Looking Forward: What’s on my theatrical radar for 2012?

There's no escaping from the boys from Jersey

What will the 2012 Auckland Theatre Scene bring? [by James Wenley]

The Auckland Theatre Scene goes deadly quiet in January. In my last post, as I looked back on 2011, I was grateful the curtain had dropped on a particularly busy year for theatre. Now, however, I’m firmly suffering theatre withdrawal. Luckily, the hopeful promise of 2012 productions keeps me going.

Here’s what’s setting off my thea-dar as we begin the year:

2012 is looking a little unusual…

Bathing with Elephants and other exotic reveries

The first thing to note about 2012 is that the early months of the year promises some particularly out of the box, genre-mashing theatrical happenings.  I’m always keen to experience things that are just a little bit different, and leave you with many questions (eg: Uh… What did I just see?).

Two events at The Edge have the potential to be particularly mind and body expanding. For those that think they’ve seen it all, these two platforms will provide some surprises…

Bathing with Elephants and other exotic revelries breaks the theatre drought late this month, and gets attention for a suitably imaginative and evocative name, but the shows’ description really has my mind swirling:

“Guided by new technologies and an unstoppable desire for uncertainty, Vitamin S in collaboration with Co-Lab and STAMP at THE EDGE want you to experience the cross-bred exotic performance… mixing genre and technology like a kitchen-whizz in a Bombay spice shop”.

A Bombay spice shop? You have my attention. The show opens up the Mighty Civic Theatre’s foyer rooms (Safari, Taj Mahal, and the Wintergarden) as performance spaces, the works seeking to redefine what performance and art is. They are set to include music/sound, movement/dance, voice/text – one performer has been writing a blog about his progress of making an elephant musical instrument. But the biggest draw-card for me? The inclusion of “Interactive sensors”.  

Then in February, The Edge hosts a brand new initiative: the New Performance Festival. While the name is far less exotic, and there aren’t any comparisons to Spice Shops of any region, it too promises a unique “genre-blurring” experience over 8 days. Curated by local legend Stephen Bain (whose When Animals Dream of Sheep and I won’t be happy until I lose of one my limbs I really enjoyed last year), has bought together 12 “leading arts innovators”, whose work he has been inspired by over the last 12 months .

There are some fascinating international artists… German documentary theatre “mavericks” Rimini Protokoll explore outsourcing work to low-cost countries in Calcutta in a Box:

Imagine you are buying a ticket at the box office for an individual show on a specific day. Instead, you get the key for a room and a sketch of how to get there. You open the door and you find a phone ringing. You pick up the phone and a person with a strange accent strikes up a conversation with you.”

2b theatre company bring one man show Invisible Atom, dabbling in economics, confidence crisis, ethics and physics, and Australian artist Fleur Elise Noble’s sketches come to life in 2 Dimensional Life of Her through projections, performance art and puppetry. They are joined by local artists like Talking House Productions, Sean Curham and Louise Tu’u.

 In an off year of Auckland Fesitval and Fringe, I’m really excited by this idea of a mini-festival, bringing together a cluster of provocative work.

Auckland Theatre Company are bringing back some welcome names…

Brooke Williams giving us the eye

Auckland Theatre Company have branded their season as an Encounter. There’s a number of returning playwrights whose work I’ve enjoyed over the years that I’m looking forward to encounter anew.

Brilliant NZ playwright and satirist Dave Armstrong (Le Sud) will give us the taste of the Summer we never got this year with The Motor Camp, a take on the classic kiwi past time as two families butt heads. Roger Hall is back again with A Shortcut to Happiness  about North Shore retirees entering Russian folk dance classes. Aussie Joanna Murray-Smith’s (The Female of the Species) The Gift sees a couple offered whatever they could wish for. That vastly underrated writer Shakespeare makes a rare appearance, with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that seems set to play up the tale’s eroticism – the sultry Brooke Williams looking particularly smouldering on the promotional image alongside Laurel Devenie’s undergarments. Andrew Grainger, whose talent really is bottomless, brings up the rear as that ass Bottom.

New entries are recent American darling Sara Ruhl’s play In The Next Room (or the Vibrator Play), set in 1880 at the dawn of the electric age… and the electric vibrator (Colin McColl says it brings new meaning to the term ‘the body electric’. Quite.), and finishing the year is one of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s early hits (they’d later work together on Disney films like Beauty and the Beast), and one of my favourite musicals about flesh eating plants: Little Shop of Horrors.


But the playwrights I’m most excited about making their returns are Bruce Mason and Eli Kent. Bruce Mason and his play Awatea aren’t new of course, but what’s significant is that it hasn’t been performed professionally since 1974, and never before in Auckland, if my research is correct. ATC, who have had great success with revivals of Mason’s works over the last few years, are rectifying this oversight. Significantly, George Henare, who played Matt Paku in the 1968 Wellington production, will return to the play this time playing his blind father Werihe.

Young playwright Eli Kent (Thinning and The Intricate Art of Actually Caring) is promoted to ATC’s main bill with Black Confetti. A hit of ATC’s Next Stage 2011, it speaks for the casualties of Generation Y. It’s compared to Hamlet (!), Alice in Wonderland, and TV’s Breaking Bad and promises “full on theatricality”. I’m there.

I’ll also be keeping an eye out for Young and Hungry replacement The Next Big Thing, and ATC’s collaborations with PIPA: Sinerella and Tsunami: Galulolo.

Silo have a new face

Silo's new face

Silo rebranded and went pink and minimalist with their 2012 season brochure, the show promotional images an assortment of obscured faces, limbs, and a nipple. The images are beguiling; the shows themselves are impressive and classy choices.

Developing from 2011, Silo mash fresh takes on classic plays with the newest writing from the world stage.

Top Girls

On the classics front, Danielle Cormack headlines an all female ensemble in Top Girls, the iconic play by Caryl Churchill, looking afresh at what it means to be women in the modern world. Private Lives, by consummate playwright Noel Coward, billed as the ‘original rom com’ gets a makeover starring Mia Blake.

The contemporary selections, both from London’s Royal Court pedigree, sound like they’d make good theatrical fodder… Tribes by Nina Raine is about Billy, a deaf character, who struggles to be heard in a family too busy shouting at each other… and The Pride  by Alexi Kaye Campbell “examines changing attitudes to love and sexuality on either side of the sexual revolution.”

Then there’s Brel, a “cabaret noir” starring Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Tama Waiparastoundingly gooda. Specifically created for the Town Hall Concert Chamber, Kip Chapman and muso Leon Radojkovic are providing a new take on the words and music of Belgian singer songwriter Jacques Brel.

At their season launch, there was also the tantalising hit of Silo’s future endeavours:  “On top of these productions, Silo will spend much of 2012 developing new work for production in 2013/14, collaborating with luminous NZ playwrights Victor Rodger (Sons; My Name is Gary Cooper) and recent Bruce Mason Award winner Arthur Meek (On The Upside-Down of the World).” Silo develops NZ works in the Silo style? Yes Please.

There’s no escaping the Jersey Boys juggernaut….

There's no escaping from the boys from Jersey

The Tony Award winning musical Jersey Boys will take over Auckland in April. Get ready. It’s the biggest musical to come here for too long. The real life story of rise and tribulations of Frankie Valli and his band The Four Seasons contains all the necessary drama for a good story, the staging effects are slick, but the real selling point is the score (combined with the powerhouse vocals of the four leads) featuring hits ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Rag Doll’, ‘Oh What a Night’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ is. I caught the production in Melbourne, and am thrilled to be able to revisit it again soon (with the addition of Vince Harder!)

On a far more intimate scale, I’m also really unabashedly looking forward to off-Broadway musical The Last Five Years, composed by Jason Robert Brown and starring regular Tasman crosser Tyran Parke and newcomer Cherie Moore. It follows the relationship of Jamie and Cathy over five years, but with a twist – Jamie’s story starts chronologically from the moment they meet, Cathy’s in reverse from when they separate.

But wait, there’s more…

Ensemble group Outfit Theatre Company have got the NZ premiere of UK hit Punk Rock, the return of their Factory Floor development season and a new play in their wicked ‘three-different-plays-with-the-same-opening’ format of Love After Dark, Alice kids show, a new season of The Sex Show, and if A Criminal Christmas is anything to go by, A Family Christmas will be a must see for end of year belly laughs.  

The New Zealand International Comedy Festival turns twenty so will be pulling out all the stops. Expectations for some great comedy theatre are high.  

Short Play festival Short+Sweet will be back for a third year, this time joined for the first time by Short+Sweet Dance.

With heaps more shows to come this year that are currently yet to be announced, or even yet to be created – what’s going to be on at The Basement? Q? What’s Tom Sainsbury writing? – 2012 is looking good.

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