REVIEW: Standard Acts (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Jess Macdonald

[For Women to wrestle with…]

There’s a large black square mat in front of us. A small table sits behind it, with a bottle of champagne, two glasses, and a tape deck on top.

Karin McCracken and Arlo Gibson enter the sparsely designed space, both donned in workout gear and knee-pads, and we wait for someone to speak. The anticipation builds while they utilise the deck to play the 70s banger ‘Come and Get your Love.’ 

Shoulder shimmies turn into full-scale dad-dancing and I feel a smile spread across my face: here is Director Julia Croft’s signature style, redolent of her 2019 production Working On My Night Moves – carefully curated standout tracks and choreographed movements coax the audience to happiness, movement and enjoyment. 

During the opening number, Arlo and Karin mark out the wrestling mat with electrical tape, then intertwine in an enduring feat of physical prowess. Catchy and upbeat three minutes songs underscore technically challenging choreographed movements. 

Finally, they introduce themselves on opposing stand-up microphones and regale the audience with their favourite mythological stories. Arlo’s take on the Minotaur’s conception is a lot more colourful than Karin’s female perspective and, as the production moves through half a dozen repetitions of this format, it becomes clear that Karin’s battle isn’t confined to the wrestling mat. Arlo interrupts, contradicts her, minimises Karin’s point of view or claims her ideas for himself – much to comedic effect. 

Small vignettes, such as a literal interpretation of Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Murder on the Dancefloor, help to break the monotony of witnessing Karin’s physical and verbal oppression. Round after round she tries different techniques to win – surprise attack, submission – but loses every time. Nevertheless finding energy from the depths of her, when – to everyone else – she seems down and out. 

The metaphor is laid out in the show notes as ‘power structures at play in a relationship,’ and audience engagement wanes at times.

Yes, the repetition begins to grate… much like a woman’s efforts to break free from the patriarchal structures she had no say in creating. 

Standing in the way of control heralds the end of the show, while Karin displays her own physical prowess in a very different way – by balancing a champagne flute on her forehead while she lowers to the ground. 

As Arlo’s glass slips off, it’s unclear if this failure was choreographed but either way he’s captivated by her. As are we. It’s left-field and a very different skill and, maybe, a more evenly matched competition.

All in all, an innovative and impressive feat of physical and mental gymnastics. 

Standard Acts plays Basement Theatre 9-13 March, 2021 as part of Auckland Fringe.  

Created by Karin McCracken and Meg Rollandi with Arlo Gibson, directed by Julia Croft. Sound design and composition by Oliver Devlin and lighting design by Calvin Hudson.

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