First person pro [by Matt Baker]
It’s been eight years since Stephen Papps wrote and starred in his own solo show, and I can honestly say is it’s a pity that it’s taken this long for him to do so again. In saying that, Third Person, Tense! is not technically a solo show. It’s billed as ‘a solo show with two people,’ and it’s that type of surreal comedy, which Papps infuses in his writing, that drives the play. That is not to say that Papps places form over content, merely that its style is an equally integral element.
The first 15-20 minutes of the show are nothing short of flawless. Papps is a brilliant narrator; personable, with clear thought processes and expert delivery. The story, which begins like a Wilson Dixon absurdist spoken-word song, introduces us to Jack and Rose and unfolds along the classic boy-meets-girl sequential scenario. It’s simple, and it doesn’t push the boundaries, but it is this simplicity that makes the story not only instantly recognisable, but endearing and accessible for the audience. The story of Jack and Rose exists as a play within a play, the reality of which begins to break-down with a classic theatre interruption. It could easily be confusing, if not for the fact that the fourth wall is broken as soon as the show starts, allowing Papps to guide us through. That is until our protagonist is challenged with the introduction of a second player in his one-man show.
Spend the Night with Irene [by James Wenley]
Irene McMunn’s Christmas cheer has been charming audiences in small venues across the country.
So much so, that director Stephen Papps has lost track of how many seasons the one woman show has had. This return season at TAPAC is the first time he’s seen the show since March. Impressively, it’s the third Auckland season after its debut at the Musgrove Theatre this time last year, a testament to its audience appeal, and the performance of actor/playwright Yvette Parsons.
The Christmas themed Silent Night has played both during ‘on’ and ‘off’ seasons, and while its strength of character and message is relevant at all times, I suspect at this time of the year it gains its extra poignancy.
TAPAC has been decked out with cabaret style tables and seating. The touring set, a homely interior, is raised high on rostra for audience visibility. Pink, in all its shades, is the overwhelming colour in this unit; the couch, floral wall paper and Irene’s dress are awash in it. As a space it tells much that we’ll need to know about the character, full of individual touches and flourishes, from the displays of Prince Charles and Diana wedding memorabilia, to the beautiful doll sitting on the couch.
The first we hear of Irene is her booming voice as she belts out her own unique version of the perennial Silent Night. It’s an instant charmer, her trait of bursting into carols welcome interludes throughout the show, and later touching expression of emotion. She appears onstage, and begins to chat away at us. We are warmly eased into her world as she freely espouses on different topics as they occur to her, flitting from one train of thought to another. The Chrisco’s hamper has newly arrived, and she takes us through an inventory (“That’s a good brand”). It’s Christmas day, and she’s waiting for her guests to arrive for a tea party.
Billy Elliot meets RED [by James Wenley]
With Billy Elliot, everyone remembers the feel good inspirational story of the boy who became a ballet star. In revisiting the film recently, I was struck by the gritty social background – of Thatcher’s England and the miners sacrificing everything with lengthy strike action. For Billy, dancing was a way of escaping a life already set out for him; of following his father underground.
In his play The Pitmen Painters, Elliot screen-writer Lee Hall returns to similar concerns. Based on a book by William Feaver, and a fascinating real-life story, Hall follows the Ashington Group miners through the 30s/40s, who, encouraged by their art tutor, turn to painting for the first time and become darlings of the art world. While Elliott’s rags to riches dancing feet is a populist story (and later turned into a West End / Broadway musical with music by Elton John) and the Pitmen’s story is a far more intellectual one (this is Theatre with a capital ‘T’), they share much in common: Mining, social upheaval and class warfare - exchanging pickets for paints. One miner with great promise, Oliver, is offered a weekly stipend, worth more than his mining pay, to be a full-time painter – a chance to escape the mines and have a “proper creative life”. In both, we see Hall dealing with passions, creativity, self-expression in an otherwise oppressive environment.
A Tale of Two Gittins [by Sharu Delilkan]
Having worked on the international film circuit for the past few years, including The King’s Speech and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Calum Gittins jumped at the chance to work in theatre.
And when his dad Paul told him he was directing The Pitmen Painters it was a no brainer.
Paul [Gittins] says “I’ve always wanted an opportunity to work with Calum but he’s been overseas for quite a long time. So I was glad when I managed to persuade him to stay and be in the play.”
The Pitmen Painters, written by the Tony award-winning writer Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), is based on a true story of a group of English miners in Newcastle whose after-work art classes reveal a wealth of hidden artistic talent. Overnight, the amateur artists find themselves propelled from the humble mines of the North East to a rich, intellectual art world.
When Mike met Virginia [by Sharu Delilkan]
Everyone knows When Harry Met Sally so when the show opens using the movie as an example of a romantic comedy (or a romcom) it sets the stage perfectly for what’s to come.
Mike & Virginia is written by veteran screenwriters Kathryn Burnett & Nick Ward, who are making their debut into the world of theatre.
Memorable lines include ‘I’m as dry as a vulture’s arsehole’ and ‘being a best friend is about accepting her lumps and all’.
Mike and Virginia want to fall in love and they are supposed to at the end but in my mind they never quite get there - it’s difficult to appreciate what lovably laid-back Mike (Will Hall) sees in constantly uptight Virginia (Lisa Chappell), who rarely seems to soften or let her guard down.
The show has all the elements – great script, amazing backdrop scenery but the diluted chemistry between the lead characters left me needing more.
Back on the radar [by Sharu Delilkan]
Most people know Te Radar as an award winning satirist, documentary maker, writer, failed gardener, and amateur historian.
And more recently he’s been in our living rooms starring in TVNZ’s Radar’s Patch, Off the Radar, and Homegrown.
But you’d be forgiven if you didn’t think of him as a stage director, especially since he’s been off the theatre radar for a good seven years. The revered Kiwi comedian’s last live theatre gig was directing Those Indian Guys in Indian Invaders at the 2004 International Comedy Festival.
Radar admits he knew he had to direct Mike & Virgina as soon as he saw the read through at Auckland Theatre Company’s Read Raw series.
Mike & Virginia is a unabashed romp of a play about love and who you think you shouldn’t fall in love with, that subverts every romcom convention in the book to create a bitingly funny and surprisingly tender Kiwi love story.