REVIEW: The Feast (The Basement)

My compliments to the chef [by Matt Baker]

Reviewers go to dinner on culinary puns
Reviewers go to dinner on culinary puns

After having been selected through Red Leap Theatre’s Incubator Programme and workshopped through its Short Work Showcase, Le Petit Workshop, Refiner’s Fire Collective, and Nikki Bennett and Company have each produced a delectable piece of theatre, presented under the collective title of The Feast. Advertised as a mouth-watering feast of fresh theatre, each show is concluded with a light snack, with the pièce de résistance being Friday night’s POPdining pop-up restaurant, featuring a three-course dinner menu.

First up is The Soldier’s Heart and The Feathered Girl, which has all the right components for both a fairytale and a show. However, in an effort to stretch it from its original 10-minute Short+Sweet format, the new material results in a slightly convoluted narrative drive, sitting indeterminately between the hero’s journey and the epic. The show relies heavily on its impressive set, designed by Jessika Verryt, props, constructed with the assistance of Ben Anderson, and costumes, and in doing so gives us a minimal amount of dialogue, instead, choosing to tell the story like a picture book, with musician Hannah Fraser providing an eclectic live score.

Ash Jones and Ella Becroft give honest and committed performances as the eponymous duo respectively, giving great anchorage to the heart of the piece. As the show’s fabulist, Alisha Lawrie Paul finds some brilliant moments within her story-telling, and is aptly utlilised, never coming across as a gimmick or cop-out in lieu of showing action, but can afford to push her characterisation even further and consequently find even more humour in her role within the piece. Completing the cast is Katrina Wesseling, whose vocal variety serves her supporting roles well.

As was to be expected, opening night entailed some minor set, prop, and costume mishaps, but it was when these moments were embraced by the performers that the audience became engaged beyond the spectacle of the show. As it’s not marketed as a kid’s show, this Brechtian awareness allows for the real playfulness of the piece to emerge, with the potential for slight vulgarity possibly adding to this void of adult suspension of disbelief. A light piece at this stage in its development, perfect for whetting the appetite.

As a main course, I was immediately confused with Halfatasi, the way in which one is unsure of which cutlery to use on a particular dish. I recognised the theatrical conventions and cultural stylings, all appropriately utilised and skillfully executed, but I felt like I was missing something. In the moment, I thought it was cultural, my ignorance preventing me from understanding the full dimensions of the piece. By the end, however, I realised that the cast had me exactly where they wanted me, and the overarching theme of searching for one’s identity left me incredibly satisfied.

Lavinia ‘Uhila, Mele Taeiloa, Antonia Stehlin, and Seidah Tuaoi each brand their performance with a unique signature, while also working harmoniously to present the multiple processes of a singular mind. Percussion by Maxwell Siulagapo and Samson Chan-Boom, and an omniscient female voice feed the narrative drive of the piece, and there is simply never a dull moment. Halfatasi is poignant without being blatant and has universal relevance presented with an authentic Samoan flavour. A filling piece that doesn’t leave one feeling bloated.

Which leaves just the right amount of room for The Clown That Ran Away From The Circus. This hilarious reversal of a classic childhood fantasy is immediately as endearing as it is humourous. Following Nikki Bennett’s overly apologetic clown from circus to city and (spoiler alert) back again, the trio of performers present a series of simple yet proven-to-work classic clowning exercises. Katie Burson and Eli Matthewson complete said trio with slightly more exuberant characters, which is necessary to juxtapose the two storylines from beginning to end. This sweet treat works best when the audience drops their spoons and digs into it with their hands. As with Young & Hungry, The Basement has once again programmed a set of works that, while could easily stand alone in their own right, advantageously compliment each other. More please.

 The Feast is produced by Le Petit Workshop, Refiner’s Fire Collective, and Nikki Bennett and Company, and is presented by The Basement until 20 October. Details see The Basement

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Heidi North-Bailey

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