REVIEW: Stutterpop (Auckland Fringe)

Time for a Bang [by Matt Baker]

The Queen's Speech
The Queen’s Speech

Sam Brooks is a playwright with a stutter, but his most autobiographical play is not about stuttering, it’s about love for others and one’s self. Stuttering is instead a subplot in this unique fringe performance by one of Auckland’s top young playwrights.

Sharing the space with a multitude of shows (The Basement’s Sophie Henderson’s final act as programmer is as always a spectacular one), director Zinnie Selwyn keeps things simple by planting Brooks centrestage and using snap lighting cues to progress the narrative flow. And it does flow. Even in his most extreme bouts, Brooks’ audience stays with him as the stutter develops into an almost theatrical device.

With smokey eyes and five-inch heels, Brooks’ divulges the significant loves in his life and reveals some interesting insights to those who know his work. For those who don’t, it’s a great teaser. While there is compassion induced in some of his more embarrassing confessions, Brooks does not demand his audience’s sympathy, and his moral is contentedly optimistic without being heavy-handed.

Whether psychological or physiological (or a combination of both) in origin, the break in speech that is caused in a stutterer in everyday speech is of no real consequence to the listener, but when presented in a theatrical context, there is an almost pained expression in Brooks and an emotional resonance in his voice that makes it more affecting, his left hand reminiscent of a Chekhovian psychological gesture.

While backup dancers Louisa Hutchinson and Alice Pearce have distinct characterisations evoked by the former’s choreography, I would have appreciated a slicker execution across the board. While the overall style of the show incorporates the fact the its lead performer is not an actor, dancer, or singer, dumbing down the abilities of its supporting characters felt unjustified, as acknowledging Brooks’ limitations both in life and as a performer were inherent in the text and would have added to the dimension of this personal piece.

Stutterpop plays at The Basement as part of Auckland Fringe until Feb 14. For details see The Basement.

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