REVIEW: Two Unlikely Heroes (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Rachel Berryman

A Break in the Space-Time Continuum

There’s a portal hidden in the corner of Cupid Bar in Point Chevalier. Some might mistake it for a black tent, but it’s bigger on the inside: there’s a confetti chandelier and a large wooden trunk, a string of fairy lights, and a pedestal fan on its highest setting, trying but failing to regulate the rising temperature as fifteen of us huddle inside. 

“And we’re on,” yells Regan Taylor, our charismatic MC and portal guide, from beyond the heavy black curtains we entered through. A loud knocking echoes out from the vertical trunk, and dark grey sock puppet pops up from behind it. He’s swearing emphatically, yelling for his friend to wake up. Another sock appears. “What, bro?” he asks, annoyed, we soon learn, at being interrupted in flagrante delicto.

This is the first world we visit, one of seven vignettes that Taylor advises us (and the Cupid Bar’s bemused regulars) we’ll see tonight. Dwelling no longer than four minutes in each, the show’s two stars, Salomé Grace and Phil Middleton, swiftly transport us to an array of universes — some that look much like our own, and some that look very, very different.

The flyer teases at four: “A gimp and his mistress. A pair of potato peelers. Geriatric criminality. A strip-tease.” In each scene, Grace and Middleton embody new characters, spanning generations, materialities and species. Though the thematic variation between the vignettes is substantial, in each, Grace and Middleton hone in on moments of connection; shared experiences and glimpses of vulnerability that bring the pairs closer together. 

But, just as you find yourself slipping into their world(s), you’re just as quickly ejected. “End of vignette,” Taylor announces curtly after each scene, opening the curtains and ushering us back into the bar. It’s a jarring format, forcibly breaking our connection with each world at the same time as it grants us much-needed time to digest them. 

The experience is purposefully manufactured, and slyly acknowledged within the show itself. In one scene, a character (Grace) recounts a night clubbing going horribly awry, climaxing with her fleeing an apartment from a group of knife-wielding strangers. In the present, mindlessly throwing fresh potato peels into a plastic bucket, she shakes her head, remembering the moment she finally found the exit. “We were on Queen Street. Fucking Queen Street! And people were just stumbling around drunk, like nothing had ever happened!” 

It’s the same uncanny experience Two Unlikely Heroes delivers after each vignette: you emerge from the darkness, mind reeling from the scene, into Cupid Bar’s thoroughly undeterred surroundings. Like the potato peeler, sharply reminded that her world-spinning experience was hers alone, so too is our experience of these universes unique to us, engrossing, private and affecting even as our world keeps spinning outside.

An exciting and ambitious exercise in world-building, Two Unlikely Heroes is best enjoyed with company: around half of the 70 minute run-time consists of intermissions spent lingering at the bar, but between the show’s philosophical ponderings, talking animals and prosthetics, there’s a lot to discuss.

Two Unlikely Heroes plays at Cupid Bar as part of Auckland Fringe 4 to 6 March, 2020.
Created and performed by Regan Taylor, Salomé Grace, and Phil Middleton

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