REVIEW: Wheel Head (Summer at Q)

Review by Irene Corbett

[What’s Your Bus Number?]

Absurd, playful, and freshly imagined. Co Theatre Physical have once again produced an comedic and engrossing piece. Mixing physical theatre, contemporary transport woes, live music, and light audience interaction, Wheel Head, written by Beth Kayes in collaboration with Katie Burson,  is a surprising and charming 50 minutes. 

We are introduced to Joanna (Katie Burson), Aucklander and Birder extraordinaire, who finds one morning her car has been stolen and dumped some four kilometres away from her home. How will she get to work in this super city that is Tāmaki Makaurau ? Cue disaster after ill-fated disaster as she tries to navigate the other supposedly viable means of transporting oneself about our city (walking, cycling, public transport). 

The work is temporally bound to a day in Joanna’s life and her world is replete with familiar feeling characters– her impatient and indifferent boss (Beth Kayes), the fellow Bird enthusiast and rabid environmentalist ‘French Greenie’ (Lucas Haugh), a bumbling, tennis playing, mayor (Beth Kayes) –as well as some less familiar characters including a slinky Wheel Head struggling with empathy on the job (Beth Kayes) and Tūī an anthropomorphic bird woman with kids to raise and rats to fight (Irasa Si’ave). 

Si’ave’s Tūī is a revelation. With Si’ave’s extensive Commedia dell’Arte training it is little wonder that this Tūī is so perfectly pitched and the physicality is so gratifyingly truthful. This is a character that must appear on our stages again and could well become a stock character in her own right.  

On top of the various hilarious systems of movement different characters take, the jokes are so fresh that there a sense that this piece has organically sprung up as a result of all the recent rain and that it is the strength of the performers that give the work the polished execution that would usually belie a short development period. 

The work is strongest when Lucas Haugh’s musical accompaniment lends the action punchy rhythms or the blaring of a horn. Adding to the world created by the paraphernalia of cycling and some playful exaggeration of the size of props, Michael Goodwin’s lighting design successfully shapes the expansive of Q’s Loft stage into separate areas and creates the sensation of the different liminal spaces Joanna inhabits during her day of travel. A particularly satisfying effect cast a design across the stage which mimicked both the shadow of overlapping tree branches and that cast by light shining through the spokes of a bicycle wheel.

As Bar-Tailed Godwits, deconstructed bicycles, and orange road cones swirl about the stage, jokes are nimbly laid down to resurface later to renewed laughter. Wheel Head ultimately arrives at a satisfying and circular conclusion despite the many moving parts and the short runtime. Even attempting to recount the events of Wheel Head results in laughter. This delightful show was not to be missed.  

Wheel Head plays the Loft at Q Theatre 22nd – 25th of February 2023. 

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