Having seen the last Tuatara Collective production Fresh Choice, I enter the Q loft with high expectations for a remount of the 2019 play by Jason Te Mete. The intriguing ‘front room’ set – tatty brown sofas, and wall adorned with a Justin Bieber poster – makes me feel as if I’m a guest at a twenty-something’s house-party, and the atmosphere amongst audience members is light with anticipation.
In comparison to the supermarket comedy drama Fresh Choice, Over My Dead Body – Uninvited involves more audience participation, allowing for improvisation and comedic vignettes, including games and a lip-sync performance by Brady Peeti (Anna).
The story introduces Maria (Amanda Tito) as an uptight closeted lesbian who is preparing for a housewarming party with her roommates: out-and-proud lesbian TJ (Lyncia Muller), and Anaru (Vincent Farane). The banter between the three implies a close friendship, with jokes at Maria’s expense free-flowing due to her desire to keep the punch non-alcoholic. These jokes get a lot of laughs, although I’m keen for her to become more than the whipping post and to break from the stereotypes prescribed to her.
An appearance from four ‘party goers’ signifies the start of the mayhem, as the performers interact with volunteer audience members to hilarious consequences. Then a magical moment results in the entrance of three newcomers, quickly identified as the ‘uninvited’ ghostly guests who have returned to reclaim their old flat.
The show notes highlight how the uninvited guests are there on the eve of World Aids Day, and the plot advances this through tender interactions. Slightly problematic for the narrative, it is unclear who can see which ghost but this may be down to the confusion of audience member participants. We soon catch up, realising how each key character can see one ghost as they begin to connect with them in unexpected ways.
With outlandish dancing and expressive dialogue, Tito’s Maria is the most entertaining character and steals the show, especially when it comes to her improvised lines in response to comments from the crowd member guests. She befriends Sam (Tim Hamilton) who tries to get her to loosen up. Integral to the plot, her relationship with her ghost friend results in her taking agency – quite different to Anna and TJ’s conflict over an item of clothing, found in TJ’s closet.
The relationship between Anaru and Kate (Sapati Apa-Fepulea’i) has an unexpected twist, with sensitive moments demonstrating the strength of both actors. Similarly Anna’s monologue, about her clash with the police and their disrespect towards her as a trans person, is a moving retrospective.
Alongside these tender plot points, there is a beautiful sense of safeguarding and support from the production team, including access to counsellors and encouragement towards kōrero, and the back text of the programme includes details of many mental health and rainbow-friendly organisations.
The production has admirable intentions and is, overwhelmingly, an enjoyable mash-up romp between two very different eras. However, there is a slight disconnect with the text – transphobic dialogue is alluded to in the show’s trigger warning, but the plot centres on the moment in which Maria’s drink is spiked in order to encourage her sexual exploration. The first could be utilised in the script as a conversation point between modern day perspectives and those from the 80s – but the latter is not covered within the safeguarding show notes and none of the characters pull up the act, not even a sobered Maria.
Following its successful run, Over My Dead Body: Uninvited received Auckland Fringe awards for Best Ensemble, Best Director (Bryony Skillington) and Best Performance (Amanda Tito) – and with due credit. The cast worked together with exceptional cohesion, especially given the challenges of audience participation – complexly navigated by director Bryony Skillington – and the thought-provoking themes were most welcomed by the diverse audience.
It was also heart-warming to note that the entire cast, crew and creative team are proud members of the LGBTQI+ community – which, in itself, is a brilliant feat and will no doubt pave the way for more diverse content from Jason Te Mete and the Tuatara Collective.
Over My Dead Body: Uninvited played Q Theatre Loft 14-17th April, 2021 as part of Auckland Fringe and Summer at Q, supported by Auckland Pride.
SEE ALSO: Gabriel Faatau’uu-Satiu’s review of the 2019 production.