The Great Deconstructionist [by James Wenley]
In the context of the Comedy Festival, one of the most subversive things you can do is take piss out of the stand-ups. 2014 Fred Award winner Trgyve Wakenshaw, through one of his many characters that makes up Nautlius, takes to this with glee. He mimes the indulgent stand-up who sticks a microphone in an audience member’s face in an attempt to generate the comedy from them. For fans of Wakenshaw’s solo shows Squidboy and Kraken, you’ll appreciate that this sort of audience interaction is anathema to Wakenshaw. His style of audience complicite is about imagination and group play. It’s okay when Wakenshaw’s silent stand-up sticks the invisible mic towards the audience members face because we’re all in on the joke, rather than the butt of it.
Wakenshaw has a thin layer of white makeup spread across his face. This is the most like a mime we have seen him recently, however, with his bleached hair and colourful, figure-hugging spandex, he looks like a punk-mime about to take an aerobics class. Pre-show he’s onstage in half-blackout pulling out his best club moves. When he begins he spends a minute or so just looking at us, breathing us in, and then does something unexpected. That’s the show in a nutshell. Something unexpected. Ad infinitum.
Structurally he continues to return to a spotlighted position, crouched as if ready to pounce, as Habanera from Carmen plays (you might get a little sick of this music after the show finishes 90 minutes later). Then he enacts a whimsical scenario, before returning to position. Its absurd mime and clowning sketch comedy. The initial sketches parody comic tropes. There’s a chicken crossing the road gag, which you’d feel might be a bit tired, but Wakenshaw refreshes it brilliantly. There are mimed knock-knock jokes too. As lame at this might seem on the page, onstage, and the way he does it, it is brilliant. As it continues, we get to enjoy him playing many more animals, and there is some of the strangest incorporations of West Side Story and Phantom of the Opera as you are likely to see. He lip syncs to You Make me Feel like a Natural Woman better than anything you can see on Lip Sync Battle.
In analysis, the show becomes a brilliant exercise in semiotics in action. He plays with signifier and signified, and part of the delight for the audience is when we recognise his signposts.
Wakenshaw’s identifiable style is very present in Nautlius – his vocalizations, his occasional twistedly cruel streak, his body contortions – but this is quite a different show to the others in Wakenshaw’s semi-erroneously themed nautically titled trilogy. Wakenshaw continues to innovate. Not everything works all the time. But that’s okay too. His reactions to the content not working redeems it every time. In Melbourne and Adelaide he performed a work in progress to mixed reviews earlier this year, and it’s apparent that this process has been useful in honing the shape of the show (this review describes a very different show – with nude art drawing!) In the first half, with his fast moving sketches, his show is good, amusing, and you wonder, how much more has he in his arsenal?
Loads. In the second half as previously introduced characters are reincorporated, he’s now able to subvert his own rules and scenarios. If you think the first time Wakenshaw does Natural Woman is great, just wait for the second. Wakenshaw is an expert deconstructionistist, and it’s here that we can really appreciate how carefully constructed the seemingly anarchic show is. We are in the dangly hands of a genius.
Nautilus is presented by Auckland Live and Don’t Be Lonely and plays as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival at The Herald Theatre until 2 May. Details see Comedy Festival.