Ch-ch-changes [by James Wenley]
The theatrical year is starting up early, heralded by the cannon blast of 360 – A Theatre of Recollections, which takes over The Civic stage from 13 January. Audiences will have the unique opportunity to sit on the mighty stage, just big enough to fit a 360⁰ circular stage where fireworks, song, dance and a seal burst into life around the audience, seated in swivel chairs. The show, created by Carl Bland, Peta Rutter and Ben Crowder, debuted at the NZ Festival in Wellington in 2010, and the long awaited Auckland premiere comes this year “against all odds”. Its one of the many shows this year I am excited about in Auckland’s theatrical calendar, in a year that brings both change and adventure.
Goodbye Shane, Hello Sophie
After thirteen extraordinary years leading Silo Theatre, artistic director Shane Bosher programmed his last season, “Being Human” for 2014, which sees Silo looking back at its roots, and also its “grand future”. Late last year it was announced that Sophie Roberts would be Shane’s successor, and the response was ecstatic; Toi Whakaari 2007 graduate, an accomplished actress (I hope you saw her in Abigail’s Party), and a director for Silo (Midsummer, The Pride, I love You Bro), and perhaps even more encouragingly, a director who has been knee deep in the independent scene working with a number of different artists (The Pitchfork Disney, A Basement Christmas Carol, Between the Sheets, Yeti Trilogy, 13, Chop/Stick).
On her appointment, Roberts said:
“I’m determined to forge my own path and I’m so excited about the future direction of the company. At Silo we are blessed with a theatre-literate audience, people with questioning minds who expect the company to take risks and ask important questions, not only about New Zealand but the world we live in.” “I hope that through my leadership Silo can continue to evolve in response to the cultural climate. I am looking forward to pushing the possibilities of storytelling into the future with Silo.”
Roberts takes up the artistic directorship on April 1st, and the first production she will direct for the company in her new role is Sunday Roast by Thomas Sainsbury in June. Sunday Roast is an exciting, and surprising addition to Silo’s lineup. Tom Sainsbury has been beavering away for years on his wickedly funny scripts and finally makes it onto the mainbill with a play written in 2009. About time.
Following that is intriguing thriller Belleville by US playwright Amy Herzog, directed by Oliver Driver, and starring the always reliable Sophie Henderson, then Silo return back to where it all began – the original Silo Theatre (now the The Basement), for The Blind Date Project, a collaboration with Sydney’s Ride on Theatre and a follow-up of sorts to their White Rabbit, Red Rabbit of last year.
Before Shane moves on has one last Silo show for us, Tony Kushner’s “great work” itself: Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika. Both shows can be seen independently in March/April at Q, or together in sequence on the weekends, “just like a magnificent HBO weekend marathon, only live”. There was a memorable filmed mini-series (from HBO) starring Al Pacino and Meryll Streep, but I can’t wait to see fantastic local actors tackling Kushner including Mia Blake, Alison Bruce, Peter Elliott and Jarod Rawiri. This sort of epic event theatre is all too rare locally – costs are big for even just one of these parts – so Angels in America is the show(s) that I am most excited about this year. Angels in Auckland cannot come soon enough.
The big question mark for 2014 is what Shane does next, after Silo. Will he continue to direct work here as a freelancer? Will he look to overseas? Creative New Zealand’s Arts Board grants have a tease… funding Shane Bosher “Towards research and a first draft of a new work.”
“The contract between actors and audience is an act of faith” says Auckland Theatre Company artistic director Colin McColl, who uses this idea for their 2014 season. There seems a certain amount of faith on McColl’s part that the audience will follow him on one of the company’s most eclectic seasons in years. There’s a Brecht, a Noel Coward, a hot US work, in the local corner a new Arthur Meek and Briar Grace-Smith and a revival of a neglected play by Maurice Shadbolt, and to cap off the year, an, errr… Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The local offerings are some of the most interesting. In Paniora!, Briar Grace-Smith takes for her theme a whanau with Maori-Spanish heritage and family demons. Also to be presented at the NZ Festival, I’m tantalised by the collaboration with Okareka Dance Company’s Taiaroa Royal and Taane Mete. Kapai, and Ole!
Arthur Meek, whose On the Upside Down of the World played last year in New York where he was doing a residency, is back with Trees Beneath the Lake in September. Starring top talents Michael Hurst and Theresa Healey, it “questions what happens to the inhabitants of a small nation who risk everything to dream big”.
Described as a “rarely-peformed New Zealand classic”, Once on Chunuk Bair by Maurice Shadbolt reveals a tragic, nation-making battle, programmed to mark the centenary of WWI. Directed by Ian Mune AND Cameron Rhodes, it is another opportunity for the company to feature younger talent in their mainbill.
Older international classics Fallen Angels by Noel Coward (kicking off their season in February at Q) and Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Soul of Szechuan (starring a cross-dressing Robyn Malcolm – brilliant!) get the ATC treatment, and Broadway smash Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz is headlined by Sarah Perise, Hera Dunleavy, and following her turn in last year’s The Glass Menagerie, Elizabeth Hawthorne.
I’m also looking forward to whatever The Selecta turns out to be, when ATC’s Youth Arts arm takes over The Basement in July for “hilarious high-jinx, gritty drama, free events, live music, talkfests, hook-ups and more”.
As usual, at this time of year there is lots still to be announced. Who knows what other exhilarating theatre experiences we’ll be talking about at years end. But here’s a few more events I’m anticipating:
- Whatever is going on at The Basement. There’s always something interesting to discover upstairs or downstairs in their space. This year, the Basement crew want their artists to involve audiences even deeper in their work, so their experience doesn’t just begin and end in the theatre. With this challenge, I look forward to the response. The Basement will be celebrating their 5th Birthday on 1st February, and officially reopening on the 4th. Early in the year keep an eye out for the return season of Ben Anderson’s Just Above the Clouds, Aussie visitors They Saw a Thylacine, and Sam Brooks’ Riding in Cars with (Mostly Straight) boys, performed outside in the Basement carpark.
- University of Auckland’s Summer Shakespeare returns with little-seen Pericles, “Shakespeare’s fantastic tale of voyages, piracy, death-defying escapes, captivity and family lost and found.”
- Had enough of Mamma Mia yet? For the third time in a decade, the show that can’t be stopped is back at The Civic Theatre, this time with a local cast from Auckland Music Theatre. Then in June Musical fans can see a UK production of Annie. Let’s hope there is still another massive musical announcement to come.