REVIEW: At the Wake (Multinesia Productions)

At the Wake transfixes.

In the Wake of Genius [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

At the Wake transfixes.
At the Wake transfixes.

Victor Rodger’s uncanny ability to write dialogue, that’s often self-censored in real life, is both refreshing and hard-hitting, which captures our attention right from the start. And this is evident as soon as Joan (Lisa Harrow) opens her mouth. The barrage of profanities that emit her gob can only be likened to proverbial verbal diarrhoea. There’s no question that we’re in for a no-holes-barred bumpy ride like no other.

The storyline inspired by Rodger’s own family background aptly answers the burning question he must have grown up wondering i.e. ‘What it would have been like had his estranged Samoan father, Scottish grandmother and him ended up in the same room together?’

Director Roy Ward obviously has a keen understanding of Rodger’s voice, having directed both Black Faggot and My Name is Gary Cooper. His ability to bring this ‘fictitious’ scene to life, that Rodger has created, results in an extremely poignant and heartfelt story that everyone who has ever had a family or been part of one would definitely be able to relate to.

Rodger’s writing and McIntyre’s staging combine beautifully. The presentation of Harrow’s acerbic character on stage and Pelesasa’s character Robert’s offstage bitchiness, set the scene for an inter-generational, inter-racial love-hate relationship that is painful, comforting, familiar, excruciating and ultimately tested to the full extent.

The actors were impeccable. Veteran actor Harrow (Step Dave, Kavanagh QC, The Omen III and The Last Days of Chez Nous) plays her role flawlessly as Joan the grandmother/mother-in-law. Perfectly cast as the chain-smoking, booze-swilling mother holding court at her daughter’s funeral, Joan ignites the already tense emotional situation by speaking her mind, without considering consequences. This ultimately erupts which is inevitable given age old grudges bubbling under the surface.

Robbie Magasiva as Tofilau was sublime and displayed a humble, confused, respectful, but charismatically – and possibly flawed – Samoan father trying to do the ‘right thing’, with ease. It was great to see Magasiva in a rare casting where he is not the hunk and stud of the piece. Tofilau is a great role for Magasiva as he is able to demonstrate the length and breath of his acting ability – not just the pretty face that we have come to know and love in shows like The Strip and of course Shortland Street.

Newcomer, in relation to his fellow cast members, Taofia Pelesasa (The Factory, Black Faggot) gives a stellar performance and holds his own despite the giants he is pitted against on stage. The relatively new face to theatre gives a stunning performance as the gay grandson/son who has returned from New York to attend his beloved mother’s funeral.

Mark McEntryre’s simple but effective backdrop makes a great statement mirroring the off the wall and quirky subject matter that we witness in the foreground. I also really liked the reflective panels in the wings, stage left, which allowed us to see the expressions on the actors’ faces when they turned away from the audience – well done for an incredibly successful and innovative use of The Herald Theatre space which we are all too familiar with.

Phillip Dexter’s lighting subtly enhanced the mood and the spaces portrayed, and Sara Taylor’s costumes were not only apt but cleverly used as props to complement the storyline within themselves.

Pretty much all possible human emotions were explored concurrently, including age, race, sexuality, betrayal, love, devotion and of course secrets and lies. While some plays try and combine drama, tragedy and humour and are only partially successful At the Wake manages to find the perfect balance.

At the Wake, with less sensitive direction and less perceptive writing could have skewed towards a French farce or English sitcom, but it most definitely doesn’t. This is theatre at its best, where all involved shined brightly without eclipsing each other and end result is not a dry eye in the house through either tears or laughter. Wonderful.

Multinesia Productions presents At The Wake playing at the Herald Theatre until December 6. Details see Ticketmaster

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Dione Joseph and Metro Magazine review by James Wenley

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