I’ve never seen Jamie McCaskill do a solo show before but boy was it worth the wait. From the unassuming entrance (no fanfare, no “put your hands together”, no “and now on stage…”) he walked on, as though he was an audience member looking his seat, and then just started talking. Having spotted his dad and pops in the crowd, a description of his past life in The Thames Junction Pub started gently and amiably – The Bar, the characters, the leaners, the dart board and sports on TV thus painting a vivid collage to enhance the minimalist set.
In a nutshell The Moa Show is a surreal sketch that features McCaskill’s oddball small-town characters he encounters in his hometown pub. They find themselves in need of ‘insight’ and are ultimately enlightened by a Moa (will leave it at that to avoid spoilers).
The Moa Show is by far one of the most original local shows that we’ve seen in ages. Solo actor Jamie McCaskill and director Craig Geenty’s ability to create a world that we are all familiar with (a Thames pub and its regulars), but then to push the boundaries from the absurd to the ridiculous is absolutely phenomenal.
I can’t help wondering whether some of the devising work on the rehearsal floor was actually done under the influence – how else can they account for the twists and turns that their crazy storytelling takes? I’d wager a bet that McCaskill and Geenty had more than just “a couple of beers” (as mentioned in the programme) to have created a piece of work that is beautifully imaginatively, poignantly and thoughtfully crafted, with such deft subtlety.
The mimicry and improvisation of the regulars at the bar was skillful and precise – and in such an understated matter-of-fact way that none of us had any inkling of what was to come next. In short there was nothing predictable about it and every time you expected the McCaskill-Geenty duo to take the safe path, they just push it a little further – something that seems to be more and more rare in local theatre today. In fact the same can be said about a majority of the programming choices of the larger theatre companies in Auckland – not enough people are willing to take the risk. But I digress.
All of a sudden like The Freemantle Doctor, the wind changed and we realise that McCaskill isn’t making jokes about those characters – he IS them.
As a solo actor McCaskill shines beyond my wildest expectations, playing a multitude of characters during this 55-minute show. His ability to morph from one character into another is absolutely splendid, mercurial and the distinctive delineation between each character should be attributed to Geenty’s skillful direction.
Despite being just under an hour, The Moa Show manages to pack a lot into this short time frame. Despite keeping us in stitches for a majority of the production, the serious subtext that the play has embedded in the language is incredibly clever and worthy of praise.
It is no surprise that Geenty and McCaskill have a long-standing history of working together, evident by the flavour that their UCOL training together must have fostered.
This high energy, fast paced show requires a high level of fitness and McCaskill pretty much manages to get through most of it, until a short time before the end where he breaks the fourth wall telling us that he is indeed “shagged”, when he’s well and truly winded.
Having a show like The Moa Show at Te Pou during the Comedy Festival, peppered with Te Reo Māori makes it the perfect venue to stage the Auckland premiere.
Different people can absorb or recognise a variety of message from this story, which after the hangover of inception must have consumed a shedload of development, care and conscientiousness to result in such a formidable production. So it you’re enjoying the comedy stand-up treats at the festival then that’s marvellous. But if you hanker for something different, alternative, original and inventive that truly whisks you away for the evening then I implore you to come and inhabit Jamie McCaskill’s world for just an hour.
Presented by Tikapa Productions, Jamie McCaskill The Moa Show plays at Te Pou Theatre, New Lynn until 7 May. Details see NZ Comedy Festival