Opening night, and the mood is celebratory as Basement studio visibly fills up with queers and allies. The tag line for Joni Nelson’s new play screams ‘lesbian apocalypse,’ so I’m mentally prepared for an over-the-top zombie style attack, wondering how the narrative will unfurl. The stage before us is plain, laid with white polythene. After the house lights dim, our two central characters emerge from ‘the bush.’ A well-crafted melodic soundscape (Paige Pomana) places us there with them, surrounded by native birds and a babbling stream, somewhere north of Tāmaki Makaurau.
We are introduced to long-term couple Ash and Ami (Courtney Bassett and Iana Grace) – and learn about them via Ash’s monologue directed into her smartphone ring-light. The differences between the two are immediately apparent, as Ami sets up camp for the evening and Ash fixes her attention on live-streaming the occasion of their ‘intimate’ anniversary for ‘their’ thousands of followers.
Comic timing and an easy rapport between the two actors hint at either a real-life friendship or an intense creative process – interestingly, post-show, I learn that it was both. Courtney and Iana bounce along with a natural pace, both exuding charisma through witty one-liners which create multiple laugh-out-loud moments. The pair are delightfully watchable, physically owning the space whilst mindful of audience on all three sides.
Lighting states signify changes from day to night and, despite the fact that the action takes place over a handful of days, the dialogue evolves at a steady pace and never falls flat. Joni Nelson’s text sings with queer asides and jokes; the audience, feeling seen, respond in kind.
Direction from Keagan Carr Fransch is markedly different from her last two-hander (Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner) – with choices again appropriate for the context and text, evidencing a broad skill-base, and the director’s note is a beautiful accompaniment to the production.
Set and props (Cinta Damerell) rest within the same simple colour palette, creating interest while allowing the focus to be on the performers. As the story evolves, a number of smaller disputes disrupt the couple, forcing discussions about identity, their queerness and togetherness. Even during these moments of friction, the creative lens is authentic and joyous.
The shift towards the ‘end of the world’ sits more in realism than I expected – with one tiny twist of a new world superpower, played for humour – and audience members laugh along in spite of the impending doom. During the promo build-up of the show I caught a teaser trailer, and took note of reference to an unexpected ending – consequently, I spend the denouement of the play wondering what it will be. When the time comes, the reveal is deliciously satisfying and the crowd responds as one – with rapturous, satiated applause.
A delightfully messy, honest love story – performed and produced with the care and attention it deserves.
Together Forever is presented by Hot Shame and plays at Basement Theatre 23-27 August, 2022.
DIRECTOR: KEAGAN CARR FRANSCH
PLAYWRIGHT: JONI NELSON
PRODUCER: NATALYA MANDICH-DOHNT