Indian ‘Ink’redible [by Sharu Delilkan]
When my husband Tim and I moved here almost 10 years ago Krishnan’s Dairy was the first live theatre show we saw. It not only left an indelible memory of theatre at its best but it was one of the key motivations why we decided to stay in New Zealand. Having come from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong we did not know whether there would be enough around to satisfy us as culture vultures. Indian Ink Theatre Company’s original ingenious production allayed those fears and made us feel we could live here and make a go of it.
So going to see the show this time around was an experience that was approached with much excitement but tinged with trepidation. ‘What if I don’t like it as much as I did the first time?’ I thought to myself. Also I was a little dubious about spoiling the sweet memory in case my taste had changed a decade later.
But I must admit that the minute the house lights went down and Jacob Rajan and musician David Ward started strumming on stage all the fabulous warm fuzzies I felt a decade ago came flooding back.
For anyone who has ever hosted a Party [by James Wenley]
It’s a fine art to hosting a great party. In Inviting Caroline we learn from twenty-something Scott all the traps for new players; when to confirm the date, the ratio of food eaten to food left on the floor, and the importance of screening your invite list.
It’s a bit like putting on a play: getting the space ready, hoping lots of people will come, and that they all have a good time (Party Reviewers – now there’s a good idea!).
Ben Van Lier as good sort Scott is our affable party and play host; an unreliable narrator who steps in and out of the action to recount the lead-up to his party gone wrong, with many a diversion (like the travesty of the ‘ish’ qualifier or an education on the 7 states of drunkenness). Inviting Caroline, written by Ross MacLeod, was first performed in Hamilton in 2002 and the style seems to match that era when Scrubs was in vogue. It’s Quirky with a capital Q. It’s good to see kiwi theatre returning, and the script for the Auckland production directed by Chris Tan has evidently been newly updated for the Facebook generation; a reminder of how fast our social lives have developed with technology that was not around when the play debuted a mere 10 years ago.
Awatea Shines Brightly [by Sharu Delilkan]
You knew the writing was on the wall the minute you walked into the theatre. I’m of course referring to the beautifully chalked letters that 'panoramically' filled the backdrop of the entire stage. So dramatic, intriguing and utterly effective was this device that you could not help reading some of the letters while the show was going on.
But on to the show.
Having produced both The Pohutukawa Tree and The End Of The Golden Weather, Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Awatea completes Bruce Mason's classic trilogy of powerful New Zealand dramas. And it is everything it promises to be – thrilling, heart-wrenching, morally tough - a fiercely realistic study of betrayal and disillusionment.
Awatea, based in and around Ngati Porou country, is the story about a remote township of Omoana that revolves around their ‘hero’ Dr Matt Paku (Te Kohe Tuhaka) who left the East Coast and now owns a successful practice in Auckland. Proudest of all is his old, blind father Werihe (George Henare), who basks in this success via his son's letters, read to him by the no-nonsense local postmistress Emma Gilhooly (Geraldine Brophy). Every New Year's Eve, Matt comes home and the whole community celebrates. But things are different this year: Gilhooly has devastating news which she must keep from old Werihe at all costs.
Astounding Journey Continues [by James Wenley]
It is remarkable that in the same week, two New Zealand works of international quality enjoyed return seasons in Auckland. The first, Indian Ink’s Guru of Chai – is still playing at Q, so seek it out. The second – Red Leap’s The Arrival played three public shows over the weekend. I hope you didn’t miss it!
The Arrival is Red Leap Theatre's (co-directors Kate Parker and Julie Nolan’s) marquee work – together with Laureen Hughes they formed Red Leap expressly to create the show for 2009’sAuckland Festival, and it was definitely a personal highlight for me when I was first saw it that year. The show is devised physical theatre (a process Red Leap describes as “a group of artists working together creating images and devising sequences that have meaning”); The Arrival is dance and drama, movement and image, of the heart and soul.
The Arrival has now played in Sydney, Wellington, Hong Kong and Seoul.
I think you can make the case for The Arrival as a New Zealand classic, in as much you can for a work adapted from Australian Shaun Tan’s graphic novel of the same, set in an undefined, fantastical world. It took an intrepid band of New Zealand pioneers (50 artists were involved in the play’s development - including – Parker, Nolan, John Verytt, Elizabeth Whiting, Jeremy Fern, and the brave divising actors) with a great deal of smarts and theatrical ingenuity to realise Tan’s whimsical book for the stage.
Perfect Theatrical Blend [by James Wenley]
The Guru of Chai brews his tea to perfection, carefully measuring the exact combination of herbs and spices. It is an art that simmers through this play. He’s unappreciated at his stall, plagued by Starbucks. We don’t get to sample his tea, but I’ll wager this: He’s an even better storyteller.
And really, that credit is to Indian Ink’s Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan, who distill their storytelling to an exact perfection. I was first transported by the Guru’s tale in 2010 at the University of Auckland Drama Studio, home base of dramaturge Murray Edmond, when they were first previewing their new work (following Krishnan’s Dairy, the Candlestick Maker, The Pickle King, and The Dentist’s Chair) to small and appreciative audiences; they also took the play into people’s private homes. After a NZ tour and bigger season at the Maidment Theatre last year, they have recently gone overseas with the show to places such as Singapore, LA, Tennesse and Sydney. With many theatre productions flash of the pan stuff, it is remarkably rewarding to revisit the show for its Q Theatre season (a proud achievement for Lewis, who helped shepherd Q’s existence). Chai has had time to breathe and to grow richer.
If this is a kid’s show, consider me a big one! [by James Wenley]
Outfit Theatre Company have turned their devising smarts on Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland story. I’ve never been to one of Outfit’s School Holiday shows, so was very curious to see how their upstart (and often dark) style would translate for children.
As we enter TAPAC it sounds like some unruly kids haven’t yet learnt their audience etiquette. But wait, no, that’s the Outfit ensemble, decked in school uniforms, and acting anarchic on the thrust stage. With all the busy-ness in this preshow I don’t know what the kids watching made of it, but I enjoyed the bits I could make out. The show begins with a school class prologue (each kid corresponding to a different Wonderland character, ala Wizard of Oz) where poor Alice gets bullied (“Dreamer, dreamer, you like Justin Bieber!”). The meanest bully (Ema Barton) gets her gang to steal Alice’s cat Dinah, and says she is going to eat her for dinner. She meets a talking white rabbit, who leads her down a rabbit role, and Alice finds herself in a strange Wonderland….
Meaty Drama, Sweet Musical [by James Wenley]
Tusk Tusk is a serious family drama, with lots to chew upon. ATC’s Associate Director Lynne Cardy describes it as ‘Arthur Miller for children’. Carried by a stunning performance from its three young leads, they must fend for themselves with absent authority figures.
Checkout Chicks is an unapologetically silly and entertaining Musical. It contains guns made out of Kumara.
One is a new kiwi Musical. The other is an international drama from an award-winning playwright. You’d be hard matched to find two such disparate works.
Next Big Thing is the next evolution of Auckland Theatre Company’s youth wing (a platform for actors and crew 15-25), which started with 2007’s Open Call Shrew’d production.Three years of Wellington import Young and Hungry Festival followed in 2009-2011. For the ecology of Auckland Theatre, it’s a commitment that is really proving dividends. Across the road at the Herald Theatre, positively potent Black Confetti by Eli Kent (himself moving up from Thinning in 2010’s Young & Hungry) features performances by Julia Croft (Open Call 07) and Virginia Frankovich (Young & Hungry 10+11).
Shivering and Shaking; The Glittery Black [by Rosabel Tan]
Siggy (Kip Chapman) is the quintessential drifter. He’s spent the past seven years “finding his niche” – that is, working his way through every stage one paper offered by the Faculty of Arts – and he’d happily continue this search, only The Dean (Adam Gardiner) is now threatening to kick him out: Not for his unrelenting dedication to underachievement, not even because he’s a small-time drug dealer catering to staff and students’ appetite for black (a fictional drug not unlike cocaine), but because one of those students – Billy – had a heart condition, shouldn’t have been sold the drug, was sold it anyway, and died as a result.
Siggy’s also dealing with the presumed suicide of his dad, a renowned seismologist whose boat was recently discovered offshore without him in it, but there’s more to it than this – he just doesn’t know it yet. There’s also his childhood friend Katie (Virginia Frankovich), who’s back from Berlin with big news of her own, and you might think: these are some heavy things for a person to deal with. And you might think: I know what kind of play this is going to be, but try not to, because one of the most striking aspects of Eli Kent’s Black Confetti is the way it resists taking you where you expect it to go, both on a scene-by-scene basis and as a whole, and not in ways that feel contrived – just unpredictable, the ground beneath constantly shifting in ways that surprise.
Commissioned by Auckland Theatre Company, who have workshopped it over the past eighteen months, the play is a pastiche of naturalism and caricature, the supernatural and the surreal, murder mystery and thriller, and at the centre of it all, Siggy, played by Chapman with laidback charm. You get the sense that life is something that mostly happens to him: His dad’s brother, Ray (Edwin Wright), is the one giving him black and telling him – and his best friend Elvis (Nic Sampson) – to sell it; He doesn’t meet a girl, a girl – Flo (Julia Croft) – meets him; and when the Haitian spirit of the dead, Baron Saturday (Keith Adams), shows up, it’s clear who’s in control.