3 actors, 3 treadmills, 60 minutes [by Sharu Delilkan]
Working on a show that has had a previous incarnation can be daunting. But when it has been a huge success it is an even bigger ask.
So it's not surprising that actor Andi Crown was a little hesitant when director-writer Anders Falstie-Jensen asked her to act in Standstill.
"I must admit I was anxious that Anders would wanting the blocking [the process of planning where, when, and how actors will move about the stage during a performance] to be exactly the same as the last time. So I approached the first rehearsal with trepidation but when I noticed Anders chuckling and laughing out loud, when we tried out new things, I knew I had made the right decision to get involved."
Another challenge was that Crown had never seen the show before.
"Of course I had seen the images around with the actors looking pained and sweaty and had thought the treadmill device was an interesting concept. So when Anders gave me the script and the DVD, it was a toss up whether to watch the DVD or not. In the end I only watched two minutes and turned it off – just to see what the visual aspect was like. I didn’t watch anymore so that I wouldn't get influenced," she says.
Inspired by true stories and propelled by a fierce undercurrent of desperation, Standstill weaves tales of factory workers, cyclists, doctors and tour guides into a sweaty kaleidoscopic image of what happens when our dreams and ambitions collide with the lives we end up living.
Q opens in triumph, Fringe overshadows Festival, Outfit Rise, Rugby, Rugby, Rugby, and the Death of the Theatre. [by James Wenley]
Attending the recent Hackman Theatre awards, Auckland Theatre circa 2011 would appear to be in rude health. Rude being the word, hosts Nic Sampson and Joseph Moore proudly observing it was a record year of nudity on stage, from the very brave Mr. Sam Seddon in The Only Child to the Dame bosoms of the Calendar Girls. It was certainly year that didn’t leave much to the imagination, containing everything from dildos to knitted phalluses, bath tubs to swimming pools.
The Hackmans were a big communal pat on the back for the industry, a brash and bold celebration of a huge year in theatre. As Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Robyn Malcom closed the awards night performing in a Thomas Sainsbury play that he had written under duress that very night, there was a sense that anything and everything was possible.
As a critic moving from Craccum to my own Theatre Scenes blog this year, I’ve welcomed the end-of-year theatre break. Throughout the year, I could often be heard to exclaim: ‘Auckland Theatre: There is too much of you!’. It’s been exhausting going to opening to opening night after night. And immensely rewarding. While containing some duds for sure, my impression of the year is one of great strength and eclectic activity. There was no shortage of things to write about at least. There was always something on. Between fellow blogger Sharu Delilkan and me, we reviewed or previewed 96 different shows, and even that barely scratched the surface.
I hardly saw thee… [by James Wenley]
Last night the Auckland Fringe Festival closing night was partied away in exuberant style to a live Swing band, after the awards had been handed out, in the stunning Pacific Crystal Palace Spiegeltent in Aotea Square. The Spiegeltent was a ‘loan’, of sorts, from the Mumma Auckland Arts Festival. Whereas the prestigious Arts Festival (one week left!) provides for amazing local and international work on the larger stages, Auckland Fringe, over the last 2+ weeks, seems to have taken over every possible remaining venue (and non-venue) and delivered work that was intimate, thrilling and bafflingly unexpected. Auckland: We’ve got talent.
Tim Balme, representing South Pacific Studios in handing out the Fringe performance awards, had the quote of the night – “Without Fringe there would be no edge, and with no edge, things would get soft in the middle”. Well, it seemed profound at the time. Mark Burlace from Mamma Festival said that the two festivals have “united this city”. Fringe Festivals the world over are one of the main training grounds for performing talent. Having so much other work on at the same time can be both a blessing and a curse, and you’ll quickly learn how to swim, and hopefully not sink (or at least move to the shallow end of the Parnell Baths!).
All is revealed [by James Wenley]
With the Auckland Fringe over, it is safe to talk about Standstill. The latest from The Rebel Alliance, Standstill featured a unique and risky promotional campaign. Their image said “Don’t read this” and the promotional blurb told us nothing about what the show was about, or who was in it. We were asked to take a chance on a show that we knew nothing about.
And it seems to have worked. I must confess, I did have a sneaky look at some of the reviews that came out after the show’s first night. With Sunday being the last night of the Fringe, I had to make a difficult choice about what I would be able to see. So I took a peak. Do early reviews destroy the concept of the campaign? Perhaps. After reading them I was still intrigued, and even surer that this was a show I wanted to experience.
Which genius lit the world? [by Sharu Delilkan]
As the audience pile into the ‘small space’ I couldn’t help thinking ‘How many more can you fit in?’. But the constant stream keeps flowing and eventually the show’s co-writer and director Pip Smith bellows ‘I’ve added a chair at the end of that isle across the stage but can I make anyone else more comfortable by adding another chair?’. We nod profusely and say ‘yes please’, emphatically. I finally was able to exhale and begin settling in.
The Basement has basically been shrunk into a tiny space where there’s almost no delineation between actors and the audience who’re literally on top, around and between each other.
The tiny 2-m square stage in the middle is just sufficient for the actors to move around in – making us feel like we’re in the thick of the action – which I particularly liked. I also enjoyed actors coming onto the stage from all four corners keeping everyone on their toes. And the most interesting was when two of the actors had to clamber over people to get centre stage. The ‘small’ part of the billing gets a tick with the intimate setting that allows bombardment from all sides with dialogue, sound effects and cool lighting.
Hauntingly Effective [by James Wenley]
With so much of the Fringe being comedy orientated, it was very refreshing to take a walk on the Gothic side late on Monday night. Benjamin Henson intelligently adapts and directs this unsettling stage version of Henry James’ 1897 novella The Turn of the Screw.
A white gowned governess (Philippa Johnson) is charged with looking after orphaned children Flora and Miles. She stands out in the world of the country house where all other performers are veiled and draped in black –are they in mourning for the past deaths in the house? Or pre-mourning for events that are yet to come? The staff (Brenda Kendall and Lisa Sorenson) are secretive, and the governess begins to suspect the grounds are haunted by her “young and pretty” predecessor Miss Jessel, and a former employee called Peter Quint. “Things have happened here” we are mysteriously told. The Governess vows to keep the children safe.
There is a real palpable atmosphere of dread in the theatre. Janet Kirwan’s effective dim light casts eerie glows across the actor’s faces and the Basement’s brick walls, and Polly Sussex plays a live score on the cello throughout, underscoring the dramatic and creepy moments. The use of selections from Henry James’ masterful text heightens the mood further. The Basement becomes a claustrophobic environment.
Veronica lives on! [by Sharu Delilkan]
Alex Ellis has got the whole package – the petite frame, platinum blonde hair and Veronica Lake’s signature peek-a-boo bangs, which became a phenomenon in the 1940s.
She may be a lot taller than Lake was in real life (5 ft 11 in instead of 5 ft 2 in) but that doesn’t detract from the image that we have of the big screen’s famous blonde bombshell.
Ellis oozes sultriness, sex and seductivenessas soon as you walk into the theatre doors,greeting you with her back to the audience.
Her plunging back coupled with the dramatic flounce of her body hugging dress draped for metres around her feet on the floor creates the ‘lake-like’ metaphor signifying the ‘Drowning in Veronica Lake’. Sara Taylor’s costume is brilliantly executed and bears the hallmark of her mentor,costume designer extraordinaire Elizabeth Whiting.
Real Lives, Real Theatre.
Theatre, in many ways, is all about being what you are not. Actors research and rehearse hard in order to embody characters that are nothing like them, playwrights write ‘fictional’ stories… all in the hope of being able to portray some sort of ‘truth’ onstage.
It was revelatory and refreshing last night to see Homeless Economics, which removes these extra layers. This was theatre, direct. These are the real people, and the real stories, of those that are part of the City Mission community who have lived rough and been homeless – a world far removed from many people’s experience, and certainly mine.
We are invited to experience a ‘slice of life at the mission’ and to ‘experience homelessness first hand’. The Hobson Street Drama Club was an initiative between City Mission and The EDGE, and three volunteer tutors have been working with the group to develop theatrical skills. Clearly, these guys benefit – they are confident, hilarious and engaging performers, but we the audience benefit hugely as well, gaining insight and understanding into a different world.
The show is performed at the City Mission home base on Hobson St. Chairs have been laid out in front of the kitchen area. They make excellent use of the space, performing in front and behind of the kitchen bench, and also use the adjoining office window. Some of the actors mill about as we wait for the show to begin, cheekily interacting with the audience (they claim one of the audience is trespassing – they have his photo on the wall!). It is a homely and welcoming atmosphere.
The show treats us with a varied and fascinating ‘menu’ - the show is told through sketches, poetry musical performance and real life stories. A series of sketches revolve around the theme “What’s for dinner?” – Jem and Maeve list us some ‘basic techniques’ for how find food (I particularly like their tip of attending Gallery openings for free food!) and Brian tells us how to accept donations with a smile.
Huia performs an ongoing comic sketch about the frustrations of applying for the benefit from WINZ (our “top government department”). Huia humorously plays the characters – a Winz officer, a bank teller, a court clerk – who repeatedly turn him away. He gets the light turned on and asks us what we think is most important for getting the benefit – is it a photo ID? A bank account? He tells us this answer, and his quip “I’ll go back into character” gets a large laugh.
The performers share their stories, and their talents. Shadow (who you may recognise as “the guy that plays the harmonica” on Queen St) comes on to tell us his story about how he learnt this skil, then plays an awesome song with Jem on the guitar (who also busks with guitar). Brian tells about his alter-ego Excalibur, international Rockstar, and the day Frankie Stevens went around telling everyone about hell well Brian could sing. He gives a great rendition of James Morrison’s Wonderful World , his cast mates rushing on to support him with costumes and lights! Daniel tells us about the day he went to parliament for the Duke of Edinburgh awards and the all the cheeky things he got up too.
At the end of the show they come out to sing a rousing song about being “happy, broke, and free”. The cast have a joyous giving spirit, and I felt privileged to watch them share their lives and experiences. Homeless Economics was genuine, unpolished, and truthful. We are reminded that the “park bench could be for anyone of us”, and it’s great that we live in a city that supports and cares about people.
Homeless Economics plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival until at the Auckland City Mission until 5th March.
More information at the Auckland Fringe Website.
Renee Liang interviews The EDGE's Public Programmes Producer Bronwyn Bent on The Big Idea.
Anywhere but Shady Meadows!
There is something very disconcerting watching Isla Adamson and Josephine Stewart -Tewhiu play elderly characters in their devised Fringe play Chalk. These gorgeous young performers transform and contract their bodies in such a believable way that the characters have a sense of the uncanny.
Welcome to Shady Meadows Retirement home. A commercial voice over tells us all the great activities and facilities the home has, and how they encourage their residents to reach their “human potential”… meanwhile two of the elderly residents sit firmly chair bound with little to do. Isla and Josephine play multiple characters including the elderly residents, the workers, and younger visitors.
They switch between these characters with ease, aided by Abigail Greenwood’s direction. The audience favourite is Nina, a proud Maori grandmother with a warm humour, who packs her bags every day, convinced that her family is going to come and get her. She shares her scenes with Josephine’s Alice - her grandmother, who wants only to see her elder grand-daughter and not Alice, has dementia (painfully moving). Nina and Alice strike up an unlikely friendship and help each other deal with life and absent families. Isla and Josephine produce performances that are full of humour, heart, and integrity.
Unlike their previous work Ruby Tuesday, which was a huge hit for the inaugural Fringe festival, this piece isn’t as continuously laugh out loud funny. This is no criticism, for this work deals with some pretty deeply felt universal fears: aging, abandonment, losing your sense of self. Most of the humour arrives organically from the character’s personalities and their situation, the ‘overtly’ funny and shallower characters like Shady Meadows workers Clint (Isla) and the immature Karen (Josephine) are less successful, though they have their moments. I feel there is more material to be explored with the workers, particularly how dealing with elderly and frequent death affects their emotional lives. The announcement towards the end of the play poignantly farewells one of the residents that died that day, but cheerfully welcomes the next person who is moving into the vacated rooms the following day.
The elderly frequently ask how their families could have left them there. Retirement living is a fraught debate, and Isla and Josephine pull it off with deep sensitivity. At my more tender age, it certainly bought up stuff for me that I know is inevitable, but don’t actively engage and think about. In this respect, the play absolutely succeeds; exploring these big issues in a gentle way without trivialisng them.
I enjoyed spending time at the Shady Meadows Retirement home and with these characters. Chalk is a deeply felt play that leaves me both hopeful about the aging process, and also thoroughly terrified!
Chalk plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at the Basement Theatre until 6th March.
More information at the Auckland Fringe Website.
Constantinople is a famous city founded by the Emperor Constantine in 330BC, but had its name changed to Istanbul in 1930. Actor Barnie Duncan (Outrageous Fortune) liked its name better the first time. He uses the city as a name for his ‘soloish’ play and a very lose framework to experiment with some absurd gags, and to play some groovy records.
Supporting player Oliver Cox, bravely greets us at the doors of the Basement wearing a toga. He welcomes us to Constantinople. He offers each of us a grape (“symbol of mass orgy”) as we enter. I stupidly went and ate mine. Hold on to them, there is a great pay-off after the curtain call.
Barnie Duncan embraces the Monty Python School of comedy, glorifying in the silly and ridiculous. As the toga-fied Emperor Constantine, Barnie searches around the stage looking for a city. There is a brilliant running gag where he tries to find different things to wear as ties. One sequence involves him playing a horse formerly called Trimmingbeard, but who has inexplicably changed his named to Kyle (clever). Barnie is a witty actor with a particular flair for physical comedy. He is ably supported by the crazed looking Oliver Cox, and another toga draped supporting player Ben Cragg who joins in some of the action, although he spends most of the time watching from the audience.
Barnie also appears to have gained a postgraduate degree from the School of comedy where, if you make a gag go on long enough, what will have stopped being funny will become funny again. In a soundscape at the start of the show we hear someone walking towards the theatre doors, Barnie waiting in terror. Except it takes ages, and the places this man goes get more and more ridiculous. It’s funny, then not funny, funny, then not funny, then funny again. Similarly a very long but clever sequence has Barnie DJing (Emperor Constantinople loved dance parties you see), changing the records, controlling the sound and speed, and creating some hip tunes. Except it’s all mimed to a soundtrack, Barnie having had to memorise the track, and he does all the fiddly DJ movements with believable precision. It’s risky comedy, but it pays off for him, and the punchline to all this is superb.
It is a humour I don’t see working for everyone, and other than the Constantinople stuff there isn’t really a narrative or logic for what happens. It’s very much a showcase for Barnie’s considerable skills and allows him to go a bit crazy. If you like Python-esque humour, very silly things, and a dash of history, then this is the show for you.
Constantinople plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at the Basement Theatre until 4th March.
More information at the Auckland Fringe Website.