February 17, 2017

Dark Matter

A hazy spotlight shows a woman on the floor. Lights illuminate fog. The woman disappears. The audience leans forward in their chairs. Is she still there? The woman reappears, a figure behind her. The fog reruns to obscure them both.

Dark Matter is a set of seven pieces, 'haiku', a mixture of light, sound and hidden figures. It's in the depths of the Te Whaea performing arts center.

One thing I love about Fringe is the opportunity to see things I never otherwise would have even heard of. They tend to fall into two camps - amazing or terrible. This show was somehow neither.

The light deprivation was unsettling, making this not a show for the light hearted. The three central pieces were emotive - at one point I was sure they were going to kill us. Surely it's normal to think or murder in a darkened theatre? But I left uncertain what some of the pieces were trying to get me to think.

February 15, 2017

Feeling Groovy

All Saints, Hataitai, 15th February 2017, 7:45pm session

Melbourne contemporary dancer Jacob Edmonds really put his heart into this one and it is a shame more people won't get a chance to see it in the Fringe.  There was something surreal about the whole experience.  Outside, a soft evening light was lingering.  Inside, as you go into the naturally-lit space you can dish yourself up a teal plastic cup of popcorn or a lime cup of Fanta before the show.  It was an easy, welcoming.  From comfy chairs and rainbow beanbags, the audience watched the unpredictable performance of a predictable journey of questioning and experimenting with the notion of being exposed on a stage and 'performing' dance theatre with a touch of mime.  But it was the end that everyone will remember:  it felt as if all of the theory was just a vehicle to arrive at a glorious, stylised, and uplifting solo to Simon & Garfunkel's Feeling Groovy a.k.a. The 59th Street Bridge Song.  This dancer looked like how children's TV presenters would if they truly believed in the joy of the message they are imparting to the kids.  The earnestness was refreshing and exquisite, and would do well to be available on replay to anyone who needs an cheering-up escape into a world of multicoloured stage lights and his fine repertoire of movement on all axes (thanks NZ School of Dance), the most effective one being his captivating grinning and winking stage face, whilst a peachy neon sun set outside in the Wellington evening.  

“ZE”: Queer As F*ck!

Ivy, 14th February

This is Ren Lunicke’s Hirstory, and as such, can’t really be judged as good or bad, right or wrong – we are privileged to see it performed in zir energetic words and actions.  Here are some reason to see the show:

·         If you like concentrated celebrations of genderqueerness
·         If you like laughing along with genderqueer people too!
·         If you want only a gentle, but existent, level of audience participation in your Fringe choice
·         If you are sick of people you try to explain genderqueerness to acting like you just made it up to annoy them – this show is a good educational tool and might do well for various community and institutional groups, especially those ones who think they don’t need it.

Here are some things that will happen:

·         Without warning, childhood sexual abuse is briefly mentioned and not dealt with much after, which may be a bit sudden and shocking for some.
·         Other aspects of zir life as a developing genderqueer person are actually very sadbecause of the world ze lives in – this balances with the enthusiasm and special brand of dildo-hilarity, giving the show the weight of a real live experience, but the depth of the heartbreak in some parts of zir life are hard to recover from.
·         In the flurry of listing and accepting all the possible labels and anti-labelling labels a few may have been used in a slightly off way, but we are shown that it is up to the individual how they identify, and everyone else can go jump.
·         In the flurry of welcoming every possibility of everything, it’s easy to forget that there are many ‘privileges’ the performer has (such as being able to show off zir able-bodied-ness and allude to a conventional notion of ‘hotness’) that the people in the audience encouraged to identify, may not.  The performance can even come off as a bit conventional in all its purported radicalness… But that depends who’s watching!
·         The value of such performances is apparent even as, in the light of the following day this review is being written, a conversation involving jokes of a homophobic nature (in the sense that possible sexual activities of gay people are being canned as universally, objectively unappealing) is taking place in our central city within earshot.  Long live Fringe, we need you, all of you!

Even though ze didn’t cry rainbows like the poster, bottom line is, this is entertaining as f*ck!

December 1, 2016

Scarlet & Gold

Scarlet and Gold is New Zealand's own Les Miserables. A smaller revolution, one for better working conditions that is met with equal violence and injustice. Mobs storm across the stage as often as families and friends, comrades, dance around it.

This is a piece of New Zealand history we would rather forget. A time when money was put ahead of principles, of safety. Women are particularly strong in this revolution and the men fall back on threats of rape and calling them "sluts" for speaking their minds. These women thought they were changing the world, making it a better place for future generations. I am so glad they cannot witness what is going on in America today, where a person who treats women as objects has been promoted to a position of power. Where violent acts of homophobia and xenophobia are rising.

There was a well deserved standing ovation for the actors that threw themselves into the play so much that you could see they were emotionally moved. This is a hugely upsetting play because it so clearly depicts the horrific events in Waihi in the early 1900's and highlights how little progress we've really made.

Performances: 25 November 22 December Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4.30pm
Tickets: $46

November 30, 2016

Making Friends Collective: Stand Up Love and Wine Lips

Two plays based around relationships, about breakups.

The first, Stand Up Love, made me cry several times but perhaps I was over identifying with the characters as my companion thought the acting was wooden and that the actors hadn't really committed themselves to their roles. Despite it referencing stand up routines this isn't a funny play; I found it gut wrenching and honest.

The line that most stood out to me was "Why couldn’t it have worked? I loved you so much."

This sentiment was echoed throughout the second play, Wine Lips, which depicts two exes catching up backstage. Having had experience in theatre we got all the jokes (though perhaps we didn't enjoy them as much as one gentleman in the audience). There was local flavour with references to Circa and Robyn Malcolm. The acting was so on-key that it genuinely felt like we were watching two people hanging out, so much so that it was a little voyeuristic. I cannot express how good this was; as well as being emotional it was very, very funny.

Both plays bought up memories of old love, real love, the love of my life. "Why couldn’t it have worked? I loved you so much." On the walk to my car I heard Katy Perry's The One That Got Away. It seemed fitting. I cried the whole way home.

Performances: 30 November – 10 December (no show Sun / Mon), 7pm/8:45pm
Tickets: $20 or $30 for both

November 21, 2016

Jack and the Beanstalk

For over a decade, Roger Hall pantomimes (along with his other works) have been a part of the Wellington theatre scene. This year we revisit an updated Jack and the Beanstalk which is to be the final run of Roger Hall pantos at Circa.

A practically perfect cast is lead by Dame Gavin Rutherford (Hilda Hardup/Aunty Pam) with standout performances from Jonathan Morgan as dastardly darling repo-man Claude Back, and Bronwyn Turei (or can I say Bronwyn Moo-rei?) as a delicious Betsy and fabulous Goosey. Together with the rest of the cast of Barnaby Olson (Jack), Andrew Laing (Butcher Bob/Postman), Emma Kinane (Mrs Virus/Gertie Grabber) and Jessica Old (Smiley Virus), they bring us the familiar fairy tale, with a local and current twist, such as their residing in "Lesterville", and wondering if the thud-thuds heard was Gerry Brownlee with a bad case of liquefaction.

Plenty of traditional panto moments for the young and young-at-heart to get involved with, though we noticed the jokes this year felt a little more family oriented than usual, but that may have been tailored to the child-heavy audience. We also hoped for a little more relevant current humour - but considering all that's been current lately could still be a little raw for some, it was probably wise that more earthquake cracks weren't made.

19 November - 20 December 2016 and 4 - 14 January 2017
Times: Tues - Sat 6.30pm, Sunday 4pm
Tickets: $25 - $46 School Kids $15
For more information and to book tickets go here

November 12, 2016

The Rime of the Modern Mariner

No, you read that right. The Rime of the Modern Mariner. What you're thinking of (because it sounds kinda wrong doesn't it?) is Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem by Coleridge.* If you haven't read it, that's cool I haven't either, it's not a prerequisite to enjoying this play. Though when the albatross died it reminded me of a scene in Serenity and I clicked.

In the modern version he isn't a mariner, he's a plastics engineer. How appropriate that he ends up floating in a sea polluted with the plastics he creates. You might have guessed that conservation plays a big part and you'd be right. But it's never actually mentioned, it's quite subtle. Well, as subtle as all the scenery and props being made from plastic can make it.

There are only five cast members, the "mariner" and four others who act as chorus, sometimes his friends, sometimes women he is trying to pick up, some times props. Their communication is excellent; managing to create a moving mass of bodies without any eye contact. Although it starts slow the centre is supremely powerful melding song and fog and people and yes, plastic into something that leaves you breathless. I would see the show for the central piece alone, it's a beautiful performance.

Please note that this show is longer than most Bats performances, coming in at 90 minutes instead of the usual 60. The price reflects this but I think it's well worth it.

Performances: 10 - 26 November, 8pm
Tickets: $25

* Have you ever heard the line: "Water, water, every where but not a drop to drink"? It's a misquote from the poem.

November 3, 2016

Roller Derby: New Zealand Top 10 Champs Finals

Throughout the year, 9 teams have been skating it out in a battle to be named New Zealand's champion Roller Derby team. Late last year, the top 10 teams (based on the official unofficial rankings kept by a number crunching fellow who goes by Geex Quad) were invited to participate in seeded pool play during 2016. Unfortunately one of the teams, Sirens of Smash from Nelson had to pull out early in the year.  Pool play ended in September, with the top two from each pool progressing to the cup semi-finals, and the third and fourth qualifiers from both pools progressing to a consolation semi to determine who would be awarded the shield trophy for "b" teams.  Shield playoffs were carried out early October in Napier, with Auckland Roller Derby League taking the win. The weekend just been saw Wellington hosting the cup playoffs for the top 4.

The schedule for the day had the semi finals as North vs North followed by South vs South, home team Richter City (RCRD) against Auckland's Pirate City Rollers (PCR) then Christchurch's Dead End Derby (DED) battling Dunedin Derby's Gallow Lasses (DD), then the losing teams played each other followed by the capping off the day with the final between the best of the South and the best of the North.

RCRD vs PCR was an thrilling and close game I'd not seen at league level for a while. It was clear in the first half-dozen jams both teams were playing the hit it and quit it strategy, but once Richter started racking up those jammer penalties, Pirates took the invitation and ran, taking Richter's initial lead and making it their own, using the momentum to win lead jammer just those couple of times more than the home team. They went into half time 83 over 51 for RCRD.  The third quarter of the game was much the same as the previous half, but things really started to heat up in the last quarter. Four lead changes (five if you count the equalizer jam) in six jams, had plenty of fans of both teams throughout the venue nursing palpitations and chewing fingernails while sitting on the edge of their seats - if they weren't jumping up and down that is! Richter managed to pull ahead and take the win with 130 points scored to Pirates hard-fought 119. Plenty of beautiful blocking from all the Pirates not wearing stars, but I think seasoned skaters Hui and Sugar Hit were my favourite of this bout.

DD vs DED was a closer game than I was expecting to be honest, with a long track record of wins in DED's favour. Half time score went the way of Dunedin, at 67-50, but it seemed they came out too strong in the first half and just couldn't keep it up in the second. A few obligatory apex jumps from Evil K Neevil (including one almost on demand of the MCs), and several lead changes in the second half, we came to a full-time score to see Christchurch win with 150 points to Dunedin's 133. Notable standouts for me this bout were Iona Shotgun, jammer for Dead End, and Little Yellow Jacket, blocker for Dunedin's Gallow Lasses.

Pirates and DD went pretty much as expected considering Pirates could easily have been playing for first rather than third, and with Dunedin coming straight off the back of their previous game. This doesn't mean the Gallow Lasses didn't put up a fight!  Some of their offensive walls against the agile Pirate jammers were very effective. Very much enjoyed Saradactyl's work this time around for DD as jammer , and PCR's blocker Schrodinger.  Half time score was 154 to 38, and full time 247 to 71, and Pirates take third place.

The crowds grew for the final bout upon arrival of a contingent of skaters from Tauranga's Mount Militia who raced down after finishing a double-header at Levin, bringing with them former Richter skaters, Ma Whero Mischief and Sweaty Pig. This reinvigorated the crowd somewhat and it certainly seemed there was more cheering for that final bout than the others throughout the day. The first jam certainly showed that RCRD meant business, opening with Skanda Lass against one of DED's most experienced skaters Evil K Neevil, scoring 10 points to Evil's nil, thanks to the latter taking a trip to the bin. Richter maintained that lead, with Dead End clawing a handful when they could, Razzmatazz made a dent in the points differential a few times throughout the game, her brilliant performance throughout this bout won her plenty of praise from the crowd around me. Half time saw a difference of 29 points, 102 to 73, and one could argue it was still anyone's game, especially when soon into the second half Skandal's skate broke ruling her out of the game till nearly the end once she procured some borrowed skates. The final jam saw a penalty assessed on Tu High (her as second bout as jammer for the All Stars, the first earlier in the day) leaving Razzmatazz racking up some points in a power jam situation, but not quite enough to take the win, but surely close enough to be satisfying. Richter won the Top 10 champs trophy final with a score of 193 to 155.

The next Wellington Roller Derby, and probably last public bout for the year, is yet another double-header. A fresh meat graduation bout for new and "tender" skaters from Wellington and abroad will be a curtain raiser for the Richter City All Stars taking on the NZ Men's Roller Derby team. The representative men's team are hoping to get to the Men's Roller Derby World Cup in Barcelona in 2018, and what better training to go against the recently crowned NZ women's champions. This double-header is slated for the 26th of November, further details at the Facebook event page.

November 2, 2016

The President

In this perfectly timed show Alexander Sparrow investigates what would happen if Trump became the American President. The media is rich with fodder and Trump makes a great character study.  I didn't realise he sounded so much like a vapid rich girl (including the hand gestures) until I saw Alexander's accurate portrayal.

The set is minimal, there were clothes laid out and it being an Alexander Sparrow production I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd wandered out naked. (Feel free to shudder at the thought of a naked Trump.) Alexander has again sacrificed his body for his art by growing and bleaching his hair to match the wig-like monstrosity which perches on Trump's head. He's also managed to give himself a paunch and if it'd been possible I'm sure he'd have grown jowls.

The show would've been funnier if the real Trump weren't such a caricature already and the ridiculous scenarios weren't actually things Trump had already said or indicated. What's most interesting is that this could viewed as a horror. Here's how bad it could actually get world, you've been warned!

Performances: 1-5 November, 8:30
Tickets: $20

September 27, 2016

RCRD: Double Header Home Season Final with visitors Whenua Fatales

Saturday 24th September saw the last home team 2016 bout for Richter City Roller Derby, and they presented it as part of yet another double-header.  The curtain raiser before the final featuring Comic Slams vs Smash Malice saw "turd place"  Brutal Pageant face up against Whenua Fatales from Levin.

Starting as they meant to go on, Pageant put 14 points on the board in the first jam courtesy of Vicious Vegie, who along with Gael Force featured heavily as jammers for this bout, occasionally supplemented by almost every other skater on the short schedule (9 skaters). Two recent transfers to Richter featured in Brutal Pageant's line up - Nixtreme from Santiago Derby Rollers (Chile), and Nerd'iator who most recently skated for Terminal City (Vancouver, Canada). Both brought some strong defense work to the pack and look to become valuable new versatile assets for Richter City. On the other hand, the Fatales brought with them a couple of skaters in need of their cherries popped. Alongside long time Levin skaters Crazy Crab, Battle Panda and the returning from injury Sticky Knickers, were newbies Soul Stealer and Gina-Mite, both of whom took a shot with the star on, with Soul Stealer managing to score against the ladies in pink. Ship Stirrer and Sare-rated Edge also had some notable jams as jammer and blocker respectively.

Despite giving it their all, smiling the long while and being cheered very loudly by the Pageant bench (especially when wining lead jammer status), Whenua Fatales couldn't match Brutal Pageant's force and vigour, with the resulting score being 471 to 52.

The headline of the evening, the final between Smash Malice and Comic Slams was underway after a quick break barely just long enough for the refs and officials to grab some feed, and the Pageant skaters getting dressed and rushed off to relieve the Malice and Slams skaters manning the bar, barbeque, fresh meat table etc.  After a zero all first jam, the leopard print wearing ladies soon asserted dominance as it seemed the Slams jammers were landing penalties left right and centre - primary jammers J'Knee Dodgem and Princess Slayer did end up fouling out later in the game. Moose Hoof and Gnome Diggity did their best to close score gaps with some impressive point scoring jams, but Tu High and Volcanic Ash has some impressing to do themselves. Blocker Bailey's Comet was on form as usual, with Melpractice continuing to grow in her blocking skills.  I did not at all envy the Smash Malice jammer who had to battle to get through an impressively tough three wall put up by Margaret Snatcher, Tuff Bikkies and Gnome Diggity.

The half time score of 119 to 76, Smash Malice ahead, was a foreshadowing of the final score.  There was confusion in the last few seconds of the bout where Slams (and the MCs!) were trying to call a 'one more jam' time out, without realising they had no time outs remaining, so the final whistle blew while Malice were already celebrating their 234 to 140 win.

While this is the end of the home team season, keep an eye out on the Richter City Facebook page for more derby action before the end of the year. National Top 10 finals are coming, and I heard so is another Fresh Meat graduation bout!