Theatre Scenes: Auckland Theatre Blog (Reviews, interviews and commentary)
27May/150

REVIEW: The Best Possible Album Party Anybody Has Ever Been To (The Basement)

For Realness [by James Wenley]

Donna Rose Feat. Karla

Donna Rose Feat. Karla

I don’t think I’ve ever been to any album release parties before, but if I do in the future, I don’t see how they could top The Best Possible Album Party Anybody Has Ever Been To.

Donna Rose (Frith Horan) and Carla (Kate McGill) have risen from the slums of Columbia to international pop super-stardom. There must have been a clash at the Vector, because here they are at The Basement Studio for one night only (make that till the end of the week) to launch their genre-blending pop-hip-hop-electronic-R&B album Krystopia.

There are a number of elements that are supremely impressive about this launch. We’re in the bar when five dancers strut in and pull out their moves. Then Donna Rose and Karla make their own epic entrance. They are “Lady Latinas” who are “gonna burn up the night”. They promise an album, and show, about heartbreak. About being full in love, and the top of the world, and having your world rocked.

24May/150

REVIEW: Fallout: The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior (The Large Group and Last Tapes Theatre Company)

Deserves a more thorough investigation [by Matt Baker]

Fallout Cast

Fallout Cast

On the international stage New Zealand is a young country with a comparatively less violent history than the birth lands of its colonial forefathers, but violence is violence, and even the smallest act can reverberate across the globe. The death of Fernando Pereira, son, husband, father, may not have directly affected the lives of those outside his Dunbar number, but the cause of it was an unquestionable blow to the nation. The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior has been explored in books, film, and television, but not to the extent one would expect such a significant source of drama to be.

Enter The Large Group and Last Tapes Theatre Company in a joint venture to produce playwright Bronwyn Elsmore's Fallout, six years after it was written and 30 years since the event that inspired it. It begins with a beautiful and provocative monologue by Kerry Warkia, accompanied by hypnotic projections by Jeremy Fern that continue throughout to give literal background to the play, before launching into the infamous incident and the people caught in its wake. Luanne Gordon and Toby Leach are immediate drivers of the narrative, Elsmore's words projecting from within them with the utmost conviction and truth as they recall the circumstances leading up to the attack.

22May/150

REVIEW: Out of Order (The Basement)

Faulty [by Matt Baker]

Out of Order

Out of Order

As theatre practitioners, we often find ourselves telling the stories of those who can't, but story-telling is a false notion. Scriptwriters are told to show, not tell, and it is what they choose to show, or not show, to the audience, which interests the latter. Out of Order tells a lot of stories. From a toaster and self check-out machine to a traffic light and a vacuum cleaner, the sentient junk that inhabits the world of the play has plenty to say, but very little to show or even do. The doing is left up to actress Alice Pearce, whose play is a result of the Story Generator workshop, but generating a story and developing it for theatre are two very different things.

Like many of its characters, the show itself seems to be suffering from an existential crisis. Monologues and vignettes are perfectly valid modes of the theatrical medium, but a story is not simply a conglomerate of ideas that are carelessly tied together by their plastic handles and dumped on the side of the road for the entire world to see. The repetitive introductions of each object that Pearce's nameless narrator presents to us is a missed opportunity for her genuine discovery of them throughout the piece, and the past tense in the dialogue, on which it eventually settles, removes any sense of tension that could have been created, or added to the dull conflict forcibly interjected into the script.

18May/150

REVIEW: Live Live Cinema: Little Shop of Horrors (Auckland Live)

Weird and Unusual Plants do the Best Business [by James Wenley]

Live Live Cinema: Little Shop of Horrors

Live Live Cinema: Little Shop of Horrors

In the previous seasons of Live Live Cinema, the soundtracks to cult B Movies Dementia 13 and Carnival of Souls were recreated live by a handful of actors, musicians lead by the masterful Leon Radojkovic and a dedicated foley artist. It would be relatively easy enough to replicate the formula for their new touring show using Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960).

Nah, too easy thinks Jumpboard Productions and Director Oliver Driver. Now there are just four actors who do everything:  synched dialogue, instruments, and a cacophony of crazy sound effects created through an eclectic assortment of objects. With no doubt a streak of glee, they’ve assigned bell ringing duty to height-challenged Bryan Coll, and hung it high above his head. Each time a customer enters the flower shop, Coll leaps on cue.  In those first Live Live Cinemas, on balance, our attention was focussed most on the screen. Here, it is incredibly difficult to take your eyes off the antics onstage.

If you are like me, you probably know the story of Little Shop through the stage musical and 1986 Frank Oz directed film version. Watching Roger Corman’s Little Shop makes me appreciate how intelligent the musical adaptation is. We’ve got the basic story of the strange and unusual man-eating plant that coaxes hapless flower assistant Seymour into entering a Faustian Pact to keep it satisfied. There’s no subplot between Audrey and the Dentist, no take over the world end game, and we have a major character that didn’t make it to the musical: Seymour’s overprotective, hypochondriac mother. The film is chock full of WTF moments, like a customer who eats flowers, and Seymour’s rather bizarre encounter with too-eager prostitutes.

14May/150

REVIEW: EastEnd Cabaret – Perverts (NZ International Comedy Festival 2015)

Close, but no cigar [by Sharu Delilkan & Tim Booth]

The 'dangerous' devilish duo.

The 'dangerous' devilish duo.

As we file into our respective seats we notice one half of the duo (known as the EastEnd Cabaret) standing at the top of the seating block. So it's no surprise that we are thrust into full audience participation mode as soon as the lights go down. However I very quickly realise that they are targetting men, which made me feel relatively at ease. To be honest watching the spouses' and/or partners' of the chosen victims of humiliation was equally as fascinating and entertaining as watching Pervert the show.

Once they decide to go into actual performance mode, sans audience, we are treated to a multitude of original numbers which have suitably silly lyrics, in keeping with the theme that is the Comedy Festival. The main singer a.k.a. Bernadette Byrne (Jennifer Byrne) is seductively saucy in her delivery while her partner in crime Victor Victoria (Victoria Falconer-Pritchard) in her ‘hermaphrodite-like persona’ is ridiculous to say the least.

Her keyboard 'playing' on stage was great but the screen surrounding her 'instrument' make me wonder at times whether she was playing anything at all. However we were treated to her playing the theremin (musical saw/singing saw) when she decided stand in the audience in the row directly behind us – an unexpected up-close and personal treat without any humiliating repercussions! The sound of the instrument was reminiscent of music from an old episode of Doctor Who (or Tales of the Unexpected), which added to the edginess of the show.

14May/150

REVIEW: Spyfinger! (NZ International Comedy Festival 2015)

Beware of this heart of (comedy) gold [by Matt Baker]

Spyfinger!

Spyfinger!

Following the success of A Play About Space and A Show About Superheroes, Wellington-based award-winning theatre collective My Accomplice brings their latest show (about spies), Spyfinger!, to Auckland, following their Wellington season for the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. With incredibly (and necessary) detailed direction by collaborator Uther Dean; Alex Greig, Hannah Banks, and Paul Waggott mime their way through a convoluted yet intricate plot parody of the best and worst of the spy film genre.

As with any great parody, there are homages abound in Spyfinger!, from including every James Bond film title through some form of wordplay, to the salaciously saddled femme fatale. The plot is on par with the antics of an Austin Powers film, however, it is impossible not to note both the similarities and differences with Wellington's Spyfinger! and Auckland's Force Norman. Both follow tales of espionage and parody the spy film genre, and even have the exact same equine related pun, but where Force Norman is prop heavy and chaotic, Spyfinger! relies almost exclusively on mime with a polished finish.

14May/150

REVIEW: Faith (Eli Matthewson) (NZ International Comedy Festival 2015)

No Doubt [by Matt Baker]

Eli Matthewson

Eli Matthewson

Religion is a goldmine for comedians. It's also an easy target, which some exploit to disseminate their philosophical views, and while that's perfectly valid in the comedy medium, it's not the aim for Eli Matthewson. Instead, the concept of faith, or, more specifically, losing it, is a chance for Matthewson to simply expose not only some of its fallibilities, but also his own, without turning the show into an awkward diatribe or neurotic episode respectively.

Matthewson is a consummate comedic professional. His show is so perfectly worded and so finely-tuned you'd think it was an edited DVD special. He doesn't take a single breath and doesn't use one superfluous word if it isn't somehow working towards a joke. The show is so quick-fire that even when Matthewson probes the odd audience member to reinforce the universality of a topic, there's no moment of hesitation, which simply reinforces the entire audiences' trust and comfort in his role as the performer.

In comparison to not only his fellow 2015 Billy T nominees, but also every other New Zealand comedian, Matthewson is noticeably similar to the American stand-up style of delivery and content. He hasn't attempted to create a cathartic comedy that resonates with people emotionally; he's made a show that makes people laugh, non-stop, for an hour. If you had any doubt as to whether New Zealand comedians could hold their own with their international counterparts, have faith in Eli Matthewson.

Faith plays at The Basement until May 16. For details see the Comedy Festival.

13May/150

REVIEW: National Treasure (Nic Sampson) (NZ International Comedy Festival 2015)

Working his way up [by Matt Baker]

Nic Sampson

Nic Sampson

What does it mean to be a National Treasure? What is the criterion for nomination let alone winning? And who is so humbly honouring themselves? Comedian, actor, and head-writer for Jono and Ben, Nic Sampson, addresses all this and more in his New Zealand Comedy Festival show, National Treasure. With the help of Sam Neill, Sir Ernest Rutherford, and Captain James Cook, Sampson explores his own successes and failures to determine how warranted a winner of this fictional distinction he really is.

Most of Sampson's material is observational, and those who have seen his stand up in the past will recognise certain re-emerging themes; his family, his time as the yellow Power Ranger, his excursions, but Sampson has managed to continue mining the comedy within with hilarious results. It's a perfect example of how you can find the humour in anything if you look hard enough. What Sampson has to his advantage as a comedian is his skill as an actor. Comedy is not simply about an idea that tickles an audience, it's about delivery.  It's not just about what you say, it's how you say it.

13May/150

REVIEW: Fly or Die (Hamish Parkinson) (NZ International Comedy Festival 2015)

Surreal Grandeur [by Matt Baker]

Hamish Parkinson

Hamish Parkinson

There are a variety of ways in which artists create work, and while there are theoretical practices that can be employed in an attempt to ensure some form of artistic merit, such an outcome is never guaranteed. There will always be those who follow the rules, guidelines, and templates to great success, and then there are those, like Hamish Parkinson, who will capitalise on these concepts and use them to their own unique advantage. It's a way of working by which very few artists can genuinely abide, but for those who can, again, like Parkinson, it has an incredibly successful result.

From the moment he enters on stage to the moment he leaves, there's barely any semblance of sanity in either Parkinson or his material. The show operates in an extreme meta-theatrical/comedic style, reminiscent of the late Andy Kaufman, and while Parkinson keeps his audiences' attention throughout, there are opportunities for him to delve further into this rarified form of artistic expression, especially with his training and inarguably brilliant skill in clowning. Working through a checklist of the necessary components for the perfect comedy show, the intentional and comedic cracks in Parkinson's on stage persona begin to materialise as he tackles the seemingly simplest of tasks, ironically illustrating the intricacies of comedy with his surreal grandeur.

13May/152

REVIEW: Dark Side of the Afternoon (Ashton Brown and Louise Beuvink) (NZ International Comedy Festival 2015)

Good Schadenfreude to You [by Tim George]

Dark Side of the Afternoon

Ashton Brown and Louise Beuvink

Ashton Brown and Louise Beuvink clearly know what they are doing. Each comic has  around 30 minutes for their set, and they both rise to the challenge in completely different, yet complimentary, ways.

The show really should have been called 'Schadenfreude - the Musical', based on the subject matter and Ashton Brown's gloriously half-assed introduction to the show, involving your Granddad's dance moves and Coldplay.
Like the shy guy at the party who suddenly becomes the centre of attention, Brown sails through a variety of eclectic subjects with a nervous energy and a ready line in self-deprecation. Clearly a lot of thought has been put into the act, but he affects an attitude that embodies the ridiculous 'she'll be right' mode of Kiwi machisimo, while simultaneously skewering the stereotype.
From the existential crisis of his acting experiences on Shortland Street and Power Rangers, to the moral vacuum of modern day politics, to the insidious message underpinning 'Where's Wally', Brown casts a wide net. There's a chance of a joke missing, but Brown is a good judge of material -- all the bits hit, and some hit harder than others. He also manages to wedge in a bit involving smoking and infanticide. It's marvellous.