April 23, 2012

Other People’s Wars

Pushing the boundaries, Other People's Wars almost comes across as controversial for the sake of it.
I went into this with some reservations yet telling myself to remain open minded.
Award winning company The Bacchanals reunite with award winning playwright Dean Parker (Slouching Toward Bethlehem) to present the stage adaptation of Nicky Hager's controversial 2011 book. OPW looks at New Zealand's involvement in the "War on Terror" and what Hager claims really happened behind the stories of peace keeping and humanitarian aid.

As the audience enters the cast are milling about on stage in various types of camo pants, combat boots and plain shirts. The show opens with each of them introducing themselves and which characters they will play. This is a welcoming start to the show, not often does the audience meet their entertainers on stage. However, this initial reaction is soon overtaken by a man in a sequined Uncle Sam costume singing "Born In The USA" while the rest of the cast dance behind him wearing burkahs. Culturally insensitive, yes. Entertaining? Not so much.
Throughout the show the tone rapidly yoyos from dead pan serious to almost slapstick humour, a technique which is hard to swallow considering the tense subject matter. At one point a battle plan is explained using paper cut outs of people, a wooden truck and two cast members with toy planes making "pyew pyew" noises to show they are firing. Perhaps this was meant to be a commentary on how badly the American army planned their battles but it just came across like they were making a joke out of a clearly not funny situation. In places the dialogue was too heavy on the details, making it hard to fully take in all the information being given. Lots of dates and times and technical terms all unloaded in rapid succession in an attempt to cover all the necessary details.
The cast all perform admirably, each performing multiple roles of both genders. Having scenes in may different settings calls for some very quick costume and scenery changes, all of which the cast handle easily and and without interrupting the flow of the story. The same man who brought us sequin clad Uncle Sam also plays George W. Bush in a plain white mask and black cloak, the symbolism of this costume isn't exactly clear, a faceless man surrounded by his commando cronies? Bush is anything but faceless, being the former president.
The lighting and sound are brilliant (if at times painfully loud). The show features two live battle scenes with extremely realistic light and sound effects including air strikes, bombing and of course gun fire. It really does feel like the audience is caught in the middle of a brutal attack. However, a show would be nothing if it simply rides on the back of well designed and operated lighting and sound. 
While the presentation of information is all one sided, OPW does leave the final decision for the audience to make up its own mind. This is the sort of show you must see to form a conclusion, not one you can simply be told about, in saying that I can't honestly recommend spending the $20 to see it.
Other People's Wars is a great as a show to question and challenge the audience, not so much as one that will entertain.

Cast: Diana Aurisch, Kirsty Bruce, Joe Dekkers-Reihan, Brian Everson, Alex Greig, Julia Harrison, Brianne Kerr, Hilary Penwarden, Johnny Potts, Paul Waggott.
Directed by: David Lawrence

BATS Theatre, April 17-28 8:00 pm (No show ANZAC Day)
Tickets: Full $20
            Concession $14

April 20, 2012

Nucking Futs

A hilarious twist and insight into the world’s obsession with social media.

Hilarious in it ridiculousness, this show really pushes the boundaries of ‘normal’ social media use. How many Facebook updates is too many? Do you really need to tweet every hour? Just how many of your ‘friends list’ are actually your friends?
We follow Cleo Kline (Cherie Jacobson) as she films a documentary about her self-published online novel, the woman behind the words and the life of an online ‘celebrity’. After a break down over a brutal review on Rod’s Reads, Cleo’s sister, Diane (Alex Lodge), collects her from a ‘health spa’, brings her back to the rural safety of the family farm in Huntly and the filming begins. Diane is forced to wean her sister of the technology in the hopes that she will let go of her incessant need to constantly update every social media outlet she has access to. We also discover the darker side of such things as online dating and people not always being who the claim to be.

The dialogue is extremely witty and awkwardly forward at times. The adult humour was brilliant, Cleo showing a childlike naivety by naming her books such titles as “Her Moist Abyss” and “Come On, Myself”. Hopefully such jokes went over the head of the twelve year old I noticed sitting with his parents, otherwise the discussion on the way home would have been interesting! The cast all perform brilliantly and comfortably in their roles. Each character has represents a different element of the story, mass and social media, fraudsters and their victims and more.
The lighting is simple which suits this show and the screen on the back wall is a great idea, giving us extra insights and points of view, used especially well in the ‘photo shoots’.  Almost all of the props and stage setting are made out of cardboard, even the kitchen bench, evidence that this show doesn’t take itself too seriously and is made to have fun with. Which, after all, is what a ‘play’ is all about.

Cast: Cherie Jacobson, Ales Lodge, Nick Zwart, Ralph Upton, Simon Haren, Kitty August, Ed Watson.
Produced by Cherie Jacobson

BATS Theatre April 12-21 6:30pm
Tickets: Full $18
            Concession $14

April 16, 2012

RCRD Game 1 2012: Smash Malice vs Comic Slams

There has been a lot of talk about the ticket problems but we didn't notice. We were first through the doors - we went through the first set of doors like we owned the place because it looked like everyone else was just milling about like they were waiting for someone, and waited inside till the main doors opened. I don't know exactly what the issues were, but it's been a long time since I went to a Ticketek ticketed event where they didn't have scanners. RCRD have apologised profusely and promised it will be fixed for the next match.

The bout itself was pretty awesome. Slams was winning for about 10 minutes, got a decent lead up, but Malice ate the lead in one jam. Malice continued to dominate till about half way through the second half, both teams scoring similar points in a slightly alternating pattern. It was the last two jams that made the night, with Slams kicking butt and coming soooo close to a win. Better than the final last year.  

I found it interesting that I don't really recall Smash Malice putting their rookie skaters in pivot/jammer spots (except for one which wasn't an overly impressive jammer, did do very well) - they seemed to just use them as token blockers and stuck with the same formula of Skandal, Velocity Raptor and Bikkies (who was awesome as always!). But Comic Slams utilised a couple of last years newbies really well who've distinctly improved, as well as a newbie from this year who was pretty impressive too, but they had to with Jet becoming more of a blocker and Ella Kazaam out on injury.

I understand some people were so fed up with the ticket issues that they didn't stay. I hope those same people try again next time to watch the two original teams face off.

Final Score: 115 Smash Malice, 107 Comic Slams

Game 2: Saturday 19 May - Smash Malice vs Brutal Pageant

April 13, 2012

Wednesday To Come

I first saw Wednesday to Come 15 years ago and was so moved by the story that I jumped at the chance to see it again. It is a thought-provoking, well-written play steeped in kiwi history; evoking a feeling of the depression and the events surrounding it. The play is based around four generations of women living in 1930s hardship, in one house, dealing with the death of the youngest generation's father.

The set of the Hutt Repertory production was fantastic. The dedication to detail and way the actors used the stage made it feel like there was depth, an entire house behind the scenes. Cupboards opened, fires were stoked, taps ran with real water!

Jean D Howell-Maher's Granna was a bit of light relief; instead of a woman loosing her marbles, she played an elderly woman growing old disgracefully. Iris, played by Nicole Smith-Williams, was a angry, hard woman with a beautiful singing voice. It is a shame the script did not call for her to sing more. I was confused at first as to who was the mother of Cliff and Jeannie because the grandmother looked young comparative to her character's presumed age. There was a moment when Jeannie spoke directly to her mother and both Iris and Mary were in her line of sight. However, the relationships became more evident as the play proceeded.

The actors were committed to their roles, holding character when they weren't speaking, murmuring to each other "I love you" and conveying real intimacy by touch, a covered hand, a kiss on the cheek. I laughed when Jean mouthed the words as she wrote them in Granna's little notebook.

The play felt very real. Tracks played in the background gave the marchers outside a voice, Cliff a talent with the mouth organ. Wednesday to Come could be played on a stark stage and have the same power. However, the sounds and set of the Hutt Repertory production gave it a sense of realism which made it that much more moving.

This production cast Cliff as a rather sullen young man, understandable given the circumstances of the play and his family's losses. Jeannie, on the other hand, was played as young and perhaps a little too sunny at times. Mary, the grandmother, seemed very efficient, holding the family together, and a bit matter of fact.

Ted seemed like a typical bloke of the time, stand-offish, perhaps more lucky in his circumstances than his brother the deceased Jack. It was unfortunate that Iris and Ted lacked chemistry apart from a mutual feeling of blame about Jack's death. This Iris is a little too wrapped up in her own emotions to share anything of herself with others.

From memory there are elements missing from the script, including circumstances surrounding Jack's death, and repetition of the days of the week, which gives the play its name.

Wednesday to Come may not be everyone's cup of tea due to it's heavy subject matter, it is however, very well played and I think everyone should see it.

Venue: 108 Theatre, 108 Oxford Terrace
Price: $20, concession $18
Dates: 11-21 April (no performance 16 April)
To book go here

April 11, 2012

Society Slump Superstars

A hilarious and bizarre debut from Joshua Hopton Stewart, this musical is a twisted mix between The Glee Project and The Hunger Games.

Set in New Zealand in the midst of a depression rid recession, the Prime Minister passes a new law requiring all citizens to dance and sing, turning every day into a live musical. We follow a group of school kids all with very different opinions of this new law, when people start to disappear we realise that all is not what it seems. Those who are left must sing and dance to the death in the Prime Minister’s new pageant “Society Slump Superstar.”

From the start there are issues with placing of the lighting, at times cast members are completely in shadow while singing or speaking, surely a tech run would have picked up something as rudimentary as this? The performances however easily make up for this oversight. The songs cover everything, from group dance  numbers to heartfelt solos and even a sing off in the final scene.

The plot is outlandish but this show revels in it. I love shows that are ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous. The story is full of humour, a lot of which is modern (a few quips about Facebook and the like). I especially loved Gina, the crazy activist character (an interview with the audience post-show on youtube informs me “It’s just Annabel playing Annabel"), while Kristen (the Julie Andrews hating Rachel Berry wanna-be) is the kind of character audiences love to hate. The cast all perform their roles brilliantly. The music is cleverly written and well timed through the show. A solo pianist provides the backing music from the stage. The lyrics are both weird and witty and fit each character well.

I definitely recommend Society Slump Superstars, it is a highly entertaining show and one that everyone will enjoy.

BATS Theatre 10-14 April 8:00pm

Ticket prices: Full $18, Concession $14

April 8, 2012

Caburlesque April 2012

The revamp and return of the bi-monthly burlesque show Caburlesque brings with it a new structure and a new producer. In return for a slight increase on door charge (from $7 to $20) we are relieved from the need to tip each performer after their act, a welcome change. The idea of tipping at a burlesque show didn’t sit well with any of the people I spoke to.

Our host for the evening is Sadie von Scrumptious,  in her signature green sequined dress, who opens the show with a little Yiddish lesson (Saturday was the first day of Passover) and keeps up the audience participation as the night goes on with plenty of prizes to coax out the shy ones. This month the show is dominated by graduates of Miss la Belle’s House of Burlesque. Several of the routines are recycled from the graduation performances but each either has something new or is performed so well they were greatly entertaining. 

In her first show since taking out Miss Congeniality and Sponsor’s Choice at Miss Burlesque 2012, Bon Bon Rocher starts off with her detective act (with which she debuted at Carousel Cabaret) and treats us to her Miss Burlesque “Living Doll” routine. Both acts have a clever plot and Bon Bon captures each character well, I especially liked her slow transition from emotionless and puppet-esque to a real ‘living doll’. 

Atomic Ruby performs her signature “Blisters” routine, which I always love to see, then for the second half has a new routine. I’ve seen many a balloon pop dance performed but ever with a flaming marshmallow. This was a brilliant idea but towards the end of the act, as the marshmallow became more and more burnt, it struggled to hold a flame. Always professional, Atomic Ruby kept her conviction and did whatever it took to pop those balloons. At times she was so focused on the flame it made me think of a pyromaniac who does a fire routine but gets so transfixed by the fire she forgets the audience, this gave me a good giggle. 

Salacious Sugar brings back two previously seen routines (her graduation ‘maid’ act and ‘I Want To Break Free’ seen at Mis Red’s Kansas show). Both routines are well thought out plot wise and despite one or two prop malfunctions, Ms Sugar owns the stage and has the audience cheering and laughing along.

Hester Hawthorne starts with an act I haven’t seen, very burlesque-meets-belly dancing, fitting as Hester has the beginnings of a baby belly which she proudly displays. It takes some skill to get a good tassel twirl, Hester takes this to a new level with not only adding ‘assles’ (tassels on the bum) but also pulling off twirling all four tassels at once. In the second half she returns with her “Muppets” act (also from MisRed’s Kansas show) which really hits a note with the audience.

Appearing in her first show since her graduation, Miss Delish puts a new spin on the Scottish play. Again, this routine has had some great thought put into it plot wise, I never thought I would see Lady MacBeth as sexy but Miss Delish proved me wrong. She manages to be spaced out and in control and the same time, the blood capsule was a nice finisher.

A new name on the scene is Spinning Jewel, a pole performer from Kaos who “climbs to the top of the pole and into your hearts”. She earns her tag line well and truly pulling some impressive twists and spins, I don’t know if she was dizzy but I certainly was. I look forward to seeing just where this performer will go from here.

Show: 7 April, 8.30pm. The Fringe Bar
Tickets: $20 at the door
Next Show: June "A Night With Queen"
Find out more about Caburlesque on Facebook and Twitter

April 6, 2012

These Are The Skeletons of Us

Two sex scenes, a butt load of glitter, one little play.

Skeletons is about a broken couple clinging onto the pieces of their relationship as they try to piece
together where it all fell apart. We meet the unnamed man and woman at the end of their battle.
Piece by piece, bone by bone, they tell their love story backwards. Everywhere ‘Guy’ looks there are
reminders of the failures; his two friends help him pick up her belongings while he tries to pick up his

Being in a relationship, one can never tell when the strings start to get tangled into what eventually
becomes an irreconcilable ‘hot mess.’ Being able to sit back and watch, objectively, as the whole
thing is unravelled, allows us to pick apart the individual threads. The little incidents which, alone,
are not so bad (a fart in bed, not being productive with ones day, one too many mentions of the new
guy at work) add up to something entirely unpleasant.

The story takes place in many different locations and each is easily distinguished thanks to some
clever lighting, yet the stage has a fairly simple set up. I loved the mood setting music provided by
live musicians who stay hidden for most of the show.

The cast play each of their roles confidently and bring a natural sense of comedy to the back and
forth banter, I could easily imagine the cast stepping off stage and into the bar post show without
dropping character. Despite the sad plot, the dialogue brings plenty of humour and has the audience
laughing throughout. I certainly didn’t expect to see two sex scenes played out right before my eyes!
I even learned a thing or two about mallards. The script is well written and flows easily from present
to past and back again as the truth unfolds before us. There are some very witty moments and some
very messy ones, I always feel sorry for the person who has to clean up that much glitter.

There really isn’t much more that needs to be said about Skeletons, it’s delightful and heart warming
if, at times, a tad depressing. A show is, after all, entertainment and I was greatly entertained.

This show is no longer showing. For more information see the Bats Theatre show information page

The Laramie Project: 10 Years On

A show with a very serious message, yet which is heart warming and humourous.

This show, set ten years on from the incident, revisits the story of Matthew Shepherd, a young man
whose life was tragically ended, though there is debate as to whether his death was a hate crime or
merely a robbery gone wrong. Through a collection of verbatim interview segments, the cast explore
all sides of the story, past and present. It battles with homophobia, prejudice society and the idea of
perpetuating a person’s memory beyond their final day. In 10 years time, will anyone remember our

TLP is performed by a cast of eight yet has no less than 43 characters. The first couple of minutes are
slightly confusing as the cast dart about the stage changing rapidly from character to character
establishing the base of the story but pace slows down as the show progresses making it much
easier to follow. There is no defined set, merely chairs and tables which are moved from place to
place and simple lighting which follows accordingly. The constant shifting lends itself to a ‘stream of
consciousness’ feel, like one person is telling us about all the separate interactions as they play out
before our eyes.

Being a story from America, the cast naturally adopt a range of American accents. Most of these
are performed impeccably with some cast members taking on multiple accents according to their
character load. One of the ladies however had a noticeably kiwi drawl to her "accent" and I felt
disappointed that everyone else had stepped up to the plate and the illusion could be let down by
one weak link.

Various characters (all based on real life residents of Laramie) naturally have varying degrees of
understanding and opinions as to the nature of the crime, all of which are presented evenly and
without biased. One of the greatest things about TLP: 10YO is that it isn’t made to spoon feed a
string of opinions to the audience; we hear everyone’s story and it is up to the individual to find
their own conclusion.

I found I was regularly reminding myself, this is real. The people I’m seeing exist, this is someone’s
son being put on display. What are we meant to learn from this? I think that is essentially what TLP:
10YO really asks of its audience, for us to learn something. Form insightful opinions and learn to
question our society. “Laramie is not a homophobic community, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t
one or two out there.” What parts of Laramie do we see reflected in our own society and what are
we willing to do to change that?

Insightful, thought provoking and incredibly well performed.

Performed at Bats Theatre (see their play information page)
This show is currently not running