REVIEW: Show Ponies (Auckland Pride)

Review by Irene Corbett

[“Just Fxcking Delicious”]

Presented by Auckland Pride and Same Same But Different, and produced by Izzy, this Pride edition of Freya Daly Sadgrove’s Show Ponies is a riot of talent. This is poetry dialled to 11. 

The stacked line-up features performances from Emma Barnes, Venessa Mei Crofskey, Sam Duckor-Jones, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Ruby Solly, Chris Tse, Rebecca Hawkes, Dan Goodwin, and essa may ranapiri. The poets are supported by a host of musicians, dancers, and performers including Christine Brooks and Liv Hall, the sound design of Oliver Devlin, dancers Andre Lauron and Al-Gervahn Lisimoni, drummer Callum Passells, dancers Hayley Tekahika and Lara Chuo, the sound design of Eamonn Marra. The multitalented Ruby Solly supports both her own performance and essa may ranapiri’s with taonga pūoro.

With such a variety of performances not all of the shifts in tempo and tone are easy to navigate but the show is hosted by the sublime Hugo Grrrl, who, garbed in pearlescent sequins and silver jodhpurs, sparkles as the evening’s master of ceremonies. Tasked with both whipping the audience into a frenzy equal to the popstar status of the poets and listing the performers’ many achievements, honours, and publications, Hugo Grrrl is not just a facilitator but a guide to the range of performances styles and these transitions are largely successfully smoothed through by Hugo Grrrl’s quick wit and warm crowd work. 

Emma Barnes opens the show, flanked by Christine Brooks and Liv Hall. Barnes is clad in a flowing, floaty garment, a cloud of chiffons and organza, pink-tinged like the dawn on the horizon. Moving between singular voice and the chorus, Barnes meditates on space and the body, on taking up space, and on the power found in expansiveness. The voices of the three performers, never quite in unison, lap over each other in echoing waves producing an aural grandiosity rarely heard.

Dressed for the elements in mini skirt and impressive heels ( those elements being youthful late nights) Venessa Mei Crofskey transports the audience to chilly Ōtepoti Dunedin and even colder Pōneke offering a mixture of defiance, insight, and humour to the sound of Oliver Devlin’s musical efforts.

Sam Druckor-Jones, a vision in layers of baby pink voile, is joined by dancers Andre Lauron and Al-Gervahn Lisimoni. The poem is an ouroboros of introductions, a circular series of self-constructions. Sections of the poem are read from what look to be repurposed picture books, tufts of yellow and red tulle sprout from them in flames. At the end of the performance they all lie on the floor in a burning pile. The stage manager sweeps them off stage with a large broom. There is something deeply funny, and yet poignant in this clean-up post the process of invention. 

Freya Daly Sadgrove brings the party with a forceful, high energy, beat driven performance with the support of Callum Passells. It is so electrifying it probably needs a longer transition period before the next act to allow the pent up energy to dissipate a little. 

Next, Ruby Solly, poet and taonga pūoro practitioner, weaves her spoken voice with both pre-recorded taonga pūoro and live playing. The product of these three threads was transportive and deeply moving and a fitting close to the first half of the show. 

Opening the second half, Chris Tse is clearly an audience favourite, with a great hollering erupting both in recognition of his richly deserved status as the 13th New Zealand Poet Laureate and with his arrival on stage. He closes his act with a thrilling demonstration of dance prowess and is supported by Andre Lauron and Al-Gervahn Lisimoni.

Rebecca Hawkes brings a bitterly funny indictment of masculine entitlement in the internet age. The performance is enrichened by the presence of Hayley Tekahika and Lara Chuo,  equipped as they are with red and black gamer chairs and sequined fedoras.

Dan Goodwin offers an impassioned and emotive statement of selfhood as a non-binary person. Goodwin speaks with all of their being, the performance is highly visceral and no doubt resulted in more than just Hugo Grrrl’s self-professed teary eye. Eamonn Marra produced the sound for this performance.

When the show draws towards the end, essa may ranapiri closes with a suitably stirring reading of a piece featuring Echidna of their acclaimed 2022 collection Echidna. They are accompanied by Ruby Solly and the combination of ranapiri’s unfolding narrative with the repeated refrain of “Echidna, Echidna, Echidna” and Solly’s musical punctuation of the silence between spoken words shifts the mood to one of hungry observation. The audience hangs off each image, each repetition. It is a powerful piece to close with.  

This at times provocative, often joyous, and hugely absorbing experience cements the Show Ponies project as a crown jewel in Aotearoa’s poetry scene. As Hugo Grrrl proclaimed, it’s “just fxcking delicious”. 

Show Ponies plays Basement Theatre 25th of February 2023. 

This review is part of the Auckland Pride Review Project – a collaborative project between four local publications (The Pantograph PunchBad Apple GayRat World and Theatre Scenes) to provide more critical discourse around queer theatre and performance work. We will be reviewing a range of shows throughout the month of Pride – so keep a look out and go support our local queer performers!

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