Taking the Risk [by James Wenley]
“…It was this lack of “weight” (a not too easily defined term which an actor, if not a member of the audience, would understand) that Mr George Henare needs to work on if he wishes to pursue the acting profession. His is a good, powerful voice, he has strong features… yet a lot of these advantages are dissipated by his unsureness in terms of movement, distribution of body-emphasis, and… style.” - Review of Awatea
It would be a brave reviewer indeed who would dare to write such sacrilegious words about Mr George Henare today. That was George Webby, in 1968, in an across-the-board withering attack on the original stage production of Bruce Mason’s Awatea. For Auckland Theatre Company’s 2012 revival, Sharu Delikan called Henare’s acting “flawless” and “truly inspired”, with Henare coming full circle to play blind patriarch Werihe Paku, whose son Matt Henare performed as in 1968. 2012 was a year that in many ways belonged to Henare, with headline performances in Awatea, Peach Theatre Company’s Death of a Salesman, and Educating Rita for the new Newmarket Theatre Company. Henare stocked up on the actor carbs to deliver three weighty performances indeed, along with a lightness of touch and twinkle in the eye, it was breathtaking to see Henare at work.
As I embarked this year on a Masters project looking at forgotten ‘landmark’ New Zealand plays from the 40-70s, Awatea defined my year. I went ‘behind enemy lines’ to see a little of that production come together. 2012 was a year I had one foot in the past, and one in the present. What would 2012 look like, in several decades time?
The show that sent me to Sleep [by James Wenley]
Did you hear about the show where a woman had an affair with a cake and all the audience members were dressed in their Pyjamas?
If you didn’t, there’s a very good reason. SLEEPOVER was the most mysterious, and the most exclusive event of Auckland Theatre Company’s recent Next Big Thing Festival (for which you definitely should have heard of Tusk Tusk and Checkout Chicks). It ran for only two nights, taking over the entirety of the Basement Theatre from 11pm, and could only accommodate 20 audience members per night.
I was one of the lucky 40, and the only invited reviewer. And so that’s the other reason - I haven’t posted my review till now. So time to reveal all.
This has to be the one of the strangest shows I have had to review; as the night went on the small audience became an important performer in the show itself. And it was the longest – we were there from 10:30 to collect our Sleepover Lanyards and meet our fellow audience members, the ‘show’ started at 11pm, and we went to bed around 3am, struggled to sleep, then awakening circa 7am and getting kicked out of the venue at 8:30am.
For the purposes of this review I’d like to give some suggestion of what the event was like for those who missed out or weren’t brave enough to don their PJs, if it worked, and whether the ‘sleepover’ concept can be more than just a one night stand.
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.
These shows won't last, buy your ticket today! [by James Wenley]
Turns out Xmas is a lot like the Rugby World Cup, whether you’re into it or not, you simply can’t avoid it – its everywhere. Xmas trees and tinsels have sprouted up everywhere. All I want for Christmas is you is on repeat. A GIANT Xmas Tree bauble has landed in Aotea Square, narrowly missing the Occupy Auckland protestors.
And now even our theatres aren’t safe. A recent tradition in Auckland has been the annual Xmas show at The Basement (The Reindeer Monologues, Christ Almighty!, Toys), where a conveyer belt of different ‘weren’t-you-on-the-tele-once’ actors perform each night.
While there’s no end-of-year Basement show this time round, others have arrived with sleigh bells on to take its place.
This week, two alliterated xmas shows have been going antler to antler. At the Herald Theatre is Outfit Theatre Company’s wicked farce A Criminal Christmas, and Upstairs at the Basement is Thomas Sainsbury’s series of Xmas shorts, A Krazy Kristmas.
A CRIMINAL CHRISTMAS
Outfit Theatre Company have topped off a cracker of a year (which included The Sex Show, Boys' Life and Love After Dark) with A Criminal Christmas, in partnership with STAMP at The EDGE. While The EDGE affords the company with the Herald Theatre and their best production values so far, what wins the season is the edgy and reckless ensemble feel that makes their work unique.
Is it you or is it me, but this show is funny [by James Wenley]
Friday nights have just got more interesting.
If you find yourself in town 11pm on a Friday night and in need of entertainment, the Instant Kiwi Improv series at Q is a big winner.
Being an improvised show, it’s new each week. And they re-theme the shows every few weeks for extra newness.
Playing at the moment is Instant Anatomy, a show that pokes fun in one of New Zealand’s great cultural love affairs: The medical Soap Opera.
Instant Anatomy takes us inside the doors of Grey Lynn Hope. All the familiar tropes are included: Sordid love affairs, scheming CEOs, lesbian doctors, bar staff inexplicably becoming nurses. While not all of us would admit to watching Shortland Street, most of us are familiar enough with it to enjoy what’s on offer in this affectionate spoof.
Labyrinth and 500 Days of Summer? Skip the films, see the plays… [by James Wenley]
When I interviewed Chris Neels on Theatre Scenes for Skin Tight in June he mentioned that he was working on two shows for a double bill at the Basement theatre in August. “Last year the Basement put out a call for proposals and I thought… oh shit, next year I’m going to be an actor and if I’m not performing at the Basement I’m not an actor. That’s what real actors do, they go to the Basement!”
And to the Basement he went, but, as it turned out, not as an actor. According to Chris’ logic, he might not be a ‘real’ actor yet, but he deservedly should call himself a ‘real’ director and playwright.
Elephant Nation’s two plays are a tantalising prospect. First is the Terrific Tale of Tabatha Talmus, billed as a fantasy for fans of ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘The Never Ending story’, its devised by the cast and directed by Neels with collaboration from dance collective Sweaty Heart Productions. Then Chris writes and directs These are the Skeletons of Us, which stars (if I may be so bold) some of the best young actors working in Auckland – Andrew Ford, Colin Garlick, Chelsea McEwan Miller and especially Nic Sampson.
Julia and Chris chat about Skin Tight, love, bruises, manhood, our Pakeha heritage, and TV commercials… [by James Wenley]
Skin Tight, by Gary Henderson, is a New Zealand play done good.
Since its humble debut at BATS theatre in 1994, the play toured New Zealand, and the world, including productions in Australia, Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and the USA and won a Fringe First award in Edinburgh.
At its core are the enigmatic characters of Tom and Elizabeth, recalling old school 1940s/50s New Zealand, who open the play with a brutal and passionate physical fight. The first stage direction of the play is instructive ‘A number of gym mats form a single pad centre stage’. It is a play that asks a lot of its actors.
Jed Brophy and Larissa Matheson originated the roles, now rising actors Chris Neels and Julia Croft have taken up the mantle in a new Auckland production at the Musgrove Studio directed by Melissa Fergusson. For both, Skin Tight is their favourite New Zealand play. Julia first read it in Drama School, and the character of Elizabeth was on a dream ‘one day I’d like to play that character’ list. Now she gets to.
I worked together with Chris and Julia on the team of Auckland Theatre Company’s Shrew’d - a quirky reworking of The Taming of the Shrew - in 2008. Along with myself, Chris was one of the three crew members who together managed to win ourselves increasing and unplanned stage time. Julia was a star, playing the sexy and sassy Shrew, holding her own in a boxing ring. At that stage, Chris was about to embark on three years of acting training at Unitec, Julia was about to return to do her final year at Toi Whakaari. Chris has admired Julia since Shrew’d, and remembers one particular backstage moment: "I remember walking into the theatre one day, and she had her head between her legs and she was blowing stuff out of her lips. And I thought ‘that’s a professional actor’. She was warming up while the rest of the actors were having a smoke or something like that, but Julia was in there stretching - that’s an actor."
Chris has been out of drama school now for six months, and says he’s been doing okay. He appeared in Outfit’s The Sex Show and is currently appearing in KFC’s Double Down commercial. “There’s times where you struggle for rent and things like that, but largely I’ve done alright. I’ve been given some nice opportunities along the way.” Julia, he says, is “wise and experienced” in contrast. She describes her industry experience as involving “ebbs and flows”. “You have periods where it’s great, and inevitably you start thinking ‘I’m gaining momentum, this is great!’ then nothing. It’s one of those jobs, when you’re working, it’s the best job in the world, when you’re not it can be a challenge“. This year Julia featured in Red Leap’s Paper Sky during the Auckland Festival, and formed Thread Theatre with Veronica Brady, co-devising the show The Keepers, and can also be seen on our small screens in the Z petrol station campaign.