Written by: Sam Brooks
Directed by: Katherine McRae
Running at Circa Theatre until 31st Aug 2019
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
Aroha Party leader Aria (Kali Kopae) has just won a seat in parliament. She’s in the thick of champagne-sprinkled celebrations with her PR spin doctor George (Sophie Hambleton) when young intern Danny (Dryw McArthur) makes sexual allegations against her mentor and long-time friend Richard (Andrew Laing). It’s George’s job to sweep the scandal under the rug and preserve the integrity of the Aroha Party. Will she do what’s right when Labour Party weasel Lauren (Lara Macgregor) and Stuff journalist Harriet (Jean Sergent) come a-knocking?
Playwright Sam Brooks has a remarkable way with words. His witty, quick dialogue weaves biting sarcasm with painful truths about this dog-eat-dog world in which women must work harder and faster to come out on top. Golden one-liners cause shouts of laughter to ring around the theatre. I miss a few obviously hilarious jokes because the blocking occasionally sees the actors deliver lines to the outskirts of the cavernous space.
The stage is magnified by Debbie Fish’s spectacular two-storey set. It’s a pleasure to look at, though audience members at the front and sides are sometimes cut off from the action. Multiple screens project a live feed of press conferences held at the front of the stage, creating an arresting aesthetic that to me smacks of the pervasive nature of political media.
Kopae and Hambleton stand alone as compelling actors and come together as unforgettable ones. Their chemistry is undeniable. Sergent and Macgregor both excel in devious roles; Sergent delivers a bombshell with a sense of justice and a twinkle in her eye that cues a 200-breath gasp. Macgregor’s stroppy negotiations induce whoops of delight. McArthur’s considered, sensitive approach to his character evokes sympathy and compassion from the audience, while Laing confronts the challenge of conveying a character that deserves none. In Burn Her, director Katherine McRae has chosen and honed a brilliant, balanced cast.
Burn Her is a tremendous production that has me hooked from start to finish.