REVIEW: Rupert (Auckland Theatre Company)

Stuart Devenie and Damien Avery embody Rupert through and through.

Rupert Bare [by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth]

Stuart Devenie and Damien Avery embody Rupert through and through.
Stuart Devenie and Damien Avery embody Rupert through and through.

It’s rare that a show about someone’s life is introduced by the main character as “a show about my life” but Rupert, a biography of media moghul Rupert Murdoch breaks many of the norms of theatre as he does the fourth wall.

David Williamson‘s Rupert encapsulates a multitude of genres – it’s a story, biography, cabaret, comedy, adventure, cartoon, love stories, political thriller and even a buddy movie about the older and cynical Murdoch juxtaposed against his younger brash and fearless self.

The zany production colourfully describes the rise and rise of a Colonial battler, against business rivals, socialists, political enemies, family dynamics, the English establishment and American press barons with a determined and unapologetic Murdoch unbound at the end by challenges, scandals and frequent popularity.

It’s not often that the technical operator is given special mention but in this case I think Abby Clearwater deserves a great round of applause, given the complicated and numerous cues that she executed with extreme dexterity on the opening night of this particular production. In short the production was flawless with costume, set, lighting, sound and AV combining wonderfully to establish timeframe and mood.

Costume designer Elizabeth Whiting must have done a great deal of planning to dress the cast for the relentless costume changes that take place throughout the show. Her clever addition and/or removal of accessories made the costumes extremely versatile, allowing for the smooth transition between characters entering and exiting stage with gay abandon.

As always set designer John Verryt delivered a minimalist set that demonstrated a great deal of intelligent forethought. It was adaptable yet unobtrusive, making the set an integral part of the production. Likewise Tom Bogdanowicz‘s audio visual design was absolutely spot on, adding to the exquisite production values of this slick ATC show. Phillip Dexter‘s lighting as well as cartoonist Jeff Bell‘s fabulous caricatures that featured in the AV projections were both equally impressive, complementing the amazing talent on stage.

I would be hard-pressed to choose a standout tonight among the 9-strong cast, only because everyone excelled as they threw themselves headlong into the action. So in alphabetical order shout-outs go to Damien Avery (Young Rupert), Stuart Devenie (Rupert); Hera Dunleavy (Prudence Murdoch/Elizabeth Murdoch/Dame Elizabeth Murdoch, Margaret Thatcher…); JJ Fong (Wendi Deng…); Adam Gardiner (Lachlan Murdoch, David Frost, Gough Williams…); Stephen Lovatt (Sir Frank Packer, Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair…); Simon Prast (Ted Pickering, Nick Clegg…); Arlo MacDiarmid (James Murdoch…) and Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Anna Murdoch, Pat Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks…). As you’d expect from an experienced cast there were no opening night jitters – even the odd hiccup with corpsing, weird teeth and dropped eyebrows were cleverly and nimbly incorporated into the hilarity being dished out, gems which only live theatre can provide.

Billed at 2 hours and 20 minutes (including interval), Rupert is undoubtedly a long show. However since director Colin McColl has clearly pushed the pacing to breakneck speed, the only way to shorten this piece would be to cut out milestones like a corporate takeover or by losing one of the dance numbers entirely – definitely a hard call which I’m not even sure is possible.

Choreographer Jeremy Birchall plays an equally important role as the director in this cabaret-cum-theatre piece. Birchall is pivotal in getting the cast moving throughout this frenetically-paced production.

People say “nostalgia ain’t what it used to be” but key events of every decade for the last 50 years are touched upon on stage or as background AV, providing an added character to the show (as if 40 wasn’t enough!). All of which succeeds and supplements rather than distracts from the on-stage antics. The use of the entire theatre as the stage is marvelous and contributes to the frequent audience interaction, once again breaking the fourth wall such that it disappears completely, and we all feel included and complicit in the events unfolding before our eyes.

Rupert provides great insight into the life and deeds of Murdoch and his media empire, along with his murky and Machiavellian reputation. And McColl gives us a clever welcome into ‘tabloid-theatre’ in the programme, which brings to mind fun and frivolity but could also imply a certain lack of substance. However the opposite is actually true, Rupert has so much substance that you may easily miss something if you’re not paying attention even for just a split second.

The show is pure entertainment, and truth be told as soon as the lights dim Rupert has well and truly Gotcha!

Auckland Theatre Company presents The Kensington Swan Season of David Williamson’s Rupert and plays at Q Theatre, Rangatira until 19 July. Details Q.

SEE ALSO: review by Nik Smythe and Metro Magazine Review by James Wenley

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