Theatre Scenes: Auckland Theatre Blog (Reviews, interviews and commentary)
16Mar/150

REVIEW: The Book of Everything (Auckland Arts Festival)

Missing Pages [by Matt Baker]

When the book that inspires a play has been called a modern classic, when the play itself has been self-attributed with "...beautiful, magical, surprising, touching, terrifying, joyous, inspiring, funny, and ultimately uplifting...", and when the premiere was critically acclaimed as a "hilarious, honest, and beautifully rendered play", there is a lot to which any other production must live up. This pressure that accompanies The Book of Everything means that although it is a logical co-production between Silo and Auckland Arts Festival, advertising its accessibility to everyone aged 9-90, the hype can be more detrimental than beneficial. Simplifying "adult" concepts via the eyes of a child is a powerful device and has been used successfully in myriad books, films, and plays, and while author Guus Kuijer has been consistently recognised for his literary contributions, there is a lack of resonance in the issue of domestic abuse as addressed in Richard Tulloch's adapted script.

While the rationale behind the chalkboard construction of John Verryt's design is clear and allows for a degree of play on the set, its use is minimal – and chalkboard paint does come in colours other than black – and the logistical repetition of opening Mrs. van Amersfoort's apartment to the audience loses its inventiveness very quickly. Sean Lynch's lighting design makes up for the absence of colour, as do the costumes by Kirsty Cameron. The on-stage foley sound performed by supporting cast Tim Carlsen, Michelle Blundell, and Jennifer Ward-Lealand is fantastic, and although Thomas Press' sound design allows for additional scope, it, ironically, reminds me more that I'm in a theatre than the former theatrical convention.

Carlsen steals the show as a colloquial Jesus Christ, with a semi-glaze and calm-cadence that results in an excellently pitched performance, and allows for the comedy and pathos to be played with absolute subtlety. Blundell is endearing as the vivacious Eliza, and Ward-Lealand perfect casting for the ethically resilient attire-challenging sister-in-law to Sam Snedden's Father. Rima Te Wiata completes the extended cast with a wonderfully funny and intense portrayal of the gleeful yet wise Mrs. van Amersfoort; the catalyst for change through the absence of fear for protagonist Thomas Klopper.

Of the family unit, Olivia Tennet is an absolute standout as she perfectly balances the capriciousness of the supercilious yet platonically understanding role of Thomas' older sister Margot, with the still genuine wonderment of youth, culminating in a ferocious catharsis. As Thomas, Patrick Carroll plays up the childlike exuberance a notch too high. As soon as he tells us he's nine, almost ten, we accept that this is the set up for the duration of the play. Fortunately, Carroll settles into his performance and allows his intelligence as an actor to seep through into the more comedic moments in the play. Were this to occur in collaboration with the introspection of the character, Carroll's already solid ability to carry the show would only be enriched. As mother and father respectively, Mia Blake and Snedden give measured performances. For Blake, the absence of truthful extremity comes from the lack of clarity in her journey in Tulloch's text. For Snedden, it is a misplaced weight that does not earn him the poignancy of the change he reveals in his character.

On paper, this is a winning play, and an excellent choice to mark Silo Artistic Director Sophie Roberts' first programmed production. However, even excellent inspiration, a good script, and a great creative team and cast does not necessarily result in something more than the sum of its parts. That's not to say that the play does not work or is not worth seeing (in fact, something about it makes me want to see it again), especially as a production offered in the Auckland Arts Festival, simply that the transition from prose to script to stage can sometimes miss a page or two.

The Book of Everything is presented by Silo and plays at Q Theatre until March 22. For details see Q.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Nik Smythe

15Mar/150

REVIEW: The Kitchen (Auckland Arts Festival)

Humdrum [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

The kitchen disappoints

The Kitchen lacks spice

An intriguing premise for tonight’s show – 12 drummers in a pyramid, a kitchen and a couple cooking the delicious Indian rice pudding that is payasam.

Having seen The Manganiyar Seduction at the 2011 Festival we felt The Kitchen had the potential to be a little gimmicky, a re-packaging of their previously successful formula.

And that’s how things turned out for us – the cooking antics, in almost slow motion, kept our attention for all of 10-minutes before boredom set in. We found The Kitchen lacking in soul, storyline and despite the splendid musicianship of the 12-strong Mizhavu drummers, the show had little effect on us – except deep disappointment. The food element of the show, with the two cooks Mandakini Goswami and Dilip Shankar, was probably the biggest let down of the entire production. The laborious stirring and pouring into the large cauldrons on stage was just that – laborious and somewhat boring at times. We failed to see the connection between the food that was being made, the actions in the foreground and the rhythmic drumming taking place in the background. According to the programme, which we only read after the show, the two characters cooking were an estranged couple going through a myriad of emotions akin to the food bubbling in the pots – sorry to say that definitely did not translate on stage.

12Mar/150

REVIEW: Macbeth (Auckland Arts Festival)

Viva Verdi? [by Matt Baker]

Playwright, designer, and director Brett Bailey has made a career in avant-garde theatre, and while I have a desire to engage with more of his productions, it is based more on reading about his other works rather than witnessing his adaptation of Verdi's Macbeth. The concept of Congolese refugees recreating Verdi's production based on the coming across of theatrical paraphernalia echoes what was presumably Bailey's desire to adapt the piece and allow the company to tell their own story, but, while this is a necessity for any adaptation, the heavy-handedness of presenting the political history of Eastern Congo via narrative text projections felt more like a hijacking than an adaptation. The result of combining these text projections with the other myriad visuals and translated surtitles results in a lot going on in this production, and when also considering the cast and orchestra, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by its theatrical content.

As an Italian opera, Macbeth has all the hallmarks of grandeur. As an avant-garde theatre piece, presented by a South African theatre troupe, it contains a ferocity inherent in war, but it appears the former has become the Birnam wood for the latter trees. The key to universality in a production is, ironically, the specificity of culture; the more specific it is, the more we inherently recognise and can consequently project our own lives and cultures onto it. The only moments of this in Bailey's production are those leading up to Banquo and Lady MacBeth's deaths, where the Kongo language and the harrows of war are respectively employed. Other than these moments, the "potency of African rhythms" is virtually non-existent, which is frustrating, as the brutality of war and the warring of tribes that exist in Central Africa, are not unlike that in Scottish history (regardless of the fictionalisation of Shakespeare's "original" text). That's not to say that the cast's handling of Italianità is in any way incongruent or unjustified in their performances, merely that its juxtaposition with the gritty brutality of the story has not been fully integrated.

As the titular anti-hero, Owen Metsileng develops little throughout the piece. Although Macbeth is accused and spurred on by his spouse questioning his manhood, the eventual necessity of that transition (though not by any means an indication of manhood) must occur. Macbeth is at best a tyrant, and at worst a murderer. Nobulumko Mngxekeza is able to play once she has something to play with as Lady Macbeth, but it is Otto Maidi as Banquo who is able to truly expose his character's internal process through his singing, and consequently present us with a more resonant performance. The seven-piece chorus provides excellent vocal and performance support, especially when Bailey focuses his direction of them between the focus points of the play, and, while working with a new orchestra inevitably requires a period of adjustment, the majority of the cast can afford to be more on par with Premil Petrovic's conducting towards the end of the production when performance fatigue begins to set in.

The Parisian premiere of Verdi's production was received well by the public, but not by critics, and I can't help but note a similar happening as the Auckland opening night crowd slowly clambers to their feet for a standing ovation. Years after the aforementioned production, Verdi conceded that "All things considered, Macbeth is dull." Unfortunately, for all his originality, this is one element to which Bailey has stayed true.

Macbeth is presented by the Auckland Arts Festival and plays at the Aotea Centre until 15 March. Details see Auckland Arts Festival.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Dione Joseph

7Mar/150

REVIEW: One Night Stand (The Basement)

Second Date Material [by Guest Reviewers Lucy Noonan and Tim George]

One Night Stand

One Night Stand

Theatre Scenes sent reviewers along to the first two nights of One Night Stand at The Basement – a 24 hour play festival where 4 teams get just 24 hours to write, direct and stage a 10 minute play. Here are their verdicts. First up Lucy Noonan with night one:

24 hours before showtime the teams were told they had to incorporate a character, “someone who is definitely in touch with their feelings”, a line of dialogue – “It was a bluish-greenish colour”, and they each given their own theme.  From there, they could go wild. tThe festival was hosted by the hilarious Chris Parker, who kept the night light and fun for both the actors and the audience. The night as a whole was fantastic and such a great opportunity to see what established and new talent can accomplish when pushed to the extremes.

6Mar/150

REVIEW: Hikoi (Auckland Arts Festival)

Mōrihariha [by Sharu Delilkan]

Kali Kopae plays Nellie Miller.

Kali Kopae plays Nellie Miller.

Witnessing a theatrical premiere is indeed a privilege but when it’s local with historical ties, such as Hīkoi, and it's a world premiere makes for an even more momentous occasion.

Writer Nancy Brunning’s cleverly crafted words come alive as soon as the show begins. Her ability to reel in the crowd with her sharp-witted dialogue and repartee, incites crowd reaction instantaneously.

The Miller family is headed by mother Nellie (Kali Kopae) and father Charlie (Jamie McCaskill), who are astutely matched by the flawless performances of the young ensemble cast playing their hard case teenage children i.e. Janey-Girl (Aroha White) May (Kura Forrester), Joseph (Manuel Solomon), Pearl (Ngakopa Volkering) and Bubba (Amanda Noblett). Completing the cast is none other than Wesley Dowdell who is perfectly cast as Charlie’s bestie Barry, providing the perfect foil for all the ‘dramas’ taking place within the Miller whanau.

4Mar/150

REVIEW: The Non-Surgeon’s Guide to the Appendectomy (and other games) (The Basement)

We lost the patient [by Matt Baker]

Check out this set!

Check out this set!

Successfully transforming a performance space can win over your audience before the dialogue of a show even begins, and the combination Christine Urquhart's foreboding set, stark lighting by Nicole Astrella, and ominous sound composition by Sinisha Milkovic has me immediately geared for Finnius Teppet's (arguably) absurdist play. Even though the debate on the purpose of the appendix is waning due to conclusive theory on its lymphatic tissue, combining the knowledge of our scientific world with the mythology of Teppett's play is an enjoyable suspension of disbelief. This suspension begins to wane, however, as the script never takes what appears early on as a potentially harrowing journey to its logical extreme.

Like Ionesco's Berenger or The Matrix's Neo, every journey into an unknown world requires an every man conduit with whom the audience can relate. Unfortunately, Chris Bryan seems too caught up in forcing the style of the play to understand his part in it, so much so that I don't get the impression that he is a character who "know['s] how to slip into the background." Add to this the fact that it sounds like he has laryngitis (it actually hurts to listen to him) and the audience is thrown head first at the rabbit-hole, instead of being teased into it.

1Mar/150

REVIEW: Mother/Jaw (Auckland Fringe)

Jawdropping [by Matt Baker]

Mother/Jaw

Mother/Jaw

It has been said that at spoken word performances of Grace Taylor's poetry collection, Afakasi Speaks, the inspiration for Mother/Jaw, that "the poem is wrapped in the body's movement, and the body's movement is wrapped in the poem." This integration of word and movement has been taken on its natural progression by choreographers Jahra 'Rager' Wasasala and Grace Woollett, in what is simply a stunning multi-faceted performance.

From the moment Woollett enters the stage, the tone and quality of the show is set. Her internal struggle and its physical manifestation is emotionally resonant, articulate, and truly engaging. Wasasala is full of attitude and points of view, bringing full dimension to her characters, and Vivian Hosking-Aue evokes a strong sense of the dramatic irony of performance ritual.

While predominantly a dance piece, the spoken-word component of Taylor's original work is incorporated into the performance, with Alisha Anderson delivering a perfectly cadenced monologue. In addition to the performers' physical interpretation, musicians Addison Chase and Christoph El' Truento, who sit visibly side-stage throughout the performance, have orchestrated a full-bodied soundscape that not only compliments, but also enhances them, and consequently provides a sense of completeness to the theatrics of the show.

26Feb/150

REVIEW: Prehistoria (Auckland Fringe)

Evolutionary [by Matt Baker]

Prehistoria

Prehistoria

From its opening narration by ever-funny anti-wordsmith Nic Sampson, to its audience-participatory ending, Prehistoria engages a variety of theatrical conventions and a hilarious narrative, offering its patrons a gorgeous comedic gem for the 2015 Fringe Festival. It's a story we all know. Girl meets dinosaur, girl meets boy, dinosaur loses girl, girl loses boy, dinosaur gets girl, boy gets comeuppance. Luckily, what makes this show its own is how these things occur, so even a one-line synopsis doesn't actually ruin the fun.

Laura Daniel proves her worth as an actress, holding the audience in the palm of her hand as she sashays around the stage, while Eli Matthewson is incredibly endearing as a non-descript and playful, if not neurotic, dinosaur. Their vocabulary as performers is vast and when they do actually speak, it's always worth it. Oscar Wilson's impressive dance moves in contrast to the world that has been created is a brilliant dynamic. Wilson exudes showmanship, epitomising the macho swagger, but can afford to follow this quality through more strongly in his non-dance performance.

26Feb/150

REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (AUSA Outdoor Summer Shakespeare)

A strong and vital theme [by James Wenley]

Presented by AUSA Outdoor Summer Shakespeare

Presented by AUSA Outdoor Summer Shakespeare

British Shakespeare great Simon Russell Beale (who toured here as Leontes in The Winter’s Tale alongside Ethan Hawke) was recently quoted in The Observer arguing that it is fine to take liberties with Shakespeare. “You can do what you like with it – as long as you make coherent, emotional sense… I see absolutely no problem in throwing Shakespeare around” says Russell Beale.

These are comments that New Zealand’s Shakespeare all-rounder Michael Hurst would agree with. In his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the University of Auckland’s Outdoor Summer Shakespeare, the first time he has directed the play in his long career, he’s thrown Shakespeare around quite a bit. There are gentle textual nips (Egeus’ ultimatum that his daughter should go to a nunnery or be put to death if she disobeys him is downplayed) and a flutter of elderly fairies (more on this later), but the most striking aspect is the liberal dose of modern English asides and exclamations the actors have inserted into the iambic. The result is one of the clearest productions of Shakespeare I have seen in terms of communicating the storytelling, and it achieves this without dumbing itself down.

For example, Hermia says what any teenage girl would say when their father is messing with her love life – “God Dad, you’re so embarrassing”. These are Helena and Hermia’s for the Girls generation. Natasha Daniel’s Hermia is not going to put up with anyone getting in the way of the man she has set her sights on – Lysander (Liam Ferguson). Anthea Hill’s Helena, who fancies Demetrius (Ryan Dulieu on my night, he shares the role with Arlo Gibson) is a Lena Dunham train-wreck. Tipsy when we first meet her, she casts herself as one of life’s victims. With a readily sympathetic performance, Hill was a standout audience favourite. The boys are less distinct, but their puppy dog antics when a certain love potion causes them to both fall for Helena are a riot.

26Feb/152

REVIEW: Wanted Thoughts (Auckland Fringe)

Left Wanting [by Guest Reviewer Lauren Owens]

Mike Loder's Wanted Thoughts

Mike Loder's Wanted Thoughts

Mike Loder was dealing out the comedy this Tuesday at his late-night show, Wanted Thoughts.  Not many people dared to brave the 9pm start, but those who did were committed to laugh.

The enticing title, Wanted Thoughts, was a warning of what was to come as Mike delivered his insights on the changing world of dating, his favourite strip clubs and a barrage of sex stories.

The crowd were in a great mood and though there were less than a dozen of us - that didn’t throw Mike for a second.  His banter with the audience made me feel like we were getting the kind of show the Fringe Festival aspires to deliver.  Mike’s advice to a Canadian woman on how to keep her man happy had the women laughing, and the men nodding in thoughtful agreement.