January 23, 2022

A Natural Woman

Ali Harper is back at Circa theatre with her tribute show to Carole King. This was more of an ensemble piece than her previous shows, the musicians and other singer all got their time in the spotlight.

Ali was obviously thrilled to be back in front of an audience. She sang and chatted and flirted with us all. She was vibrant and entertaining, and still possesses a beautiful voice. We were lucky enough to witness her first time accompanying herself, she confessed after the song finished. 

She's done her research, weaving parts of Carole's story into the show. Carole's career brushed up against almost every famous musician of her time, including an almost collaboration with The Beatles.

Some of the music would have been nostalgic for a good portion of the audience but it seemed to be timeless and appreciated by all. Even the younger ones will recognise several of the songs. The closing two pieces brought a tear to my eye.

Tickets: $54

Performances: 22 January - 19 February (times vary)

December 16, 2021

Double Bill - And They Were Wrong / An Encyclopedic Instruction

 Inside a gorgeous old bank building that now houses Courtney Creative two plays (Double Bill) from emerging artists are being performed on a makeshift stage. Both shows are slow to start but then take drastically different turns.

The first, And They Were Wrong, tells you everything you need to know in the provided brief blurb, it's about "technological deceit and the dangers of hidden, online identities" leaving no surprise. There is interesting integration of technology, with live chats projected behind the performer. The plot follows a young trans woman as she attempts to find herself in all the wrong places and contains a stereotypical unsupportive father with perhaps a side of victim blaming thrown in. The ending is tied up too neatly, it shies away from any real conflict but with a bit of polish and some leaning into discomfort this piece could really pack some punch.

The second show, An Encyclopedic Instruction, is an entirely different beast. Supposedly an escape room it appears as though a youth has been kidnapped either by zombies* or a cult (it's never made clear which) who either torture or attempt to indoctrinate him. There's a timer ticking down the hour in the corner. Apparently the show alters depending on the audience reaction which makes me think I should have followed my instinct and walked out in the first ten minutes as I believe the point was that the audience themselves were being tortured. As the time ticked by and you thought about all the other things you could be doing, eating, sleeping or cleaning your house if you're a responsible adult, the need for a payoff built but it never eventuated. There were points where I wished it would end in an explosion and put us all out of our misery. If there was a point, it flew right past me.

The ticket price is very high for something of this nature, but you are getting two shows, though if you don't want to suffer like we did I'd recommend leaving during the interval.

*Is it in bad taste to write about zombies during a pandemic?


Tickets: $40 (door sales available) 

Performances: 7:30pm 15-17, 19 December 


October 13, 2021

Murder on a Boat

Murder on a Boat, part of the NZ Improv Festival, was my first Covid theatre experience. Bats staff were consistent and clear but I did spot several audience members skirting the rules. As improv often includes audience participation Bats were giving out spots to be placed on masks for those who chose to be involved, I do hope other theatres follow suit. It can be difficult to enjoy the show if you're terrified of becoming part of it. However, it was a moot point with this performance.

In the tradition of Agatha Christie there is a huge cast of characters (there were 11 actors on stage) ranging across the classes, from a Duchess to a servant. They are stuck together on a boat and there is *gasp* a murder. 

The ins and outs of this particular show were; an aristocratic pair of twins fighting over one of the brothers wives, their mother who was having a secret affair with a lounge singer who was best friends with the maid who assumed she looking for a rich husband, the maid was having an affair with the captain of the ship (necessitating getting rid of most of the staff to hide it) while another ship man was stealing from the passengers. And in classic style there was a detective and his side kick, who was supposed to be taking over the investigation, but his mentor wouldn't let him. The eleventh character was a servant to the Duchess and spy for the sons wife.

One of the great joys of improv is recognising when the actors are setting each other up as happened many times. The lounge singer, who was obviously supposed to sing, kept insisting that the Captain had a traditional song to sing, forcing him to sing more than she did during the performance. There was a hilarious game of whist proving that none of the actors had any idea how whist was played - then again I've never known anyone to play it outside of books.

It was an enjoyable evening and I was very impressed with the improvisors managing to recall the intricate names and tying up the various plot points satisfactorily. 

August 1, 2021

Winding Up

The only Roger Hall I've seen previously have been his pantomimes (they haven't been quite the same since). Winding Up is something entirely different, though still a comedy. It follows Gen and Barry, a couple in their 70s dealing with all that comes with being in that age bracket.

The set is dominated by a gorgeous projected painting of Wellington harbour. You discover it's projected when the screen is used for other purposes. The majority of the scenes happen here, in the lounge of their apartment.

The audience is firmly in the same age bracket as the characters. But even though I'm not, I can still relate. It brings up questions of end of life decisions, funeral planning, winding up family dramas and burying hatchets. 

It was  a special treat to have the playwright in the audience who actually addressed us at the end, saying that the most important people in theatre are actually the audience.

Ginette McDonald and Peter Hayden were excellent and very believable as a couple. Both fumbled a line each but handled it very well, and who doesn't mix up words in real life?

This show is the life affirming comedy you were looking for. Perfect for those getting on in years or those who have parents getting on in years.

Tickets: $52

Performances: 31 July- 28 August (times vary)

July 29, 2021

The Yellow Wallpaper

In a "three course feast" the Yellow Cat Collective brings three performances a night over three nights to the Katherine Mansfield House and Garden of The Yellow Wallpaper. There are a lot of threes going on here; three parts to the night with three performers.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a severely creepy short story written in the late 1800s about a woman going mad trapped in a room with yellow wallpaper, it's been hailed as a feminist text. This isn't the first time the Yellow Cat Collective have tackled this story. They produced a piece in this years Fringe festival focusing on the experiences of the woman. But this time they've chosen to focus instead on the wallpaper itself, how it feels to be observed.

The evening starts with time to explore the house, you may not have been since the upgrades in 2019 so have a good look around, music pulses from behind a closed door. Then the audience collects in the "timeline room" where there are a handful of seats around the detailed walls for a reading of an extract from The Yellow Wallpaper. The reader is good but I'm distracted by her orange shoes and the quotes from Katherine Mansfield plastered on the wall behind her. Then the main event, we are led across the hall to what was once the grandmothers room, now an exhibition space, stripped of all furniture save another line of chairs along the wall. This is where the music has been coming from.

Dance is one of those difficult mediums where if you aren't told the story beforehand almost anything could be going on in front of you. This holds true here, but once you know you see the dancers emerging from the walls, writhing against them as you wonder if they're allowed to touch the highly decorated paper. You realise that dancers must necessarily be actors too, their faces impassive. I'm distracted again by odd things; how the calf muscles bulk as once dancer moves, the rib cage of the other as she arches, tattoos revealed on the first as her shirt lifts in movement, chipped nail polish on a hand as it sweeps through the air. There is beauty here and trust too - they rely on each other to hold the space and at one point to hold each other up as they both lean in. Modern dance becomes ballroom as the dancers circle each other then it disintegrates as they twist on the floor. 

In this intimate space there is no getting away from the performers, close enough you could reach out to touch them. The music is light, unintrusive, so much so that you wonder how the dancers know their place. But they do, it is perfectly timed. It ends and the dancers faces and movements change, they seem a little embarrassed by the praise and the thanks of the audience. The evening comes to a close, we are ushered out as the next group is arriving soon.

At just $10 a ticket it's very affordable but get in quick as spaces are limited.

Tickets: $10

Performances: 29-31 July, 6pm, 6:50pm 7:40pm

July 23, 2021

Maximum Benefit

Two comedians; Max and Ben - do you see what they did there? Maximum Benefit - combine their powers to create an entirely improvised show. Now, I've seen improvised shows in the past that follow a pattern but here there was no pattern, everything was entirely original. Unique to every performance.

The closing show of their July season at Bats Theatre tonight was hilarious. And as there is never going to be another performance like it, I can spoil to my hearts content.

To open they asked the audience for a hobby. The first suggestion of interspecies erotica (that's a reference to Clerks 2) was rejected for not being a genuine hobby but went on to be referenced several times throughout the show. The second suggestion of Adventure Racing; a sport consisting of teams with up to 4 participants running, biking and kayaking over hours varying from 3-9; was accepted.

We open on a scene in Wellington with Bruce, a recently separated man, meeting Margaret his team mate who has a not-so-secret crush on him. They both have hygiene problems - Margaret never washes her clothes, and Bruce's clothes are starting to grow mould because his ex wife took the dryer. In succession we are introduced to Sophie, Bruce's ex wife and team mate who is the only one who takes the racing part of Adventure Racing seriously, Carl, Bruce's German best friend who has just returned from a two week rave and was previously involved with Bruce and Sophie together, and Pierre, Sophie's new French-Canadian lover who is there to film the whole race on his go-pro. Then there's also two men watching the race, who eventually decide to participate, Gil and Stu, who are sharing margaritas but didn't know each others names despite being neighbours for 52 years, their daughters being married to each other and them sharing grandchildren.

Do you have that all straight? It was a lot. And it's even more impressive when you take into account that these 6 characters were played by two actors - sometimes this involved them jumping from one side of the stage to the other to play another character. The night ended with 5 of the 6 characters kayaking across the Cook Strait, drinking margaritas and trying to sort out their tangle of relationships. 

There was never a dull moment and quite a lot of laughs - from the situations, the hilarious characters, the jumping between characters and the bits where you could see them setting each other up. I don't think I've even been at a show with a more engaged audience.



July 4, 2021

Elling

Elling is billed as "a life affirming comedy", I did not find it such. The staging and performances were great but I struggled with the content. Firstly I'm not sure why it's called Elling when this is as much Kjell's story.

This is the story of two mentally impaired men trying to reintegrate into the "real world" after being released from an institution. The first half was so supremely uncomfortable I almost didn't stay for the second, though I'm glad I did as it improved somewhat. The men instead of being supported are abused and ignored by those who are meant to care for them and I was constantly on the edge of my seat worried about what would befall them - would they be taken advantage of? Would they do something stupid?

The play is a series of very short and slightly longer scenes which was a bit hard to digest. I was worried before seeing it that the comedy would come from laughing at the expense of the characters and often it did feel that way. Sure, there were laughs, but should we really be laughing at people who can't help the way they act? In one sense it is successful as I did genuinely care for the characters wellbeing.

My companion felt that there was at least a message to the play that came in the second act as Elling and Kjell integrated better into society. But we both left unsure if we'd enjoyed ourselves.


July 2, 2021

Sweeny Todd

You may recognise the name from the 2007 film starring problematic actor/potential abuser Johnny Depp but you may not realise before that it was a musical by legendary Stephen Sondheim (and before that a play and before that a book and possibly before that an urban legend). So, the musical came first, at least before the movie. You have the privilege to see it staged in all its glory, in Wellington, by Witch Music Theatre.

Fair warning, this show is dark. There are content warnings posted on the website and outside the theatre. It was much darker than I remembered from the movie and that thing was made by Tim Burton who specialises in dark (and also casts Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in everything). 

Many productions these days forgo stage blood for ease of cleaning the set and costumes and to avoid upsetting the audience. I'm happy to report there is a little blood in this show, its used sparingly but to excellent effect. There is one bit...but I can't spoil it. You'll know it when you see it. I gasped.

The stage is small, made smaller by the need to accommodate an orchestra. Interestingly the conductor was also a performer, managing to conduct mostly with his head. The music was very well choreographed with the action on stage with a little hiccup when people were banging out of synch...and once reminding a performer which verse to sing. 

All around there was talent, singing, acting, sadly no dancing. The actor who played the little boy perhaps being the best. The sound of the combined voices was something beautiful. I did recognise one of the actors from Circa (always lovely to see a familiar face), I look forward to following his career as it progresses.

I recommend taking someone who doesn't know the story at all and watching as they realise what is unfolding on stage. A certain amount of impact is lost when you know what's going to happen, but still I found this more horrifying than I remembered. 

May 20, 2021

Julius Caesar

Everyone knows the name Julius Caesar. Everyone knows the name Shakespeare. And if you live in Wellington you should know the name Stagecraft.

Their latest production is a modern enactment of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. It's staged in the round, just as it was traditionally. There is no getting away from other audience members, with only two rows there's no hiding, or the actors. The central floor holds fights and riots which spill into the wings. If you're not a fan of flashing lights and loud noises this may not be the production for you.

As any good Shakespeare play it ends with a pile of bodies. It's a shame there isn't any blood, especially as it is so central to one scene, but it's understandable why it was left out. It's messy and would ruin the costumes - and make it hard for actors to play multiple parts.

Julius Caesar tells a well known tale of an ambitious politician with a hot young wife (this needs to be mentioned because it is super uncomfortable when they kiss) and the revolutionaries who are hell bent on bringing him down. Although I've read Shakespeare I hadn't read this one and was surprised how early in the piece the major events happened.

You'll be delighted by the gender swaps (too much testosterone on stage otherwise) and the familiar phrases including: "the fault in our stars", "mortal instruments", "Romans, friends, countrymen, lend me your ears", and the classic joke "it's all Greek to me".


Performances: 19-29 May (times vary)

Tickets: $25

May 2, 2021

Things I Know To Be True

The Price family are a normal, nice, middle class family from Australia, though with four kids they are bigger than the average family. The parents, Bob and Fran, have worked hard to give their kids the opportunities they never had. And the kids have, well, squandered them.

Set in the backyard of the family home this play follows a very eventful year in the life of the Price family. In the way that a problem shared is a problem halved individual dramas become family dramas. Leaves fall, rain falls (literally) and so do masks. Each family member gets their time in centre stage to reveal the secrets they've kept from their family and the effects of this ricochet out.

It's about taking responsibility for your own actions, being your authentic self, growing up and, moving away from the safety of the family you've always known. At first everything appears perfect but cracks begin to show as we watch the family implode on itself. Can they find their way back to each other despite everything that's happened?

Don't see this show if you are at all embarrassed about crying in public. Do see it with a family member; it will open conversations that need to be had.


Performances: 30 April - 29 May (times vary)

Tickets: $52