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

REVIEW: Rupert (Auckland Theatre Company)

Rupert Bare [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

Stuart Devenie and Damien Avery embody Rupert through and through.

Stuart Devenie and Damien Avery embody Rupert through and through.

It's rare that a show about someone's life is introduced by the main character as "a show about my life" but Rupert, a biography of media moghul Rupert Murdoch breaks many of the norms of theatre as he does the fourth wall.

David Williamson's Rupert encapsulates a multitude of genres – it's a story, biography, cabaret, comedy, adventure, cartoon, love stories, political thriller and even a buddy movie about the older and cynical Murdoch juxtaposed against his younger brash and fearless self.

The zany production colourfully describes the rise and rise of a Colonial battler, against business rivals, socialists, political enemies, family dynamics, the English establishment and American press barons with a determined and unapologetic Murdoch unbound at the end by challenges, scandals and frequent popularity.


REVIEW: Ngā Pou Wahine (Taki Rua Productions)

Mana Wahine [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

Nga Pou Wahine still relevant after all these years.

Nga Pou Wahine still relevant after all these years.

In many ways it's hard to believe that Ngā Pou Wahine premiered two decades ago. Yes Māori theatre has moved on, gaining more and more prominence within the New Zealand theatre tapestry, however many of the themes that the play touches upon are still relevant today.

Although this show is an historic piece of Māori theatre, we were privileged to witness yet another historic moment in the making with both the directorial debut and solo debut of Miriama McDowell and Kura Forrester respectively. These two prominent Māori wahine most definitely shine brightly which is befitting as it is part of Auckland Live's Matariki programme.

From the minute Forrester takes to the stage she commands our undivided attention. The sentiment is echoed by one of the punters that I talk to after the show: "I was so mesmerised by what was going on on stage that I totally forgot to drink my wine (and I definitely like my wine), which I only realised when the play ended".


REVIEW: Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography (Silo Theatre)

Download Incomplete - Error Occurred [by Matt Baker]

Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography

Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography

There is a fine line between playwrights providing what is necessary outside of dialogue for practitioners to convey the meaning of their story, and prescribing the text because they cannot see it any other way. On one hand, theatrical theories, conventions, and practices can shift dramatically over the years, leading to limited explorative opportunities for future practitioners. On the other, it can severely diminish or even conversely alter the entire perspective to which the playwright wishes to adjust an audience. Regarding, Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography, playwright Declan Greene clearly believes the latter, so much so that not only is it a condition of the play's licencing, but in the case of Silo Theatre's production has warranted a written note to be provided to the audience – which has in turn resulted in a response by Silo Theatre themselves. The response does not provide justification – and is therefore unnecessary – and the production should be left to speak for itself. The irony, however, is that Greene's note, without including Silo Theatre's response, provides more drama to the evening than anything he's written in the play to which the note itself refers.

That's because nothing actually happens in this play. There's a beginning, in which performers Bronwyn Bradley and Mark Wright immediately endear themselves upon the audience with self-deprecating confessions executed with great comedic skill. There's a middle, which doesn't exactly emerge from what we've just seen, but does provide potential dramatic conflict, even if it is awkwardly inserted like a virgin's fumbling fingers. Then there's an end, in which the cast recite postcard confessions, which I'm sure Greene thought would provide a self-reflective personal catharsis for each member of the audience, but just doesn't.


REVIEW: Cover Lover (All You Can Eat productions)

Nothing new under The Basement Lights [by Matt Baker]

Cover Lover

Cover Lover

29 performers, numerous acts, and one creative mind behind it all. It's a recipe for a potentially excessive and hubristic night at the theatre, but creator Jessie McCall has pulled together a diverse assortment of dancers, actors, and musicians under the unifying theme of artistic copyright to produce a truly entertaining evening.

From intricately mechanical and captivatingly repetitive choreography, accented particularly by Sofia McIntyre's physical articulation, to a stunning rendition of "Chandelier" by Malvina Domar, the variety within the show offers a high degree of genuine entertainment value for all audience members. Humbly inspiring acts like The Hardchorus' Youtube clip rendition of "Truly Madly, Deeply," by Savage Garden and the breaking free of David Toomey's ancestral roots rap are juxtaposed with lip-synchs, a classic cover convention, hilariously presented by Tim McPoland and Amanda Tito with Christina Aguilera and Bette Davis respectively. There is also an excellent commentary on what could be considered one of the most notorious covers in history, with the ever-funny Hamish Parkinson leading a literally metaphorical bible-verse group, and Phoebe Borwick inter-webbing of Elizabeth Gilbert's TED Talk on "Your elusive creative genius" is as intriguing to watch as the original clip itself.


REVIEW: Ballet Revolución (Auckland Live)

Enjoyably engaging [by Sharu Delilkan]

Yasset Roldan Garciarena truly soars.

Yasset Roldan Garciarena truly soars.

If you go to Ballet Revolución with your dance snob's hat on I'd advise you not to bother. But if you're interested in having an entertaining night out with the family Ballet Revolución is definitely the one for you.

Yes I agree that their attempt to incorporate classical ballet, contemporary dance and modern hip hop was at times taken a bit too far, but if you go with an open mind to enjoy the ride, and not to poke holes in the artistic dance art form, then you're guaranteed to experience the most thrilling endorphin rush.

In addition to the visual spectacle that we're treated to the live band on stage is an added bonus. The combination of music from the eight-strong live Cuban band, performing the infectious rhythms of Latin-America, as well as hits by Sia, Lorde, Beyoncé, Jessie J, Bruno Mars, J Lo, Prince and Rihanna, is phenomenal to say the least. I was really excited to see them on stage soon after the show opened. However I was equally disappointed when the mesh screen separating them from the dancers in the foreground made them literally blend into the background, due to the lighting choices of designer Michael Buenen. If I'm honest I caught myself on a couple of occasions trying to peer beyond the dancers to see the sensational band in action, but failed miserably each time. An easy solution I thought could be using the lighting with spotlights on soloists that were 'bringing it on', rather than being entertained by the faceless people performing to the groove. It was almost like trying to ignore the elephant in the room, which ended up being more of a distraction which I'm sure was not the intention.


REVIEW: I’ll Be Fine (The Basement)

Young in Trouble [by Matt Baker]

I'll Be Fine

I'll Be Fine

B4 25 Playmarket Award nominee Ben Wilson has been inspired by seeing "young people's stories told honestly," and while I don't buy the authenticity of the issues addressed in his play, "I'll Be Fine", the pre quarter-life crisis generation is a terrifying truth to which I've been exposed. The film obsessed potential scriptwriter role in which Wilson has written himself, aside from being painfully common territory for young aspiring writers, is so meta-theatrical it almost collapses in on its own awareness.

A multi-character two-hander, Wilson and James Russell as Brian and Jude respectively, are immediately identifiable as the stereotypical lads of the road trip trope, but due to their combined lack of vocal articulation and basic stagecraft, the classic odd couple dynamic seems more accidental than earned, and while there is an obvious pace to Wilson's dialogue, it can't come at the expense of not being heard.

As a playwright, Wilson is not afraid to address weighted themes, but the script crashes into the issues, as opposed to darting in between them before eventually losing control. The play presents with an uncertain balance of who is in the driver's seat as the faux emotional well upon which Wilson draws is relatively evenly dispersed between to the two characters, but doesn't genuinely build to a natural climax or afford any catharsis, of which there could be much.

What is ultimately lacking is strong and clear direction from Ryan Knighton. Points of view and asking questions are ignored for the sake of an upended couch as a door and spot lit monologues; the focus is not on the script, but on the theatrical conventions the production employs. Yet even then, basic guidelines are ignored and puzzling choices are made; the first three rows of the audience share the stage light.

The opening night crowd was predominantly under 30 and much more the target audience, but even their engagement with the piece seemed subpar to how Wilson states he was affected by playwright Eli Kent four years ago, and while there is some poetic value in his script, it is not delved deep enough into to justify the defensibility of youth in age and practice. If this is truly an example of an honest story of New Zealand's young people, they need more help.

I'll Be Fine plays at The Basement until June 20. For details see The Basement.



REVIEW: The Cave (Garnet Station Tiny Theatre)

A Satisfying Squeeze [by Andrew Parker]

It seems sort of appropriate that Kate Watson’s The Cave, a show so concerned with size, plays out in Garnet Station’s Tiny Theatre - where space isn’t wildly abundant for either the players or the audience. What better setting for a drama of sexual function and dysfunction performed by actors often wielding impressively proportioned dildos? Squeezed in there with a full house, it’s intimate in all senses of the word.

Watson and David Capstick play Sophie and Grant – new parents struggling to get their sex life back on track. After a muddled attempt at intercourse exposes some new difficulties with “rocking the Casbah”, both independently decide to do the logical thing and surgically revitalise their ailing love-making. She thinks she’s too big (the title’s a metaphor in case that hasn’t sunk in yet) and he thinks he’s too small. Fortunately modern medicine is here to save the day.

Initially I wasn’t certain I quite understood the tone the show was taking. The first scenes of Sophie and Grant together neatly encapsulate their marital strife but, perhaps due to first night nerves, didn’t seem to do much to sell them as a couple or their problems as being especially weighty. This uneasiness clears up as soon as the pair begin doubling as each others’ doctors and the script commits to a farcical, almost dream-like logic, as these ordinary people find themselves at the mercy of eccentric and dubiously-credentialed quacks who push them towards getting their naughty-bits either scaled up or down.

The Cave is genuinely hilarious in these segments, with both Watson and Capstick going gleefully over the top as they expound upon the risks and benefits of vaginoplasty and penis-enlargement – the high point being where Grant is called upon to play out he and his wife’s bedroom antics with an Action Man and a Barbie (“Good, you’re using props” says Dr. McCarton approvingly). Watson as a writer well understands the classic comedy tropes she’s playing with and pushes the humiliation of the lead couple just far enough, creating some superbly squirm-inducing moments (partcilularly when talking about the medical realities of these procedures).

The final portion of the piece meanders a little more, the main punchline being obvious for a little while before its unveiled and the mystery of what has been going on not majorly gripping as it’s pretty clear there can be no real explanation for the preceding lunacy. The cast, however, were well into the swing of things by this stage, especially in some very funny scenes featuring Mary Rinaldi as a contemptuous receptionist and a lisping, leaking survey taker. All three, and director Regan Crummer, confidently and committedly carry the piece to its finale, never letting the energy flag.

The conclusion actually manages to be rather touching for something described as a “pitch black” comedy. The Cave has a simple, uncomplicated message and affection for its characters which means that its take on marital politics isn’t as stinging as it might have been, but which ensures you’ll leave with a big smile on your face. And given the focus on insecurity and alienation it feels well-judged that Watson should conclude her script on a feel-good note of genuine connection.

The Cave is presented by Umbilical Theatre and The Teatro Group  and plays at Garnet Station Tiny Theatre until 14 June. Details see Garnet Station


REVIEW: Treats (Altitude Productions)

Substantive [by Tim George]



A couple sit on a couch, enjoying the evening. A plain of glass shatters. And then, so does everything else.

Written by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) and directed by Alistair Browning, Treats is a bruising comedy about three people who want (and need) different things from each other. Dave, a journalist, has just come back from assignment in Iraq, and is determined to take up with his girlfriend again. Sick of his drinking and womanising, Ann wants nothing to do with him. Dancing around the nuclear disaster which is Dave and Ann's relationship, her new boyfriend Patrick tries to mend bridges, and sows the seeds for his destruction.

The cast are uniformly excellent. Amber-Rose Henshall convinces as a woman who is making a earns, determined attempt at breaking away from her old life. Simon Ward, as her clueless boyfriend, milks laughs out of the smallest background action. The biggest laughs come from his attempts to be the 'adult' in the room, which always end up with him impotently on the couch or in the kitchen. Jeff Szusterman, as Dave, is unafraid to make Dave unlikeable. Whether it is denigrating Patrick for cooking, or slapping Ann when she takes the initiative, he is great. Dave, with his one liners and propensity for contrarian arguments, could come off as a cartoon boor, but Szusterman grounds Dave's irascibility in weakness. Ultimately, Dave needs Ann more than he is willing to admit, and his barely suppressed rage toward the fairer sex masks how completely lost he is without one under his thumb.


REVIEW: Dust Pilgrim (Red Leap Theatre)

The Anti-Arrival [by James Wenley]

Dust Pilgrim

Tom Eason and Alison Bruce

Going in, the talking point is how Red Leap have downsized from their large ensemble company, the world-building of The Arrival, and the giant creatures of Sea. Dust Pilgrim is a nimble show for a smaller venue and three performers (plus crew member), designed artistically and economically for ease of touring.

Going out, the big news is that Red Leap has gone a little dark. While Red Leap has always had this edge in the background of their work, their previous shows have built a kid and school friendly reputation.  This time directors Julie Nolan and Kate Parker have extended this edge further. Dust Pilgrim isn’t frightening, but the stakes are life and death.

If you’ve seen The Arrival, you might remember one of the first images: A family unit, mother, daughter and father, clinging so tightly to each other they had become one body. In the Auckland seasons, the mother and daughter were played by Alison Bruce and Ella Becroft, who reunite for Dust Pilgrim. In The Arrival, Bruce and Becroft stay behind while their husband/father travels to a new world looking for work, and they eventually join him in this new homeland. With these casting echoes, Pilgrim plays out as an alternative nightmare scenario in which we follow the mother and daughter left behind. Becroft’s father, played in flashback/memory by Tom Eason, has long been missing. Bruce says everything will be alright when he returns, but at the back of the stage we see the same action repeated: Eason being shot during a gun battle, and disappearing in a cloud of grey dust. Bruce and Becroft fend for themselves on a plain that has forgotten what the rain tastes like, and can only fantasise what the sea looks (like the sky turned upside down).


REVIEW: Days like Today (Itchy Apteryx)

Maybe another day [by Matt Baker]

Days like Today

Days like Today

The combination of Auckland Playwright Collective's Read Raw in 2008 and The Court Theatre's Fresh Ink new play development programme in 2010 has certainly given substance to Laurence Dolan's play, Days Like Today, but substance is not enough for a play to make the transition from page to stage. It requires a ruthless director and mature cast, who will question everything and make choices based on a psychological and practical investigation of the characters and circumstances respectively.

At times the dialogue in Days Like Today progresses with a Pinteresque patter, and when director Lucy Noonan, and the cast, Ashton Brown and Simone Walker, tune into it, the show sings along. At other times, the dialogue sounds like an art-house film student script that hits with the subtlety of a semi t-boning you at an intersection. It's a shocking inconsistency that prevents the kernel of the drama from truly developing and affecting its audience.

Brown resorts to sarcasm, a classic misplaced defence mechanism that prevents him from digging deeper into the character and making more interesting choices, and throws odd upward inflections onto the ends of particular lines, turning statements into questions. Walker tends to fall into certain vocal rhythms, and doesn't find the variety of shade that would provide her character with the complexity it requires. He tells us she's changed, but without seeing the cracks in her façade as the pressure increases, we simply have to take his word for it.