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Two Very Serious Plays  | Regional News

Two Very Serious Plays

Presented by: The Awkward Company

Written by: Ryan Holtham and Alex Fox

Gryphon Theatre, 4th March 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Are you ready to get enlightened? The Awkward Company invites us to learn two very serious lessons from Two Very Serious Plays.

First on the double bill is Tightbutt, a crash course on how to be tough presented by Johnny Beranucci (Ryan Holtham). The youngest Don of his Mafia family, he knows a thing or two about being tough and breaks it down in his 10-step programme. Johnny is the epitome of what he preaches – “Chew gum. Get yourself a nice weapon. Have a catchphrase.” But the veil soon slips, and the weight of ‘sucking it up to be a man’ becomes too much. A witty yet heart-rending piece.

Next we learn The Meaning of Art from not just any artist, but the great
Phillip James-Lucy-Smith XXVIII (Alex Fox). Phillip deconstructs what art, theatre, and acting is, all while poo-pooing comedy as an artform. He is steadfast in his volition that artistry and comedy are unequal, with ironic results. The more Phillip tries to show the integrity of art, the more stage blunders he encounters. As a final resort, a letter from the first of his line turns everything he believes on its head.

Across both pieces, our protagonists come from a long lineage and have carried on both their names and their ideals, perhaps intended as a reminder of how prior generations impact and shape us – even when it's not always productive. This makes for a lovely through-line between the pieces that unlocks extra depth.

Both Tightbutt and The Meaning of Art present their own commentary on seriousness: the seriousness of being open with your emotions and the true strength it requires, and the need for joviality and comedy to help us through the seriousness of life and its everyday tragedies. This perfectly summarises the efficacy of Two Very Serious Plays and the impression it leaves – a hilarious joy to watch with the heart to match.

Other Futures Big Band X Gallery Orchestra | Regional News

Other Futures Big Band X Gallery Orchestra

Hannah Playhouse, 1st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Graeme King

The New Zealand Fringe Festival is an annual arts festival held in Wellington whereby “participants are encouraged to take a creative and artistic risk”. The collaboration between the Other Futures Big Band and Gallery Orchestra, a co-production between Daniel Hayles (conductor) and Leah Thomas (clarinetist) involving over 50 musicians, certainly contained an element of risk!

This was a controlled, melodic cacophony of sound – at times the big band's powerful force blending with the soothing, almost dreamlike orchestral pieces. The hour-long concert consisted of five instrumentals, and four songs each featuring two very popular local guest vocalists, Wallace Gollan and Zoe Moon, both providing very different but assured vocal styles and musical genres.

The first instrumental For Sale demonstrated the excellent sound mix, thanks to sound engineer Marc Freeman, and special mention also to lighting designer Joshua Tucker for the ambient lighting that ensured the audience could see all musicians at all times. 

Hayles described the second track as “a spiritual jazz ECM take on Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”. Johnny Lawrence's stunning bass solo had shades of Mingus, and Dave Wilson on sax also featured.

Wallace’s at times scat-like vocals featured on her song Every Stroke, with a beautiful sax solo by Aiden McCulloch. Zoe Moon’s I Like the Rain showcased her powerful vocal range and featured an inspired trombone solo by Kaito Walley. Moon praised Hayles' arrangement of the Nina Simone song Baltimore, which included a soaring trumpet solo by Ben Hunt.

Guitarist Callum Allardice’s original Dark Love, with a fluid George Benson-esque solo, highlighted his compositional and musical talents.

Wallace’s gorgeous vocals on Orchid Care, together with Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa’s complex, energetic drum solo, were both highlights. Saxophonist and composer Louisa Williamson’s The White Room showcased the considerable talent on display.

The last track, Hayles’ Mark of the Axeman, featured a breathtaking sax solo by Bryn van Vliet and brought the performance to a close. The audience’s ecstatic clapping and cheering showed how successful the collaboration project had been. Full marks to co-producers Thomas and Hayles.

Wage Against the Machine | Regional News

Wage Against the Machine

Written by: Matt Harvey

Directed by: Matt Harvey

Te Auaha Cinema, 2nd March 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

In contrast to some of the more offbeat shows that the Fringe Festival serves up, Matt Harvey’s Wage Against the Machine is classic stand-up comedy – an hour of humorous stories spoken directly to the audience. Harvey talks us through his experiences working a variety of minimum-wage jobs, from a theme park to a sex shop, with the infuriating struggles of dealing with Centrelink (Australia’s version of Work and Income) in between.

Harvey has brought Wage Against the Machine to us across the ditch after having performed it in Australia already, but Te Auaha’s cinema is less than an ideal venue for a stand-up gig, with fluorescent lights and steeply tiered seats that make us feel disconnected, like we are staring down at Harvey from above. The movie screen behind him is also left blank throughout the show. Despite this, Harvey works well to connect with the audience, spontaneously picking out and commenting on our reactions to his stories, letting us know that he can tell when we have perhaps been through something similar. There is a genuine hopefulness and a sense of camaraderie in the telling of the story, and those with experience in customer service jobs particularly will find much to connect to in Harvey’s tale.

The humour is relatable and engaging as Harvey explains the feeling of being a cog in the machine, working boring jobs for corrupt and exploitative companies. The show digs into this idea, taking a satisfying dive into a powerful anti-capitalist message. Although much of Harvey’s story is centred on Australian politics, he does well to explain the context, such as Centrelink’s Robodebt scheme. In saying that, mistreatment by large corporations is not a foreign concept, and neither is anger at a poorly run social welfare system.

Harvey does well to cover a broad range of experiences, some of them quite bleak, all tied together with authentic, personable delivery that invites the audience in. “It’s okay, you can laugh”, he says. “I’m still alive. It’s fine.”

Truly Friday – Before They Were Famous | Regional News

Truly Friday – Before They Were Famous

Written by: Jackson Herman and Nathan Roys

2/57, 2nd March 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Back in 2011, in New York City, I giddily bought tickets from a tout for an intimate Flight of the Conchords show. Alas, my mother questioned the legitimacy of the tickets and marched us back for a refund. 12 years on I still regret that missed opportunity, but that changed after watching Truly Friday – Before They Were Famous.

I almost feel guilty making the comparison but the musical duo of Truly Friday – Jackson Herman and Nathan Roys – beat me to the punch, quipping that their “sustainably made comedy” recycles chord sequences straight from the Conchords. That’s not shade if you want something familiar, nostalgic, and hilarious, then this show is for you.

We witness Herman and Roys as they attempt to find that one song that will catapult them to fame. We open with a short film (by Kelsey Robson and edited by Ashneil Dutt) of a dramatic shootout with parallel and future versions of the boys, dead set on stopping our heroes from making it to the stage and setting off an unavoidable sequence of events. The footage ends with the duo wrestling with the blackout curtains, breaking the fourth wall as they take to the stage.

Set against acoustic love letters to pop punk and mid-2000s indie, we are taken on a journey through a myriad of cleverly crafted topics. The raunchy Sexy Serial Killer perfectly pokes fun at the misplaced fascination with and borderline eroticism of true crime, followed up with more on-the-nose hits about everything from killing billionaires to single moms and grieving that men can never experience lesbian sex. You know, the big stuff.

On top of their hysterical lyrics and musical flair, these two have chemistry in spades. Their banter between songs – both with each other and the audience – is infectious, all culminating in an onstage meat raffle and an ode to the great Kiwi tradition, Crate Day.

If you like your music funny, and your funny musical, you need to see this show. The future depends on it.

The Sensemaker | Regional News

The Sensemaker

Presented by: Woman’s Move

Created by: Elsa Couvreur

Gryphon Theatre, 1st Mar 2023

Reviewed by: Nikolai Bain

Imagine, if you will, a barren stage containing nothing but a chair, a seat, and a home phone. With just a couple of simple elements, what follows is a show based around an idea that is taken, flattened, stretched, bent into a triangle shape, and then thrown off the side of a building. It’s clever, it’s unusual, and it plays with awkwardness to lengths you’d have never thought possible.

The Sensemaker is a genre-bending solo performance from Elsa Couvreur (concept, choreography, soundtrack) featuring the back-and-forth of an answering machine robot and a woman waiting patiently. We can all relate to being stuck on hold on for far too long whilst having to endure some form of pop music or elevator chimes, but this show imagines just how bizarre and extreme this scenario could become. What if instead of responding by voice, you had to respond with claps? What if you had to agree to all terms and conditions over the phone? What if you had to perform a dance routine from High School Musical just to get your request submitted? In The Sensemaker, nothing is off the table. 

The show is as gripping as it is uncomfortable, with the performer standing still on the stage waiting for extended periods of time. That’s not to say that little is happening though; Couvreur knows exactly how to use awkwardness in a way that provokes and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats for the entire duration of the show. She is as skilful a writer as she is a performer, having to utilise precise timing to sync her movements and dance with the backing track that keeps The Sensemaker on course. 

We’re left to wonder – what exactly could she be waiting on the line for that makes it worth jumping through so many hoops? After everything that the performer goes through, let’s hope it’s for more than just to cancel a flight.

The Culture | Regional News

The Culture

Written by: Laura Jackson

Directed by: Bethany Caputo

Gryphon Theatre, 28th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

I don’t know how to begin a review of a show that made me feel virtually every emotion on the planet. Never have I laughed so much or felt so uncomfortable (in a good way) at the same time! This is all kudos to one fantastically crafted production. Written and performed by Laura Jackson as Katie, The Culture explores – through the close friendship of Katie and Will (the humorous Mina Asfour) – the dangers of romance in the modern world. Every word has been crafted for maximum impact. We get an intimate view of this dynamic duo, an ambitious woman and a gay man who take us on a journey of finding love that becomes all too real. So visceral, so captivating.

The lighting design (Capri Harris) and sound design (Charlotte Leamon) allow us to seamlessly flow from Katie and Will’s lounge to the wider Sydney area. This show translates well onto New Zealand soil; particularly because of how relevant the themes are to us. It finds a perfect balance of telling an important story beautifully interwoven with comedy and seriousness.

The Culture is an important conversation piece that all need to see for the way it addresses partner violence. People need to become aware of how real this is, how it is quite literally happening under our noses. What’s scary is I don’t know who I know that has gone or will go through this. What’s even scarier is I might know or be friends with the perpetrators of such actions. One-third of women in New Zealand have experienced partner violence to date. This show brings voice to the voiceless. It empowers those who are faced with such events that it is okay to stand up for yourself; it shines a light on something that is seldom spoken about or seen by others.

This piece moves me. I know that I will be thinking about it for weeks to come, and I hope that anyone who gets a chance to watch it will. The Culture is not to be missed.

Enter the Sandman | Regional News

Enter the Sandman

Written by: Keegan Thomas

Directed by: Keegan Thomas

The Fringe Bar, 28th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

Part stand-up, part informational slideshow, Enter the Sandman sees comedian Keegan Thomas detailing how, in 2022, he watched every Adam Sandler movie ever made – all 42 of them – just because he wanted to. Now, he gets to share all of the highs and lows of Sandler’s filmography with us.

The show begins with a video montage of Academy Award winners being announced, with Adam Sandler noted to be missing from the list. The use of the projector screen is a great warm-up act that has the audience laughing before Thomas even steps on stage. The screen is then used for the remainder of the performance as Thomas clicks through a hilarious slideshow, covering every one of Sandler’s films. A sound board is also used to support Thomas’ improvisation, and the lighting changes subtly for different emotional moments (lighting and music by Leki Lyons).

Thomas’ performance brings us into this manic hyperfixation with Sandler’s films so convincingly. The delivery is hurried and frantic, the slideshow looks like a school project that has been slapped together the night before it is due, and the soundboard is pushed to play absurd soundbites at random moments. The script is exceedingly varied, featuring such moments as an audience singalong, three different AI-generated raps about the Hotel Transylvania movies, and a crowd member being brought up to read a role in a scripted skit.

Thomas makes the most of every second on stage, squeezing in jokes and ideas at a speed that becomes a little unhinged – because who wouldn’t be after a whole year of Adam Sandler movies? At times the performance becomes rushed and unfiltered, and perhaps could have been edited down to make the comedy more apparent, but it also feels like the point is that the show is a chaotic rollercoaster ride.

The finale is a dive into the ‘Sandler-verse’ conspiracy theory, which alleges that all Adam Sandler films are connected in a shared universe. This theory does not entirely convince me, but Thomas’ frenzied energy on stage sure does.

In Bed with Schoenberg | Regional News

In Bed with Schoenberg

Written by: Dave Armstrong

Directed by: Conrad Newport

Circa Theatre, 26th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

It's Friday the 13th of July 1951 and composer Arnold Schoenberg (Gavin Rutherford) has taken to bed in his Los Angeles home, convinced this is the day he will die. Having been forced to move to the US by the rise of Fascism in Europe, Schoenberg reminisces about his early life in Vienna where his atonal compositions and “horrible music” caused uproar and his students became more successful than him, his struggles in an unappreciative Hollywood, and his often-fractious relationships.

Andrew Laing who was originally cast as Schoenberg had to pull out at the last minute and his role has been admirably filled by Rutherford, who makes the stage his own. Shuffling around in pajamas and silk dressing gown, he is by turns grumpy and self-aggrandising, then vulnerable and undervalued. Coming from the pen of Dave Armstrong, the script was always going to be funny, and Rutherford especially shines in the moments of wry humour. He holds a full audience in thrall from start to finish.

Supporting, but never directly interacting with, Rutherford is a superb string quartet led by Dave’s brother Donald Armstrong on violin. Sophie Bird (violin), Sophia Acheson (viola), and Brenton Veitch (cello) work seamlessly alongside him to play snatches of Schoenberg’s work along with that of other greats, such as Mahler and Mozart. Somewhere Over the Rainbow even sneaks in. This balance between script and music is the play’s great success and brings to vivid life a composer whose work many Kiwis will be unfamiliar with. Schoenberg’s compositions were as eccentric as his personality and it is entirely appropriate to give them equal weight.

A beautifully simple set (William Smith) of bed, music stands, and oblong panels that look like beaten copper is cleverly lit (also Smith) to spotlight actor and musicians. A well-placed side light spectacularly throws half of Rutherford’s face into shadow when he talks about the Holocaust.

Overall, this is a beautifully scripted, played, and rendered production that hits every note.

U R Here | Regional News

U R Here

Presented by: Barbarian Productions

Directed by: Jo Randerson

Martin Luckie Park, 25th Feb 2023

Reviewed by: Stanford Reynolds

U R Here by Barbarian Productions is a unique experience – a choose-your-own adventure walk through Martin Luckie Park filled with surreal attractions and a story that can only unfold through exploration. Despite damp weather there is a reasonable turnout of people, so the park is bustling with an audience of all ages, surrounded by performers in loud, eccentric costumes. It feels like a carnival from another planet, and appreciation must be given to the craftsmanship of the quirky costumes, puppets, props, and set elements (set and costume design by Frankie Berge, puppets by Roxanne Black).

We are guided through the first part of the experience by enthusiastic ‘aunties’ in 80s athletic wear before setting out “into the unknown”. Our journey begins in a field with a range of games and activities. I particularly enjoy the zone covered in balls of mud with popsicle sticks in them, created by the audience over the day. We are asked to make one ourselves and write on the stick something we “know to be true”. This is one of many subtle ways that we are asked to reflect on ourselves before setting out on the wider adventure through the park. These self-observations turn the experience introspective as we consider who we are and genuinely see ourselves in the space. This idea is expanded on as we continue through the park and the devoted performers react to our input – we are as much a part of the performance as they are, and the story only progresses if we do.

This makes for a fascinating experience. The large performance area is taken advantage of to continually hide the next attraction from view around a bend. However, this does mean some of the walks between attractions are rather steep and slippery.

I find myself often asking, “Is this part of it?” when coming across different parts of the park, which, depending on your perspective, could be exasperating or exciting. U R Here is what the audience makes of it, and if you aren’t excited to participate, the frustration can outweigh the fun. Overall, I enjoyed the experience, and applaud Barbarian Production’s experimentation.