Time to Celebrate! [by James Wenley]
There’s a lot of good performance on at the moment. Too much. How can one get to it all? Auckland theatre – you need an ‘on demand’ service. Anything Goes is at the Civic, I haven’t yet managed to get to any of the Tempo Dance Festival at Q, there’s a myriad of performances down at the waterfront, and The Basement Fest is now in full swing.
That I have managed to get to, and am quite proud to say I’ve seen most of what’s on offer this week. With a new show playing almost every half-hour from 7pm – 10:30pm each night, that’s no small feat. You definitely can’t do all of the Fest in one night.
Adventurous audiences have no excuses – there’s plenty more than the Rugby on, go and experience it!
This is a great state to be in as Theatre Scenes celebrates its own milestone – this entry is the website’s 100th blog post! We’ve had great fun checking out the best (and worst) that Auckland theatre has had to offer so far this year, and hope in some small way we’ve added to the conversation.
So to celebrate, here’s a run-down of the current Basement Fest shows. Go see one, two or even all five! I dare you.
The first thing to say is The Basement itself is looking damn fine. There’s some new graffiti art on its walls, and the rest of the space is taken up by kooky cool artwork from The Dirty 13, even surrounding us in the Basement Studio space. The place could do with a bit more signage to let us know where and when each performance is taking place, and heck, maybe an intercom, but with so much on behind the scenes it an otherwise smooth operation. With a new flash theatre right on their doorstep, the Basement Fest is a timely reminder of joys of the little theatre venue that could.
Yours Truly is in some ways the centerpiece of the Fest, performing right through. The story of Jack the Ripper, as told by kiwi playwright Albert Belz, it plays right through the festival. You may have seen my preview of the work with director Anders Falstie-Jensen, and the story of how they got the show together was a long one, but the end results are well worth it for the team. It’s a bloody triumph – the cast are talented (the women sympathetic, the men abhorrent) and I’m impressed by the technical work that really transforms the Basement main theatre.
Like good theatre often does, in my research (Wikipedia!) on Jack the Ripper after the show, I found out that the story is based on a famous (since discredited) conspiracy theory that implicated the royal family and a rather large cover up – positively explosive if true! It’s interesting how Belz lays it all out through the play – it’s not much of a secret who Jack the Ripper will be, so he doesn’t play up the mystery element, and by the end of Act One we mostly know how Act Two will play out (excepting a last minute twist ending). Instead, the play looks at the Ripper up close, and provides a riveting psychological study of a serial killer who thinks he’s doing God’s work.
Crims: Tom Sainsbury, who for a long time has been one of my favourite comic playwrights, returns again with another funny play Crims. He sets his skewering sights not on criminal masterminds, but ordinary, local shoplifters. 20-something Willy, played by Ryan Richards is charismatic and naïve, and genuinely rather excited by his community service, so gets a pass from us. Sainsbury saves himself Louis, 30s, to play – he has no redeeming features and a serial liar, and Sainsbury makes him a character we love to hate. Rounding out the cast is the versatile and extremely watchable Kate Simmonds, who plays a full-of-herself Postie Plus model girlfriend, a butch community service officer, and a sweet fast food chick with an eye problem.
The cast, under Abigail Greenwood’s direction, bounce off each other well, and there are lot of subtle inflections, pauses, and physical movements that make me chuckle. It was clear for the audience when actors changed characters, but clearly not for the actors who got the names wrong twice in the performance I saw, acknowledging it, and drawing some of the biggest laughs of the night. Like some of Sainsbury’s work it lacks complexity or depth, but as a work of pure junk food comedy it serves up a treat. Seated near the back I struggled a bit with sightlines and the noise from Basement patrons outside, but that was the limitations of the Basement Studio, not the production.
Love After Dark: Outfit theatre company return with an intriguing theatrical concept – Love after Dark consists of three short plays, all with the same opening lines and character names (bar the last character), that all end up going in quite different directions. It’s a snappy and entertaining way of showing the multitude of ways that words can be interpreted – surely the basis of theatrical repertory.
The middle play is a bit of a downer, but the first is gently charming and the last play a riot – the script deviates when an actor gets up as a director and tells them it’s not good enough. Just as I was thinking ‘this is quite like that director game in Whose Line is it anyway’, one of the characters says just that and it avoids becoming one-note as the laughs keep coming. It’s a play surely inspired by the brutal pain of the drama school experience that the Outfit Theatre Company went through, and Edward Clendon does a great job as an unhinged actor always looking to bring different accents into his performance. Check out Sharu Delilkan’s full review of the show here.
Ruufless 2.0: I’ve admired Fasitua Amosa as an actor for a while (seen this year in Havoc in the Garden and The Factory), but he’s relatively fresh as a stand-up comedian. You wouldn’t know it – his stand-up is assured and pointed, with a warm and welcoming style of delivery that makes it seem like your part of his family (even giving tips out how to survive a Samoan church feed). It’s pretty cool that there are comedians as part of the Fest’s line up, and it’s a different compliment to the theatre before it.
Man Bits: If you’re still around the Basement at 10:30pm, then you could do worse than check out the Man Bit’s play. Ostensibly about a men’s knitting support group, it’s an ode to the Penis, exploring man ‘bits’ and ‘issues’ in a funny and sometimes poignant way. We’re each given some wool at the beginning of the show and told we can finger knit throughout, but I’m useless and don’t make much headway. The play’s drama is a little overlong and preachy at times, jarring against the wonderfully over-the-top comic abandon that sees a chorus of men comparing knitted penis sizes, or a penis having a counseling session with a vagina. As I’m sure is the case with some penises… sorry… plays, this one you can only see to believe…
The Basement Fest runs until 22nd October. Check it out.
With lots of happening around Auckland, I’m heading to New York for two weeks to check out Broadway. No doubt I won’t be able to resist writing up some reports, and I’m curious about how what we have here will compare. Don’t fear though Auckland theatre fans, Sharu will be holding the fort in the meantime.
Thanks for reading, and here’s to 100 more!