September 21, 2017

The Wholehearted

Wholehearted will start conversations, honest conversations. Told through what I can only call interpretive dance it's the story of all people, yet there is no storyline.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the cast where doing, what the boxes represented, what they were trying to catch (their heart? love? memories?). It's almost a stream of consciousness across several people.

It is beautifully choreographed, each member participating in another's story so seamlessly. Sheer curtains create windows to interesting tableaux, all perfectly staged.

What is it about? It's about the human experience, how we open ourselves to others and it's lovely to watch.

Tickets: $30
Performances: (Wellington) 20-23 September, 7pm
Harcourts Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival (27 September)
Christchurch - Papa Hou (3 – 7 October)
Dunedin - Fortune Theatre (10 to 13 October)

https://www.massivecompany.co.nz/thewholehearted

A Doris Day Special

Ali Harper is a delight. Though this show doesn't have the breadth of Legendry Divas there's still plenty to enjoy.

Ali is Doris Day as she tells us about her life in a television special. There's video and audio accompaniment with a gorgeous rack of clothes. Doris had a tragic life but somehow managed to keep a smile on her face. Her positive outlook took her through several husbands and the loss of her best friend, her son. She was an early animal activist, still working in that area into her 90's.

The script is great, integrating costume changes with pre-recorded pieces and, of course, live singing. In case you didn't know, Ali is very talented.

The audience was a little older but the show is enjoyable for all ages.

Tickets: $46
Performances: 16 September - 14 October (times vary)

September 15, 2017

Anahera

Anahera means angel and she looks like one standing in white. Is this what I'm meant to see or am I reading too much into this?

What lies beneath the surface of a seemingly perfect family is appalling. It left me gaping in horror more than once. But somehow you feel for these awful characters, possibly because you feel for them before their awfulness is revealed - to the audience or to themselves.

The programme has only two lines about the show itself; following the annoying trend of having notes from the writer and director instead of pertinent information. The poster doesn't show Anahera but instead the actress who plays Liz - weirdly with ferns behind her which made me think it had something to do with the jungle.

You'll recognise the three main actors from TV and past Circa productions. Neenah Dekkers-Reihana as the title character is so different from what I've seen her portray before; she is innocent and righteous. Her wide eyes at the very opening making you realise how young and nervous the character is.

Anahera was harrowing, so much so that it stuck with me afterwards. I'd remember and almost shudder at the thought. I felt like the story lacked a resolution or maybe it's meant to show that they don't exist in real life. I'm left feeling unsettled.


Performances: 9 September – 7 October (times vary)
Tickets: $52

September 14, 2017

Me and My Sister Tell Each Other Everything

As a sister and a person with a mental illness I can speak to the truth of this production. Or at least my truth. When I saw the trigger warning I wanted to run away, when they mentioned it again at the start of the show I wanted to leave. But I didn't. And I'm glad I didn't.

Freya and Maria were great. They were honest. It felt like they were sisters or they were improvising the script as they went - but in a good way. I thought about my sister, who I hate sometimes and love others...though now I think about it, maybe I've grown out of hating her now.

This isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea but it deals with important topics and fosters important conversations. It's political too - there's a tea towel that states there's no depression in New Zealand, like so many things it's never mentioned but it's there, and at the end the actors reminded us to vote.

There's singing, not what you'd expect from this sort of thing, it's funny and beautiful.  Overall, I laughed more than I cried. I left uplifted, secure. And I know that no matter what, my sister loves me.

Please note: This work contains extended and detailed discussion and portrayal of suicide including techniques and ideation. It also contains coarse language.

Performances14-23 September, 8pm
Tickets: $22

August 6, 2017

A Doll's House

A Doll's House is an enjoyable, but I wouldn't say pleasant, play. Nora is a relatable character,  I know many versions of her. The acting for her felt forced at the beginning but considering how she developed it fit, though my companion didn't agree that it was necessary. Many women will recognise Nora's struggle to be everything to everyone and losing herself in the process.


The set was interesting but also distracting. Something simpler could have served better.


Because there is no interval I was very aware of every minute of the 1 hour and 40 minutes of this production. I'm not convinced they needed children for anything other than cuteness factor which seemed a stretch to keep them out of bed so late.


Performances: 5 August-2 September (times vary)
Tickets: $52

July 16, 2017

Young & Hungry Festival of New Theatre 2017

The Young and Hungry Festival is a long night of theatre. Last years seemed even longer as the best piece was at the end. This year they reversed things and had the best piece at the start. One of the patrons is Dame Kate Harcourt who, despite being 90, is very active in theatre currently appearing at Circa in Destination Beehive. The other patron is Taika Waititi. Two big names supporting emerging talent. It was a shame neither of them appeared on opening night but Bats Theatre was packed anyway, there may not have been room for them.

On offer this season are One Night Only, Fallen Angels and Attila the Hun. If you're only going to make it to one I recommend One Night Only. There was not one thing about that production that I did not love; the acting, the dancing, the singing, the script, the use of props, they even managed slip ups well. It was funny, inventive and unexpected.

As a side note it would be great if the programmes said more about the production itself. There's a lot about the festival, a cast list, as well as notes from both the script writer and director leaving no room for details about the play. This year there were warnings for shows but these only appeared at the box office, not online, when booking or in the programmes. I might be a bit pedantic but some of the content was disturbing and theatre goers need to make informed choices.


Performances: 14-29 July; 6:30/8/9pm
Tickets: $20 each or $51 for all three

July 12, 2017

Destination Beehive: 2017

The state of world politics is frankly laughable. A reality TV star with more bankruptcies than sense is the president of the United States of America. America chose to hire someone completely inexperienced over a very experienced, but unfortunately female, candidate. If you didn't laugh, you'd cry. Well do I have a show for you.


Destination Beehive: 2017 is an irreverent look at politics in New Zealand though it also touches on the international political scene. Once you get past the cheese factor, and an overly long opening song, you'll laugh your way through the evening.


Diversity in this production is on point. There are student actors as well as a nonagenarian, more women than men and a little bit of colour. All of them sing, all of them dance (some with the aid of a mobility scooter) and all of them do great impressions.


No politician is safe. Not even Winston Peters "the drinking woman's George Clooney" who was kind enough to make an appearance (via video, but still - what a good sport!). Lorae Parry's Helen Clark had to be there, it would be a waste of such a good mimic if she weren't. There are rapping candidates and a serenade to one ministers hair.


The script is so fresh it even referenced that afternoon's slip in the Ngauranga gorge. Every night is likely to be a little different.


The best I can say is just go. I hate politics and I loved it.

Performances
: 8 July-5 August (times vary)
Tickets: $52

June 15, 2017

Larger Than Life

If you grew up in New Zealand in the 1980's you are going to love this show. It visits all our cultural icons (though Dalvanius and the Patea Maori club are sadly missing) with a healthy slice of irreverence.

The show is somewhere between a comedy routine and a musical. It's a piece of my childhood, even the songs I didn't know sounded familiar. There are a lot of homosexual jokes but, though they claim to be trying to push the envelope, it's not offensive.

There was a surprise appearance by Georgina Byers herself. I managed to control myself from approaching her after to tell her how awesome I think she is, an opinion it's clear the actors share.

MVP goes to Brady Peeti for his killer voice but Shadrack and Chris are right behind.

Performances: 14-17 June, 7:30pm
Tickets: $25

From Te Rēhia Theatre Company, the people who brought us solOthello

May 30, 2017

RCRD Double Header: All Stars vs VRA and Convicts vs River City Rollers

Walking into the roller derby double-header last weekend (20th May), the first home games of the season for Richter City, I had a feeling both bouts were heading for a whitewash. Opening the handout, that feeling took further root in my brain once I saw the team lists. I shook my head and thought of how much the lesser experienced skaters were to get out of the night and sat hoping they took it all on board. As usual it was cold in Kilbirnie Centre but the gloom was soon brightened away by all the new Convicts hoodies (in vibrant orange) being worn by those running about helping keep the night on task. It did seem however that every volunteer dropped what they were doing when Grumpy Wendy Doughnuts turned up, but who blames them really!

First bout of the night saw the Richter City All Stars up against Vagine Regime Aotearoa (VRA). It was very much a Lower North island VRA team, with players pulled from the likes of Hutt Valley Vanguard, Whenua Fatales and Bay City Rollers, so a different dynamic than when the team gets to pull on the strong RCRD and ARDL skaters. They still brought enough to the track to not completely write the team off immediately, helped along by veterans E Venger (BCR), Missbhaven (Pirates) and Meat Train (HVV). The HVV skaters have worked hard since I last saw them skate, kudos to them and their coaching team as well. Richter didn’t pull back on the reigns at all, determined to give their opponents a run for their money, taking lead jammer most jams, forcing VRA to carry out a lot of star passing. Renegade Rita had some stunning jams as pivot and or jammer, but it was Meat Train who scored the first VRA points towards the end of the first half. Half time score was 239 All Stars to 16 VRA. The second half went much like the first, though with some extra loud cheering for Volcanic Ash in response to the news this is her last bout for a while. The final score showed both teams continued to rack up the points at almost the same ratio, ending the bout at 448 to 29 with All Stars the victors.

Game two was River City Rollers (RCR) from Wanganui facing up against Richter City Convicts, who I don’t believe I’d ever seen River City as a team of skaters in Wellington before. I recall fondly the first time I ever saw them skate, and I recognised at least one name from way back then along with a fair few of the ring ins from other teams so was still excited to see how this team would fare against the Vix. The home B team was largely unchanged from last year, with a couple out on injury or otherwise, a transfer from Pirates (Boo Hu) and a new addition from the ranks of Redrum. Tu High was the only skater to skate for both the All Stars and the Convicts, and she didn’t get much of a rest. It was soon clear that the home team again had the large advantage, but that didn’t stop the visitors fighting; unfortunately one skater (who, perhaps tellingly, goes by the name of Short Temper) was expelled from the game shortly into the first half for shoving. We saw a couple of invalid star passes from RCR, where the jammer tried passing after a penalty call, and quite a few jammer penalties were served. Half time score was 236 to 8 in the favour of Convicts, and after a locker room pep talk, RCR came out to score on a better ratio than the first, but just could not keep up with the Vix scoring rate. The full time result was 427 to 41.

With three injuries over the two games, we hope those effected are well on the way to mending what ails them.

May 29, 2017

Three Days in the Country

Full of familiar faces Three Days in the Country teems with talented actors. The strong acting of lead Bronwyn Turei dominates the piece as much as her character dominates the household. If you've ever seen her in Go Girls you'll have trouble believing she's the same woman. Natalya is a complex character, easy to get wrong. But from her tiniest facial expression to her screaming collapse Bronwyn is exquisite.

The set design is a little weird but the costuming is to die for. The structure must make them uncomfortable but the actors move as though they were modern clothing, the layers would be very inconvenient in the scripted summer.

The storyline is hilarious and tragic. Everyone is in love but all of it is unrequited. Everyone is chasing each other across the property. Everyone is walking in on everyone else and getting the wrong idea.

It has a great life lesson that I wish I'd known when I was younger:

"Never love or be loved and you'll be fine."

Performances: 27 May - 24 June (times vary)
Tickets: $52

May 23, 2017

Olive Copperbottom

Dickens can be a little dreary but despite the source material Penny Ashton has created an excellent comedy with Olive Copperbottom. It's more polished and professional than you tend to expect with a one person show; it's, well, just what you'd expect from a professional show. If this were Vegas Penny could have her own running show, she's that good (she's wasted in New Zealand).

Not only did she write the thing, she plays more characters than I could count, each easily distinguishable from the next and she sings. Oh, does she sing. It's worth seeing just for the singing. The music is all recognisable tunes, but none I could name. There are several things I'd say it's worth seeing it for; the jokes (see below), the singing (as mentioned), her breasts (I spent the first half hour worrying they were going to fall out of her dress, which I believe was the intention), her motorboating a member of the audience (or is it being motorboated?) and then her giving another audience member what amounted to a very brief lap dance. All in a hideous, yet still somehow fabulous, three floral print dress with corset.

Top to bottom (and there is a little talk about bottoms...front bottoms...penises, there I said it, there are penis jokes) it's a great show and though I didn't find it offensive it might not be one to take your grandmother to. No prior knowledge of Dickens is necessary to truly enjoy...shame she didn't make a dick joke about him. I mean, it's right there.

It's on till the 27th of May so get your ticket now.

May 18, 2017

Daughters of Heaven

The Parker-Hulme murder is something every New Zealander is familiar with. My mother remembers when it happened and those that weren't born then learnt from Heavenly Creatures. The horror, the fascination comes from it being achingly familiar. The intense friendships of adolescence we all had, though I imagine most didn't include sex, plots of murder or a new religion.

I read Daughters of Heaven many years ago and, although the subject matter struck me, the play itself didn't. But then plays are meant to be performed. A good performance can elevate a bad script or vice versa.

As always Stagecraft does not disappoint. They subtly played up the humour in the script so the audience laughed even in the midst of such a serious play. I know I wasn't the only one that cried, which I did, more than once. The accents were on point, the costumes effective, and the acting excellent. This could have been disturbing but it was made enjoyable, a great experience.

Performances: 17-27 May (days and times vary)
Tickets: $15-25

May 17, 2017

Sokhom Syndrome

Molly Sokhom seems like she'd be a lot of fun to hang out with, funny on an individual level. Unfortunately her show was only mildly amusing and could have worked better as a one-woman-non-comedy-show. Her story is interesting but the way she tries to tell it takes away from the story itself. It's almost too personal, too real, to be funny and too important to be made part of a joke cultural beauty pageant. But who am I to tell someone how to express their story? It is after all Molly's story, not mine.


Performances: 16-20 May 8:30pm
Tickets: $15-18

March 14, 2017

Escaped Alone

Escaped Alone won Best Play at the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards but I couldn't tell you why. Four excellent actresses play women of a certain age sitting in a garden talking about life and quietly revealing their inner selves.

The setting was excellent. It took a little while for the actresses to warm into their roles so their lines landed on top of each other like they were meant to. There were flashes of interest and a couple of laughs but overall it was confusing and boring. The program doesn't enlighten on the storyline which makes sense as there doesn't appear to be one. I understand a play can exist with out a specific point but it should still be entertaining, this was merely frustrating.

As I walked through the foyer I was pleased to hear other audience members were equally confused. A woman said "well it wasn't to my taste." I couldn't agree more.

March 1, 2017

Gender Spanner

Gryphon Theatre
Monday 20th February 2017

Jessica McKerlie will croon of the heartbreak of parting from her beautiful transgender lover overseas, then have you in fits of laughter as you gasp at how she can have 3 dinner plates spinning on top of fake sunflower stalks, spraying a hazardous stream of real live gravy all over the stage!  If you think that is messy, try a popping out a plush uterus dripping with blood and having a sing-a-long with that too!  All at the expense of the both ridiculous and hard-won labels we collect throughout our social and biological lives.

The performer’s run-away-and-join-the-circus roots shine through in every theatrical number, interspersed with heartfelt reflection on what it is to love, and be loved, and have a body that you did not choose, but through which you can experience and express these states.  A high degree of music and dance experience makes this a stand-out Fringe selection – right down to the percussive effect of heels on the floorboards as savs on toothpicks are offered to the audience in a parody of housewifeyness.  But let’s not spoil all the surprises!  Every costume is a creative marvel, and the transitions often take place centre-stage, in allusion to cabaret, but with much more distinctiveness.  This is a wondrous journey into which everyone is welcomed!

If you miss that Portishead song you used to play all day, or haven’t heard a good cover of Bad Blood in a while, then let the Gender Spanner crank up your night in an Australasian town near you! 

February 25, 2017

Dódeka

No one could be quite as excited as two classics geeks to see a dance show about the Olympian Gods unless it's the young dancers supporters who screamed and hollered whenever someone they recognised came on stage [distracting but encouraged by the organisers].

A mix of hip-hip, contemporary and music you can feel in your bones is used to depict each God (a few mythological monsters are thrown in for good measure). There was reasonable diversity of age in the dancers though the boys were well outnumbered, others having not yet come to the conclusion that girls like a boy who can dance. Across the board there was impressive skill and energy shown by all the dancers.

Watching each dance was a little like greeting old friends. I'd say the Gods were pleased.

February 23, 2017

Hangry Americans

What should you eat when you're in a hotel room at 2am? What should you eat when you've been rejected and drunk dialled all your exes (and none of them want to come over)? Neil Thornton and Molly Sokhom will enlighten you.

This show is two stand up sessions plus two bonus "cooking" segments which include both comedians. Opening night was a hit, in fact it was over sold - more than ten people hovered at the back of the room rather than in the provided seating.

There was a little bit of food humour woven into the comedy, questions about what New Zealand cuisine consists of, and some thanks for not being in America. The comedy was really good but it didn't focus heavily on food, anger (hangry = hungry + angry), or even being American.

February 21, 2017

Summer Shakespeare: All's Well That Ends Well

After several cancelled performances due to the wonderfully unpredictable Wellington weather Sundays performance was blisteringly hot. The audience fanned themselves with programs and several produced umbrellas. The cast had a harder time in suits, leather boots and stockings (not all at once) as they raced up and down the tiered seating.

I admit, it was hard to focus in the heat. The venue, Civic Square, is much more accessible than previous ones. Including to outsiders; it was quite amusing to watch people stop or wander towards the lift always (such interruptions were always well managed by cast).

All's Well That Ends Well focusses on Helena and her love for the son of her foster mother the Countess of Rousillon. Instead of enlisting the help of the Countess she hatches a scheme to make the Count marry her. He, of course, objects to this and the rest of the play is dedicated to bringing them together. There are subplots about the servants but they were hard to follow, not helped by the fact that at least two of them appeared to be jesters. I'm not sure if the fault of this lies with Shakespeare or the production. Though the ending is happy it's not entirely satisfactory, it feels a little ridiculous and rushed.

My favourite parts of this production were the crying bride, excellently played in the background; the use of the lift and balcony and; the Harley-Davidson - I'll leave you to guess what that was about.

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!