The Stationary Dead [by James Wenley]
So, the Zombie Apocalypse is finally upon us, but it has arrived with more of a low moan than a blood-lusting scream.
Royale Productions’ high-concept Apocalypse Z – written by Simon London and David Van Horn and directed by Andrew Foster - has barricaded itself securely within Aotea Centre. The square is host to one of the few refuges yet to fall to the onslaught of the “infected”, a last hope for we lucky few remaining survivors to be airlifted to the safe zone. Feeding into the contemporary mania for all things Zombie, and selling itself with buzzwords like “interactive” and “immersive theatrical experience”, Z has run an impeccable promotional campaign that has even included a zombie reporter reading the news. Z, however, has oversold itself on two fronts. First, there’s a practical issue of audience numbers and space. Second, expectations built high, the pay off needs more flesh and braaaiiins.
Zombies have remained perennially popular sub-genre, but at the moment they seem to be in something of a cultural ascendance. Local Apocalypse Z (said with a kiwi “Zed”) hits among such titles as The Walking Dead on TV, and films Warm Bodies, and World War Z. There’s many an academic treatise on what zombies represent – population breakdown and the unthinking masses - but on an entertainment level they have grotesque appeal as decaying corpses, reveling in gore and guts and ripped limbs, and make for a frightening threat in numbers. In Z the zombies are victims of a virus ala 28 Days Later, playing into our fears of pandemics, but the usual tropes of zombies as lumbering, dim-witted (and even slightly comical) vessels, very difficult to stop, are accounted for here. This virus has infected the overwhelming majority of the world’s population (its pleasing to know that in NZ under this scenario, our infection rate is slightly below the world average), nobody knows where it has come from, or how to stop it. For those that have not succumbed, there is but one objective: to survive.
A Bittersweet Mouthful [by Matt Baker]
Cowboy Mouth was once described as co-writer Sam Shephard’s ‘most thinly-veiled autobiography.’ However, his resultant abandonment of the production prior to the second night’s performance (he starred alongside his co-writer and lover at the time, Patti Smith) indicates that perhaps the piece was less of a thin veil, and more of a deluge of emotionally packed stream of conscious writing that hit Shephard too close to home during performance. Regardless, the content of the play, which is more of an extended beatnik poem, is undoubtedly honest and quite simply about a relationship between a man and woman, Slim (Ash Jones) and Cavale (Josephine Stewart) respectively.
Stewart’s commitment to her role is reflected in body, voice, and soul. Even in the opening moments of the play, there was a crow-like look to her that I had never before seen. She writhes, leaps, sinks, spasms, and calms with every inch of her body, and finds great range in her vocals. This conviction is almost sad to witness when one recognises its driving force: that of the unconditional love Cavale/Smith has for Slim/Shephard, the bitter sweetness of giving someone who has nothing, everything.
Dying of Laughter [by James Wenley]
On a routine visit to the hospital after a blow to the head caused by his best friend re-enacting Fight Club, Charlie Morris is informed he has a terminal illness, and his days are numbered.
Now that is a profound life changing moment; too big to even begin to understand for people outside of it. When Charlie Morris tells his friends that he is dying, they’re immediate response is to say “Well, we’re all dying”. Charlie’s “just became more relevant”.
Thanks to many films and TV on the subject, there’s an awful lot of cliché associated with this sort of news too. Think the sort of plots (eg: The Bucket List) where the news spurs them to start living their life to the full, learning some important lessons along the way, and we end with a sad, but ultimately life affirming message.
Chris Neels’ new play The Seven Funerals of Charlie Morris acknowledges, then bypasses the cliché, dealing with a young man’s imminent mortality with sensitivity, honesty, and a thick coating of black humour. The subject matter may sound like a downer, but it’s treated with a truthful lightness and serious fun that that makes for truly charming and enjoyable story. And yes, the ending might even be a little life affirming too. It made me want to stand up cheer – but more on that later.
Charlie (Ash Jones) is being introspective in a bath tub as the audience enters the Basement Studio. A piano is cleverly hidden behind it, played live by Sean Webb, whose music through the play helps makes it sparkle. Chalk drawings on the walls suggest bathroom tiles and towel rack.