REVIEW: Red Bastard (NZ International Comedy Festival)

Review by James Wenley

Red Bastard

[Hold your nerve]

My anxiety levels rapidly increased as it got closer to 7:15pm. Going to theatre is normally the most natural thing for me, an everyday routine. But this time I was genuinely apprehensive. Why? I knew Red Bastard was interactive. I knew that there probably would be some abuse thrown out at us, considering the title character is based on the bouffon, the anti-clown that mocks and parodies its audiences. That much I could probably handle. But it was that fear of the unexpected, not being totally sure what will unfold, that was causing that unsettled feeling in my stomach.

Red Bastard proved a hard sell, and I had come alone. This hardly mattered, as soon we were displaced by Red Bastard, threatening to poke us with a wet finger in our ears if we didn’t change seats. We all complied.

Red Bastard’s red demon costume enfolds his misshapen humps and lumps; he looks like a stress ball that has been moulded into place by someone who squeezed too tightly for too long. His sound is harder to capture, switching from smooth honeyed vowels to hissing consonants.

What he promises is something interesting every 10 seconds. He gets us to count, to test it. It becomes a game, can he do something interesting before we finish? He wins, every time.

Already we are deep in his clutches. The first part of the show continues much like this. Red Bastard escalates his games, incrementally adding risks for both himself and the audience. He flatters some, dismisses others, and berates a pointed few. We go along, partly because we don’t want to have a finger in our ears, partly out of social conditioning, but mostly because most of us seem to be having a helluva time.

There’s a deeper purpose to this all, and half-way Red Bastard steps full into the position of Devil’s advocate. We make a Faustian pact: the show will only continue as long as we are honest.

Every so often there a think pieces about whether theatre can be life-changing. Perhaps, incrementally it can. But rarely does a singular show mark a splinter point. What makes Red Bastard so dangerous is that it threatens to be so. Red Bastard wants to shake us out of the everyday, seize our desires, and maybe even fling us off onto another path.

That’s what is frightening, not Red Bastard himself. It’s a roulette game whether he will single you out (I was entirely left alone), but he won’t make you do something you don’t want to (or has he won this mind game?).

Last night there were no lives changed. At least, not in any narratively dramatic way. For those not in the hot seat, we were willing it, we wanted it… but if Red Bastard had come our way instead? There but for the grace of live theatre.

Terrifying and hilarious. Is it for you? Emphatically yes.

Red Bastard plays at Q Loft until 7 May as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2016. Details see Comedy Festival

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