Reds in your Head [by James Wenley]
Since his stage debut in 1974, New Zealand playwright Dean Parker, who last year was awarded the inaugural Playmarket award for making a a significant artistic contribution to theatre in New Zealand, has been a consistent voice from the left worldview. His last work staged in Auckland was The Hollow Men in 2008, the farcical doco-theatre adaption of Nicky Hager’s political study into the Brash years of the National Party. Midnight in Moscow represents the first time Auckland Theatre Company has programmed one of Parker’s works. The smoky Russian locale and intrigue of spies and lies, with a mole suspected within the New Zealand embassy in 1947, have been emphasized in this production and are appealing. But more than this, the play is a cerebral treatise on one of the most significant forces of the 20th Century: Communism, and its corruption.
The immediate impression of the New Zealand embassy in Moscow is akin to a Gliding On for diplomats. Head of Mission June Temm’s (Robyn Malcolm) immediate problem is a dealing to a hangover. Her outwardly naïve niece Madeline (Sophie Hambleton) flirts incessantly with Kit Lovell-Smith (Carl Bland), prone to bursts of boisterous song, whose homosexuality is an open secret. We also meet the husband and wife team of the temperate Sophie (Hera Dunleavy) and writer Hugh Toomey (Adam Gardiner). The set-up seems to be small fish New Zealanders trying to be important in a much larger ocean. There’s early excitement at the prospect of the “colony” being allowed into the British Council’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado (whose depiction of the exotic orient finds echo in the socialist fantasy of Russia). This is the appearance. But an opening monologue from Bland, concerning the fiction of E.M Forster, and the meta-theatrical concepts of players and roles, clues us to keep an active watch. When June is summoned by the Americans and learns that leaked documents have been linked to the New Zealanders, suspicion falls on each one of the small embassy team. There are “red” herrings along the way, although dramatically the culprit can be easily deduced. It is not so much the who, that is important, as to the why.
Wears its heart on its sleeve [by Matt Baker]
The decision to revisit a piece of work is an intriguing endeavour. For David Aston it was based on his belief that Where Are You My Only One? - a piece that he first performed in 2003 as part of Silo Theatre’s To Russia With Love mentoring project for young directors - needed to be seen by a wider audience. Originally a 30-minute one-act play, the piece was developed by its writer Vanessa Rhodes while she was a resident at The Robert Lord Cottage in Dunedin. It debuted as a full-length play at Circa Two in 2009, and 9 years after his initial involvement it is clear to see why Aston would want to approach this character with greater context.
Aston epitomises the Waikato farmer with an endearingly awkward characterisation and affably honest dialogue to serve him. Every word, and occasionally breath, seems like a struggle to express himself, which continually adds to his backstory and consequently informs a great deal of his character. Elena Stejko gives a tightly bound performance, reflecting the maternal bonds which dictate and restrict so much of her character’s life. Matriarchal New Zealand actress Elizabeth Hawthorne gives an acute portrayal of a domineering mother in both words and action. A manipulator with honest intentions, there is a razor sharp edge to her performance that is both dangerous and intriguing, and even when Hawthorne’s accent does slip now and then as the show progresses (bar her phonetic ‘e’ vowels which are flawless), her natural RP keeps her in good standing. Each of these three actors finds not only the honesty and inner turmoil of their characters, but the laugh out loud comedy that arises from their foibles (especially Aston in his video address).
A timeless classic [by Sharu Delilkan]
Although The Lion in the Winter has been around since the 1960s, it's actor Brendan Lovell's first time acting in, let alone reading the play.
The 27-year-old actor admits he had never heard of American playwright James Goldman’s play, that debuted on Broadway in 1966, until the audition.
But he's by no means new to acting. Far from it, Lovell's been in the public eye since popping out of an oven as The Gingerbread Man at age 4.
And even though he didn’t go straight into acting following high school, his long hiatus came to a close in 2010 when he found himself back on stage in a series of pantomime plays, while studying screen acting at the South Seas Film and Television School.
“I didn’t realise how much I missed the buzz of being on stage until I did those pantomimes. I was playing a musician in Pinocchio and the reaction from the kids who booed me off stage and wouldn’t let me sing the song was absolutely amazing,” he said.
Stejko’s Sisters Scintillate [by Sharu Delilkan]
To be honest when I was told that I was coming to see an Anton Chekhov play all I could think of was – it's gonna be a long night.
But that dreaded feeling of a laborious theatrical experience disappeared as soon as I entered the waiting room leading to the theatre.
Although it was a few minutes before the doors opened I felt a sense of excitement that wouldn't have been as apparent if we hadn’t been stuffed into the room creating a pressure cooker like atmosphere with people chatting to one another.
As soon as the theatre doors were flung open music was playing in the background and we had the rare opportunity to walk around the stage, which pretty much started at the door, in order to get to our seats.