REVIEW: Zooquatic (The Basement)

Zebra vs Shark

A fish out of water [by Matt Baker]

Zebra vs Shark
Zebra vs Shark

Having seen the original production of Zooquatic earlier in the year as part of the Short+Sweet Auckland Theatre Festival, I was excited to see in which direction this full-length adaptation would be taken and how much further the parody of the content would be pushed. Absurdist in its comedic style and melodramatic in its plot, the show comes across like a live action cartoon crossed with a classic ‘Odd Couple’ inspired television episodic. Not that there’s anything terribly odd or unfamiliar about the main characters’ relationship other than the portmanteau title it inspires.

Larry is a pragmatist, a slightly pessimistic one at that, played with a crisp (albeit unnecessary) vocally English twist by Chelsea McEwan Millar. Although the opening night opening scene is slightly flustered while the actors find their rhythm, McEwan Millar kicks into gear when given strong actions to play. Our protagonist and the ‘straight man’ of the piece, McEwan Millar selflessly drives the story forwards, maintaining attention on the other actors.

Lorenzo, on the other hand, played by Elizabeth McMenamin, is a lavish lover of life. An optimist even when literally faced with the concept of death. McMenanim, also with a (again, unnecessary) vocally English influence, relishes her big open vowels and indulgent physicality, which aptly carry her emotional intelligence and juxtapose McEwan Millar’s tightly-wound predatory pacing.

Larry and Lorenzo also happen to be gay anthropomorphic animals, and with the sudden addition of Thomas Sainsbury as Lorenzo’s son, the unconventional family unit is brought together thanks to the passing of New Zealand’s Marriage Equity Bill and a horrible death. Director Barnaby Frederic also appears as various supporting characters, which are openly addressed as plot devices and in one case a blatant deus ex machina. Frederic’s dry delivery as Larry’s boss is as hilariously awkward as the text itself, and both he and Sainsbury’s underplayed performances give a nice contrast to McEwan Millar and McMenanim. It’s a very modern, and very specific style of comedy.

The costumes are clearly a draw-card for the show, and the makeshift style of some of the set and prop elements reinforce the awareness that these practitioners know exactly what type of theatre they’re presenting. There is no sense of pretentious art, it’s all for a good laugh, but they somehow manage an ironically touching epilogue to the main plot.

Of course, everything comes together at the end of said plot. At barely 50 minutes in length, there’s no opportunity to truly delve into the concepts of love, trust, parenting, step-families, sexual harassment, and same-sex marriage that are briefly illuminated, and I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed that the full potential of the show’s concept was not addressed or developed from its original format. However, as we expect no more or less from the same length of time in a television show, and considering the relentless (and brilliant) puns, cultural references, and dry metahumour that is used, the Zooquatic team have created a piece of theatre that would easily hold the attention of the cohorts of Generation Y – whether they be theatregoers or not.

Zooquatic plays at The Basement Studio until 23 November. For details see iTicket.

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