot and is instead driven by the characters, who, by themselves, are simply not interesting enough to carry a show. Until a specific series of consequential events are kneaded into the script as opposed to characters switching their thought track to fulfill the sound track, and until the dialogue is (heavily) edited, the story, and consequentially the show itself, remains incomplete.
The show’s narrative is structured via the musical scale and the songs’ titles are not without their charm. There is always freedom in structure, and there is something incredibly satisfying, especially for those who are musically inclined, about the song-list and the slightly kitsch way in which it is presented in the programme, but more work is needed to authentically translate this spectacle element to the stage.
Passes the smell test [by James Wenley]
When it comes to Jimeoin, what he says matters far less than what he does. The Aussie/Irish comic is a fairly regular face at our comedy festival, and a top draw act – filling Sky City Theatre. Jimeoin has long perfected a dry, laid back style of observational comedy that sifts through the ridiculous in the milieu of day-to-day existence. But his biggest strength is the physical acting-out of his impressions, and an expressive face he can shape like putty.
Jimeoin and his audience are quickly at ease with one another, Jimeoin dancing along to his lead-in music, and quickly asks us if we are “ready for some jokes?”. Oh yes we are. Jimeoin has an extremely good sense of his audience, presenting his material with an inclusive wink-and-nod to us, sometimes telling us what he is doing – including letting us know he was going to go off and back on again for his curtain call. He’s also very good at judging how long he can milk laughs for; drawing his gags out long enough without getting stale. In one improvisatory moment, he was able to continue the waves of laughter by simply reacting to the audience’s laughter, thereby generating new ripples. Latecomers lead to great relatable material on how to best get past other audience members to your seat, Jimeoin miming for our education his preferred option.
Clucking good fun [by Matt Baker]
“What do I really wanna say that I’m afraid to say?” In his eulogy for George Carlin, Louis CK noted that what made the late comedian better every year was his constant digging deeper for new material; from jokes about airplanes and dogs, to feelings and who you are, to fears and nightmares. With that in mind, 21 year old comedian James Roque dive bombs into the deep end by confronting his greatest fears in his Auckland Comedy Festival stand-up show.
Broken into three segments of increasingly fearful categories, Roque presents himself as the archetypal self-deprecating Kiwi, which induces just the right amount of empathy from his audience. The result is that said audience sticks with him unreservedly for the duration of the show. Roque addresses the fear induced by potential fights, his Fillipino heritage, Rainbow’s End, and other common – and not so common – phobias, but there is nothing negative about the way in which he engages with his topics.
A slice of Cornish Pasty [by Sharu Delilkan]
Two Cornish rappers and a Casiotone keyboard – that was pretty much all I knew when I got to the gig at Cassette Nine last night. Why not, I said to myself, particularly since we’ve recently seen big balls, classical music hooliganism and mesmerising mime mania, why not Hedluv + Passman?
We thought safety in numbers would be appropriate so we invited a few workmates along to check out this ‘experimental’ experience. The result was shock horror, a great deal of hysterical laughter and general light-heartedness all round in response to this “quirky” and “irreverent” duo.
It was not long before we were introduced to Casio rap, a genre where lyrics are laid over simple homemade beats. In fact the best way I would describe them is akin to the famous 1980s English electronic pop duo Pet Shop Boys on acid. Passman is very similar to a manic Neil Tennant who provides main vocals, and this case occasional percussion while Hedluv is more like a gormless Chris Lowe on keyboards providing deadpan occasional vocals. The contrasting characters on stage really worked giving the whole show its tongue-in-cheek tone.
Legend [by James Wenley]
Vance Fontaine is one of the best kept secrets of the Comedy Festival in Auckland. But it is a secret that needs to be let out.
From the improvisatory genius of Wellington’s Greg Ellis Vance Fontaine is the greatest New Zealand singer you have heard of. I went to his Auckland show Vance Fontaine in Command Performance on a whim last year, where Ellis and his polished live band ‘The Peculiar Sensations’ make up on the spot entries from Fontaine’s back catalogue, in any and every genre of music imaginable. As we discover in Vance Fontaine for Lovers, the Vance is a bit of a romantic – a lover of anything that moves – and he has an extensive number of love songs, and relationship advice, that he has built up over his career. Indeed, we learnt that many of us in the audience were likely conceived during a Vance Fontaine love song.
After last year’s discovery, I was keen for more Vance. I overheard another audience member exclaiming that he deserved a bigger audience than what he got on a miserably wet Wednesday evening (the second show in his Auckland season). Vance, wearing a white suit and glitter in his Elvis hairdo, put a showman spin on it in his first comments to us about having a ‘boutique’ audience tonight. As audiences goes, we threw him a real curveball. As improv, the show relies on the material Ellis is able to get out of the punters – and his first question to us, was met with awkward silence. So on cue, Ellis and the band strike up his classic hit “Love is like an awkward silence”, which showed off Ellis’ impressive pipes.
A kick in the balls [by Sharu Delilkan]
The show started off in the classic Kila Kokonut Krew slapstick style that we are all familiar with. But it was not long before it was obvious that Vela Manusaute was totally on the ball. His latest show at the NZ International Comedy Festival titled Big Balls was a great way to get the ball rolling and to talk about the tough ‘ball breaking’ issues.
The tone of a show riddled with silly ball puns very quickly turned serious, making us realise that it was a different ball game altogether.
Vela’s creation of an all too familiar authority figure which can only be described as a cross between a religious leader and a motivational speaker was powerful, making the delivery of his ‘balls’ of wisdom unstoppable. It was great to see a Pacific Island created character, however insufferable, giving his fellow Kiwis a kick in the balls with special poignancy.
Boys from Britain triumph again [by James Wenley]
British sketch comedy quadrangle Idiots of Ants were my favourite acts in their Auckland debut at last year’s Comedy Festival. Amidst an amusement of stand-up comedians, Ants are a fresh and lively point of laughter-filled difference. Sketch as a form seems to be viewed as a bit antiquated today – it had its heyday in the Oxford/Cambridge humour of Monty Python, and the form has been noticeably absent in New Zealand since the days of Billy T James. What the members of Ants (Andrew Spiers, Elliott Tiney, Benjamin Wilson and James Wrighton.) do so well is take both a clever meta-ironic commentary on the form, but also wholeheartedly embrace the silliness of it all. And in Model Citizens especially it’s how they use us – their audience – that takes the show to a gleeful brilliance.
It doesn’t take them very long at all when the first sketch starts for the Idiots of Ants to turn to us and break the fourth wall – the loose premise of the show is that the boys live in a flat which just happens to have one very special feature: a live audience who think everything they do is funny and then mysteriously leave after an hour. It’s just the start of many wonderful moments between the idiots onstage and the ants below, including the song ‘The man who took the audience to dinner’, which extends the idea of group dating to its logical extreme, and has the audience enthusiastically participate with powerpoint provided dialogue. It all culminated for this reviewer with a knock to the head with a stale bread roll flung into seating. This isn’t a show that pulls up red-faced audience members onstage, but the audience’s participation is an important part of the show. And the Ants lads charm us enough to make us want to too.
Victor Victorious [by Sharu Delilkan]
It was sad to see the sparse turnout for what proved to be a truly professional show – something that Rainer Hersch picked up on and immediately incorporated wittily into his slick intro.
His candour with the audience from the get-go about his inspiration to create a show around Victor Borge – more out of curiosity rather than initial idolising – set the stage beautifully for this personal account. He admits that after repeated comparison to Borge, in response to his own BBC show, he felt compelled to research the Danish musician who ran away from the Nazis to ultimately become the world’s highest-paid entertainer during the 1960s. In addition to taking us on an historic journey, it was this personal journey of discovery that gave the entire show authenticity.
Hersch's set of a Steinway grand and piano chair is simple and effective, and is aptly complemented by his coat and tails as well as white bowtie. While a majority of his act comprises clowning on the piano, the intelligent wordplay that completes his stand-up displays Borge's unique talent.
Bizarre and Expected [by Sharu Delilkan]
To be honest I had no idea what to expect when I turned up to watch Doctor Brown in Befrdfgth. I chose to review this one merely because the limited write-up, that gave nothing away, insinuated that it would be a show like no other.
And that it definitely was. The slick act, that proves that a picture or a visual show paints a thousand words, starts off very modestly and quickly lulls the audience into a false sense of security. But don’t be fooled. Doctor Brown (American writer and comedy performer Philip Burgers) is insane at best, an absolute lunatic at worst – who holds nothing back.
His ability to push the boundaries, while getting the crowd to participate, is both refreshing and intriguing. In a world that is overloaded with political correctness, it is great to see someone who doesn’t let anything or anyone hold him back. Even I was the butt of one of his antics when he decided to hurl my review notepad across the room. Luckily for me it came back via the audience like a boomerang.