REVIEW: Fresh Choice (Tuatara Collective)

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth

[Sweet As]

This show marks the debut return to The Basement Theatre for many of the audience members, including both of us. Watching a great observational commentary on the whole Covid-19 situation is both refreshing and cathartic.

Beautifully written through the eyes of four potentially downtrodden supermarket ‘essential’ workers during lockdown, Jason Te Mete’s Fresh Choice touches on a multitude of Covid-19 experiences – fears, confusion and friendships. Fresh Choice centres around four main characters – Sione Pavihi aka Cece (Numela Taavao-Pavihi), Christine Masaga aka Chris (Elizabeth Salesa), Amelia Ah-Chong aka Amee (Iutita Maligi) and Tu’ufa’aleleilei Puluga-o-le-laulau-teiua Pautae-Pasemea Musemea aka Cruz (Seto Ierome) – who volunteer to take on the night shift to avoid having to deal with crazy customers. However, they soon realise that dealing with crazy customers is far better than having to deal with each-other for nine consecutive hours. All the actors portray strong and diverse characters with genuine humour and intelligence and are perfectly complemented by ‘random’  Pākehā cleaning staff, surreally improvised by talented performers Donna Brookbanks and Hamish McGregor. 

The slapstick co-worker comedy is reminiscent of the Kila Kokonut Krew’s The Factory – with flickers of Are You Being Served? and Carry On-esque humour.  The show moves at a fair old pace despite being opening night, and the occasional cast members corpsing on stage gives the performance an added charm.

Te Mete’s subtle set and costumes work a treat to complement the action taking place on stage.  The little screen that hangs above the stage ominously marks the passage of time during lockdown. In addition, the soundscape that punctuates the scene changes is equally understated albeit highly effective. This includes the hauntingly familiar Covid announcements, and its now-all-to-familiar associated musical jingle. 

Te Mete’s agile script includes clever jibes targeting Samoan, Māori, Pākehā and Chinese cultures, which inevitably creates a number of laugh out loud moments.  And the true and authentic lines are delivered with the utmost gusto. Other no-holds-barred topics include KFC, Winston Peters, Trump, being fat, religion, loneliness, atheism and ‘blame it on China’.

The trials and tribulations of working in a local supermarket provides a wonderful foil for the creeping and ominous onset of the Covid-19 crisis, but the real beauty of this piece is that it’s not woeful, miserable or tragic – it’s more akin to a group therapy session in the Basement Theatre.  At its heart Fresh Choice is a strangely and hilariously happy show full of life, love, and stupidly humdrum mediocrity. And the fact that the fabulous four actors almost didn’t get the chance to graduate, due to the cancellation of the MIT’s Creative Arts programme, makes their fantastic performances even more poignant.

Whatever’s your bag, Fresh Choice is unmissable as it resonates with everyone on so many levels.  And the fact that it provides much needed LOLs at this time is the icing on the cake. Go see it!

Fresh Choice plays Basement Theatre 10-14 November, 2020. 

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