Grimm sparks grins [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]
It was impossible to ignore the writing on the wall as we walked up the stairs to the Basement Studio. A closer look revealed the actual script that had been penned by none other than Ghastly Dash Grimm: A Tale Of Unease’s writer/director Benjamin Henson.
Ben Anderson’s dramatic stage design was the first thing that assaulted our senses as we took our seats. The slightly skewed quirky and asymmetrical stage made us feel slightly off-kilter right from the start, which literally set the stage for the entertainment that ensued.
The lack of colour (black and white) used for the set, costume as well as makeup set the tone perfectly, making for the perfect Adams-family–esque and ‘Tales from the Crypt’-like ambience.
Like many others in the audience I was keen to get a helping of fiendish fun and ready to jump out of my skin once the house lights were dimmed. However I must admit I didn’t quite feel as scared as expected – which isn’t a bad thing. In fact what I caught myself doing a lot of the time was grinning from ear to ear – which can only be attributed to Henson’s uncanny ability to push comedic boundaries above and beyond your wildest expectations. That being said both my husband and I thought that the audience didn’t laugh out loud enough – despite the fabulously tongue-in-cheek OTT performances and lines delivered to perfection. Maybe they thought they had come to see a serious horror show instead (because of the title ‘A tale of unease’) – a ghastly mistake on their parts, I’m sure!
Give them another [by Matt Baker]
The Hobson Street Theatre Company has something significant on their hands: real people with real stories. Founded four and a half years ago, it began as an activity on offer at the mission, eventually developing into a legitimate theatre company, and its company is legitimately developing.
The central conflict for drama is there, a classic 80s kidult movie plot, but it is only taken so far, and the characters are only given so much to work with, resulting in an ultimately positive yet easy ending. Ironically, the real moments of truth are when the attempts to "act" are dropped, and the rawness of the actors is revealed, especially from Shadow and Haretutewake.
Without an apparent dramaturg or playwright the plot remains heavily diluted, and at times it's difficult to find the onstage focus. When the focus is found, and the members certainly prove their ability to find it, the dialogue has a weighted simplicity. What HSTC need now is to trust their members more and delve deeper into what their significance holds for the rest of us.
Last Chance Café is presented by The Hobson Street Theatre Company and plays at The Herald until November 1. For details see Auckland Live.
Dionysus would approve [by James Wenley]
For a story that has passed from an oral tradition, and then written down by Homer, it’s intriguing how The Paper Cinema tell their Odyssey mainly through visual imagery and sound, filmed and played live. Even with the technological mediation (or perhaps because of) I felt connected with a story that has been retold and repurposed throughout the ages, as I sat in a darkened room to relive once again Odysseus’ perilous journey home.
To tell their story, The Paper Cinema has quite the impressive set-up. On one side of the stage are work-stations consisting of cameras and an incredible stack of paper drawings, cut-outs, and creations that will be used by Nicholas Rawling and Imogen Charleston to create the show’s visuals. On the other, is an equally incredible stack of instruments and other noise-makers that will be used by Christopher Reed, Hazel Mills and Katherine Mann to create the evocative soundscape, that includes a violin, keyboards, scrunched up paper and a long string attached to wind chimes positioned over the audience’s head. In the middle is a large screen where the magic happens - well some of the magic anyway.
By way of introduction, Rawling inks onto a filmed piece of paper the main characters of the story – Greek hero Odysseus, his wife Penelope, son Telemachus, Goddess Athene, and inventively depicts the suitors that hound Penelope during her husband’s absence as a pack of wolves. For the rest of the show the pieces are pre-drawn, but this opening allows us an insight into the hours and skill that must have gone into creating the paper elements.
Soup for the Imagination [by James Wenley]
Now in its second year, The Feast has the potential to be one of the most important avenues for development of new work. Created through Red Leap Theatre’s incubator program, the company’s physical theatre devising process is used as a springboard for the development of new work from its participants. The Feast marks the point the work is produced for a paid audience, and includes three works for one bargain ticket: The Perfect Original developed by Jess Holly Bates, Mr Nancy by Ella Beecroft, and Sinoatrial by Robert Mignault. While last year’s gastronomic metaphor included themed cupcakes to represent each show, and a special POP dining night, this year the artists are serving soup during the interval of each show to get the conversational juices flowing about the work.
As we enter The Basement doors for The Perfect Original, we’re offered a very Pakeha mihi as we’re invited to hongi each of the performers – Romy Hooper, Leon Wadham, Victoria Abbott, and Jess Holly Bates – something I don’t ever recall being invited to do by Maori companies. After I press my nose against Hooper’s, she laughs about the “awkward cultural moment”. The cast line up to present their mihimihi, but they interrupt and talk over each other, not giving the ritual the accepted reverence. Bates says she is a 4th generation New Zealander. They talk about place and where they come from, and where they’re travelled. Hooper says she “can get pretty territorial”, and claims Mt Eden as her mountain for the view.
Clever, Compassionate and Concise [by Sharu Delilkan]
It appears as if the play has already begun as we file into Q’s Loft space. Solo actress Adura Onashile busily writes on the blackboard with her back facing us and occasionally turns around to mouth words to her ‘other actors’ on stage. Before long you find yourself sucked into Henrietta Lacks’ world, retold with absolute clarity and compassion by the astute and talented Onashile.
Finding out that HeLa is the first play that she has penned is quite a surprise – something I only realised after the show. The writing is crisp, clear and above all encapsulates the ethical dilemmas that you as audience members come away from the show thinking and debating about for days.
Personally the fact that both factual data and insight into Henrietta Lacks' life are perfectly pitched and balanced throughout the show, makes for a heartfelt and compelling drama that's non-judgemental and doesn’t run into the perennial trap of being OTT at any point in the magnificent one-woman solo piece.
HeLa straddles science and human drama impeccably, with protagonist Henrietta Lacks at its heart. Based on the New York Times bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, HeLa tells the little known true story of Lacks, an African American woman who died at the age of 31 from cancer at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1951, whose tissue samples were taken without her permission and subsequently used as the basis of critical groundbreaking scientific research spanning more than six decades.
Icarian Heights [by Matt Baker]
"Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics" is not the definition I would use to describe Perfect Place. While there are no new stories under the sun, Colin Garlick's complete lack of an attempt to re-imagine, or at the very least thinly veil, one iota of the stories he has haphazardly drafted onto the page is frankly insulting, with the "stranger in a new world" stumbling over the "freedom of choice" tied together with a borderline plagiarised Tyler Durden-Mark Renton monologue. In what I presume was an attempt to compensate the barrenness of Garlick's script, As Expected have over-loaded the creative team with not only two directors, but a dramaturg. Regardless, Lauren Gibson and Zinzan Selwyn only have so much with which to work, and I'm at a loss to Katy Maudlin's contribution.
Taylor Hall's character has no backstory, which has apparently led Hall to not establish one for his own performance purpose. He's supposed to be our everyman, but he's the least interesting character with which we're presented. Eli Matthewson gives a pitch perfect performance – luckily, the lack of a three-dimensional character allows Matthewson to let loose his natural comedic abilities with complete abandon. Greta Gregory has the most layers, but her initial incomplete articulation in physicality, especially compared to Mathewson, means she doesn't earn the right to play them. Fasitua Amosa's best work comes when it has no surface-level play against in his way and the affability of his casual ability to entertain can shine. Amanda Tito has the most to play in regards to the extremity of the style of the production, but, again, she only has so far to go with the role.
Affairs of the Heart [by James Wenley]
Glancing down the program for If I Only Had a Heart, you might think that director Aaron Tindell compiled this cabaret show’s song list by typing “heart” in his iTunes search bar. Each song has “heart” somewhere in the title, helpfully bolded in red. It’s a mix of Broadway tuners that only the most dedicated musical theatre fan would have heard of, like ‘Listen to Your Heart’ from Young Frankenstein, to some more familiar hits like ‘Heart of Glass’ and ‘Anyone who had a Heart’. The oldest is 1927’s ‘Stout-hearted Man’ and the newest 2012’s ‘Never Give all your Heart’ from TV’s bombshell Smash and Cindy Lauper’s ‘Hold Me in Your Heart’ from the musical Kinky Boots.
It soon becomes apparent just how carefully Tindell has programmed the songs to speak to one another and take up different positions, surmounting the initial gimmick. This is helped considerably by the interpretative talent of performers Jessie Cassin, Cherie Moore, and Rebecca Wright. Individually they play to their strengths – Wright excels in expressing pain and vulnerability, Moore is a playful seen-it-all before storyteller, and Cassin is at turns petulant and optimistic – and each get multiple showstoppers. As a trio, they are a divine harmonising powerhouse.
Uncertain Futurecast [by James Wenley]
The Yo Future movement has been spreading across the country. First devised in Wellington in 2011, Director Jo Randerson has worked with youth from Invercargill, Hamilton, Wairarapa and asked them provocations like “What does the world look like to you?” and “what would you fight for?” to create their past, present and Yo Future.
The 14 member cast enter one by one and present themselves to us. With the audience split by traverse staging, the cast keep turning to see us all, and keep shuffling to get themselves in the right order. It’s a suitably awkward way to meet them, not quite sure of their place in the world. These are the Millennials aka Generation Y aka the Me generation aka the Peter Pan generation, born after 1984, categorised negatively by being narcissistic, lazy and politically disengaged, and categorised positively as open-minded, connected, and self-expressive.
The cast seem like a typical local cross-section, and they’re very much the real deal. Under Randerson’s guidance they’ve formed a tight ensemble core. Randerson calls the style “contemporary clowning” and “choral choreography”, and the show is built with a series of games and encounters. For example, they’ve built on the classic theatre exercise of ‘pass the object’, three of the cast participating in imaginative play as they passed an expanding invisible ball that had dropped from the sky. Just when I was starting to feel disconnected from this playing (it’s not shared with us), the first group of clowns strut in to disrupt their game. These are the Starbucks drinking, fashionista, look-at-me divas such as you might find on High Street, a parody of the spoilt millennials leaching money off their parents. Later we also meet a group of teen drinkers, selfie-obsessed and giggling like hyenas. Both are fairly strong critiques of these social types, both are groups of girls, and I wonder where the male clowns are at?
Soulless Depths [by James Wenley]
An hour before the show, Uther Dean is sitting on a couch in The Basement foyer, playing arcade games courtesy of Young & Hungry. He later hangs outside the venue. When it’s approaching the 9pm mark, he goes to the door to usher us in. Once we’re all in the Studio, he strolls in, finds his light, and immediately propels into Everything is Surrounded by Water. No apparent pre-performance ritual, no warm-up, no getting your head into the performance zone in the green-room, Uther is ready when we are.
It gibes with the origins of the show, written by Uther Dean and Hannah Banks (also director) of Wellington’s My Accomplice company, which was originally performed in his flat and other people’s homes in the Wellington Fringe earlier this year (for which it won Best Solo).
But I’m so struck by Uther’s apparent pre-show casualness, even laxness, because Everything is Surrounded by Water likes to mess with our notions of what it is and what it is doing; truth and artifice. Uther says he is no actor, this is not a show, but he wants to tell us a story, it’s his 56th time doing it. 90-95% of what he’s telling us is true, he claims, but not the parts we think. Water is like a 21st Century slacker spin on the Doctor Faustus narrative. Dean’s anxiety is that he has no essence when, after a series of humorously long-winded narrated events that gets him to this point in the story, he receives a medical opinion that he is lacking a soul. Turns out he gave it away as a child on a post-it note*. It’s a post-modern meta-text, continually making fun of its own construction and the Wellington jokes that are lost on its Auckland audience. It’s a tightly structured stream-of-consciousness, there’s looseness to its form, but it hits its beats with honed precision.
Tying laces before loose ends [by Matt Baker]
Not unlike last year, The Basement’s second season of Young & Hungry provides an excellent dichotomy of comedy and tragedy with its 2014 offerings, Second Afterlife by Ralph McCubbin-Howell and Uncle Minotaur by Dan Bain, respectively. Unlike last year, however, there is a strong similarity in the thematic style of each play.
As a side-note, I find it odd that Young & Hungry's “most talented selection of young performers and technicians” are being likened to our future Peter Jackson's, Anna Paquin's, and Taiki Waititi's in the programme notes, considering the latters' successes lies in the film industry rather than theatre.
No stranger to creating dramatic parallels with the real world, McCubbin-Howell explores the evolution of online profiles in what is more or less a theatrical adaptation of Scott Pilgram Vs. The World. Even when considering this as a youth production, it takes a few moments to adjust to director Leon Wadham’s style for the piece, which requires a necessary juxtaposition between the two worlds, but isn't fully realised due to the already heightened nature of the characters existence in the real world.