[Prickly in a good way]
It’s the second time in seven days I have watched toast being made in the Basement loft. The first was in Kate Bartlett’s Madwoman/Gentlewoman. For Kate, the toast was left dry, like her tumbleweed humour, part of some infinitely fathomable ritual of daily being. By contrast, Lizzie Morris of Lucinda The Cactus Girl cheerfully lathers jam on her homebrand white crust. She cycles on a stationary bicycle, the Ergometer, to the comfortably inane ostinato of a late-model nineties Casiotone. It’s something of a metaphor for the show itself. Pedalling us to nowhere-in-particular, Lizzie Morris is raising a shot glass to us at every new turn.
This is Morris’ first solo show – delightfully risky and dripping with all the ingredients for something fresh and silly. Doug Grant features large in his familiar jaw-whibbling role as frantic, wild-eyed assistant – even before we have begun, he appears to be saving the show from looming collapse with every cacti he places, every clipboard he ticks. When Lucinda (Lizzie Morris) finally emerges from that intoxicating combination of backstage entrance and the-way-to-the-toilet, she is dewey-eyed and everything one could hope for in a loveable clowning protagonist. She has the joy of a newly-pragmatic four year old, treating us to the tying of her shoes, the brushing of her teeth and the making of her toast. Multi-tasking alone on an exercycle, she simply glitters. And then, with the aid of her charming and attentive assistant, she literally glitters, nearly choking, as handfuls are fanned directly into her open serenading mouth.
I think this is the moment Lucinda transforms – our pleasing, wide-eyed protagonist finishes her title track Cactus Girl (with giant glasses and a sparkling jacket, and is suddenly more knowing, and less self-aware than she had first appeared, tongue-brushing, in that fateful doorway. At moments she is truly lovely, when she reads us the tale of Sheri, the never-been-kissed cactus, her morbid fairytale reads pitch perfect against the simmering joy in her voice. At others, her sketch-show offers us characterisations that drown all too quickly in their own stereotypes, leaving herself in a few comic cul-de-sacs.
Grant and Morris work acutely together – at one point bearing an uncanny alikeness to one another in adidas synchronicity that I miss all too soon, and Grant’s unwavering discomfort and nervous attention is a lovely fraught landscape on which Morris’ melodramas of the cactus can play out.
By far, the most delicious Morris-ism is a sulky toothbrushing that becomes an operatic aria, which is both startlingly executed and winking at its own excellence. This kind of paste-to-face thought-accident seems to suit Lucinda’s style best to keep the work moving, when our banal clown goes to the full extension of her daydream. Again, not all transitions have this light touch – and the later scenes in particular could benefit from a spot of interrogation, but Lucinda wins the home crowd early on, and she has an opening night audience indulging in art therapy, performing shopkeeper mime and chanting their own name like a fraternity, so the people’s vote is clear.
This is a fearless first work, and while I wriggle at the details, I am very pleased it is being made, especially from these young and gnarly practitioners. Lizzie Morris is a boisterous force to be reckoned with, and Lucinda is a deeply lol-lable, often surprising and fiercely present piece of performance.
Lucinda The Cactus Girl plays at The Basement until 22 Oct. Details see The Basement.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Leigh Skyes