Silly Seas [by James Wenley]
The Basement Christmas show feels a little less ambitious this year. Long gone are your Kim Dotcoms and entire children’s choirs that have featured in Christmas shows pasts. The most ambitious thing in Hauraki Horror is probably the boat set designed brilliantly by Grant Hall to fill the length of The Basement, and one of the best sets The Basement has had all year.* Meanwhile, the musical numbers are unapologetically, shamelessly, awful. In the hands of this year’s writers Tom Sainsbury and Chris Parker and director Rachel House, Hauraki Horror has gone back to basics with unpretentious silliness, and I reckon that is no bad thing.
On the good ship “Red Herring”, a nautical bash with the sour cream of Auckland’s celebrity set (including the Ridges, Kiri Te Kanawa and er, Kelly Tarlton…) turns into a murder mystery when Captain Dick Rancid (what Richard Branson would be like if he was a crude kiwi entrepreneur) is murdered on his own ship. Paparazzi duo Tom (Sainsbury) and Chris (Parker) take it upon themselves to uncover the murderer.
If you’ve seen Sainsbury in the Yeti Trilogy or Parker in anything this year you know what to expect from these two, and they hold the show together with their slacker act. Both highly energetic, Parker’s character is the quick wit, Sainsbury the slow, they’re like excited kids in oversized bodies. They litter their script with malapropisms, kitschy 90s New Zealand nostalgia, and a boat load of nautical puns. I’ve already mentioned it’s silly, and sometimes a bit too silly, but they are so unabashedly charming you can’t help but giggle.
The celebrities are played by a rotating cast, and on the preview night they were played by the full cast of improv troupe Snort. Already having proved themselves funny every Friday night for the past year and a bit, I knew I was in good hands. Particular stand-outs were Eli Mathewson as an alarmingly realistic Jamie Ridge, Nic Sampson as an odd, gender ambiguous Kelly Tarlton, and Rose Matafeo as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who turns out to be quite a filthy diva. Donna Brookbanks is a scheming Sally Ridge who wants a Chicago the Musical-level burst of fame, but like Ridge herself the character’s moment in the spotlight goes on for too long. It’s quite brilliant what they do with Jason Gunn and former side-kick Thingee, though it was a shame Joseph Moore didn’t nail Gunn’s distinctive voice.
There’s a rotating cast of around 50, so part of each show’s success depends on who’s going to turn up and how well they play their roles, but there’s enough comic material in the script to riff off to enable the best to really shine.
It is fun to play along and see if you can work out the murderer, though there was the potential for cleverer engagement with detective-fiction tropes. Expect more Scooby Doo than Agatha Christie.
Other towns can have their Pantomimes at this time of year, but I’ll take our rotating cast Basement shows any of the 12 days of Christmas. Z list Auckland celebrities mocking other Z list Auckland celebrities: It’s a beautiful thing(ee).
* Writing Best sets will never be the same again after this video produced for the Auckland Theatre Awards.
Hauraki Horror plays at The Basement until 20 December. Details see The Basement.