Bite-sized Reviews: Auckland Fringe 2020 Week One

Theatre

26.02.2020

Bite-sized Reviews: Auckland Fringe 2020 Week One

Our bite-size Fringe reviews are back! Our team of Auckland Fringe reviewers, India Essuah, Kate Prior, Amanda Jane Robinson and Vanessa Crofskey, will be experiencing as much fresh Fringe work as they can and writing bite-size reviews right here. We’ll keep adding to this page during the week, and keep an eye out for our New Zealand Fringe reviews coming up soon!

The Shows

I Know What I’m Doing
#UsTwo
This Fragile Planet
Perry
Game Face
An Open Apology
Lunar State


I Know What I’m Doing

It’s only my second show of Auckland Fringe, but I’m already in love with the work performance-maker Melody Rachel is doing. My experience of her show is everything Fringe should be: knowing nothing about the creator/performer; having a completely unexpected experience; walking out with a huge smile. 

Created with dramaturg Deborah Pollard, I Know What I’m Doing explores the interior chatter of anxiety and bravado and the deep driving urge for self-expression. Melody constructs this through dance, projected text and sparse fragments of monologue, and the piece is infused with a playful wryness (the projected text which flashes as Melody wildly dances to hip hop as if in the club: “this girl just told me she likes me / I have the upper hand now”). Melody as a performer possesses a kind of guileless joy that flicks between extremely cool and endearingly goofy. If you’re into the work of Julia Croft and Nisha Madhan or even comedians like Chris Parker, this will float your boat. What a kickoff! – KP

Tuesday 25 to Friday 28 February, Q Theatre
Buy tickets here


#UsTwo

Sisters Sarah and Catherine Delahunty have stories to tell. From a childhood where protesting the Vietnam War was the norm, they were always going to find themselves using their platforms to spread ideas, whether that was in the House (Catherine), or on stage with young people (Sarah). In #UsTwo they trace their varied lives together, from their shared childhood bedroom, to their shared home later in life. And always, the worlds of politics and theatre seem uncannily close.

Told via direct address, the text is fleshy and elemental, laden with descriptions that play on your senses. Cycles of finding, losing and re-finding personal autonomy surge through the storytelling, and the show packs a feminist punch (would you expect anything less?) It traces the sexualised expectations placed on a young actor in the 60s, the isolation of motherhood in the 70s, and the frustration of having to wait to reach parliament, behind a bunch of men. Sitting in the Basement next to current Green MPs and hopefuls, there was a palpable sense of a life cycle in the room; the feeling of activism as a vocation passed through generations. 

Why is it so rare to watch older women onstage being themselves? It’s so necessary, it’s so satisfying. But nothing is quite as satisfying as hearing Catherine Delahunty state matter-of-factly: “I went to an orgy in Lower Hutt”.  – KP

Tuesday 25 – Thursday 27 February, Basement Theatre
Buy tickets to #UsTwo here


This Fragile Planet

Usually it’s best to enter a show without preconceptions, but with a title as sweepingly evocative as This Fragile Planet, it’s impossible not to be searching for its take on climate politics.

Heralded as ‘artivism’ within the show programme, This Fragile Planet is a dance show held in the Great Town Hall, complete with reverberant acoustics and lots of playful characters. I’m not honestly sure if the production said all that much about living in today’s rapidly collapsing ecosystems. Rather, it chose to present a snapshot of human nature, desire, power and failure – ergo, a close up on ourselves and our role as a species. 

The show felt more sure of its footwork than of the rest of its content. There were brilliant choreographic spins, a very, very funny slapstick moment with a stuck sheet of paper and some beautiful imagery spun with fabric and light, but the amount of materials, tones and styles that were being thrown in started confusing not clarifying its point. Elements of text — mostly long recitations of poetry — felt like weak moments of the production, thrown in with tangential relevance and no given context. 

I wasn’t expecting a call to behead billionaires but ultimately, although grandiose, this gesture toward planetary consciousness felt a little empty, like a space of uncertain orbit, in which neither the audience nor the dancers fully knew their part to play – which, I suppose, is how most of us feel about climate change. – VC

Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 February, Auckland Town Hall
Buy tickets here


Perry

What the hell!!! Tom Clarke is dangerously funny. Turns out I’m hot for physical comedy, but really, Perry is just so joyous. It made me go :) and :O and XD instead of :( which is how I usually feel.  

Clarke presents us with one of those classic weird kids who everyone went to primary school with, who maybe got bullied and definitely had strange dietary requirements. Now he’s grown up and he’s got some things to say about it. The show borders deliciously on mockery, toeing the line of what’s off limits and what’s acceptable as naughty caricaturing. That feeling is played out in the comic timing, with Clarke always going one step further than where we think he’s going to land. 

I want to know everything about Perry: who he is and what he’s doing, why he loves apples, who his friends are. Because truth be told, the audience didn’t need warming up. We were already there, already convinced that a piece of air is an apple. That, I suppose is the gift of great storytellers, and Tom Clarke is a great one. People were legitimately and willingly participating in audience participation, more than I’ve ever seen before. I’ve never seen a crowd so electric and excited. It was fun, squelchy and weird, which I think the world needs more of. 

Anyhow! He’s hands down one to watch, and so is the show. – VC

Tuesday 25 – Wednesday 26 February, Basement Theatre
Buy tickets here


Game Face

Game Face is a fast-paced and high-energy hour of games and sketches that aims to address just how exhausting it is for women to have their value equated with the ever-shifting goalposts of physical beauty. A multi-talented cast of performers – Lucy Park, Katie Paterson and Lexi Clare – are introduced as themselves, using a series of devices lifted from gameshows to loosely structure the show and explore themes around body image, disordered eating and cruel treatment from those around them. These short games include the performers winning awards for the most heartbreaking moments (to show the futility of comparing trauma), or personifying the critical, domineering demands of an eating disorder in a dark version of ‘Simon Says’. 

These songs, dances and games allowed heavy themes to be explored with a balance of humor, lightness and metaphor, with a tone that effectively mimics the hollow and unpredictable nature of Western beauty ideals. However, it did start to feel like we were skipping along the surface of many intense and familiar themes, with little offered to us in the way of resolution. The show’s most interesting moments explore the bind we can find ourselves in when we equate recognising the impossibility of attaining idealised beauty with overcoming the need to try.

Guest performer Amanda Grace Leo had a short window in which to perform a monologue prompted by the show, delivering an honest, impassioned rant. This felt like something we could grasp more strongly, as Leo provided insights into the systemic and specific barriers she experienced when trying to create a more peaceful, positive relationship to her body. We’re then taken through more games, before the show is purposefully left at a loose end, punctuated by a song that tells us ‘kindness is the answer’. This doesn’t quite deliver the ending one might expect of a show that describes itself as ‘anarchic’. Nor does it feel enough to merely touch on the privilege held by the performers, when little is done to explore what this means. I was left wondering why several recent shows critiquing standards of beauty or femininity have chosen such loose, sketchy formats, especially when the themes are so complex. This approach does a good job of keeping the audience awake and on their toes with bright lights and sound effects, but I can’t help feeling like it distracts from being able to untangle these messy problems from their core. – IS

Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 February, Q Theatre
Buy tickets here


An Open Apology

I’m sorry that I didn’t understand the choice in costuming, or what the relationship was between scuba divers and emotional intelligence. I’m sorry that I didn’t stay for the entire event. I’m sorry that some apologies felt more naturally more authentic and interesting than others, that I was less interested in the forceful attempts at jokes and much more in what was immediately recalled and blurted, the slippage of pauses, those moments where choice and serendipity collided, and an actor looked at a piece of paper with a category on it and their mouth turned into a small ‘oh’. As a memory bloomed behind clamped teeth. 

I’m sorry that we live in a world where certain people are more geared toward apologising – migrant workers, young women, abuse survivors – than others, that it’s natural for some to move about the world in a way that is always shrinking. Certain statements of address here felt more weighted than others. Some of us say sorry with bodies full of shame. 

An Open Apology – an exercise in saying sorry – a four-hour repetition of the word. Isn’t it interesting, than an apology is usually a monologue? When does it tread into conversation? There were some very smart cues that kept the world well-contained from the seated actors: “Do you want me to help me / Do you want to try again / Do you feel better?” I liked it when the performers refused their roles, or went off on tangents, or played the devil, or implicated the audience, or when emotions arose unbidden. A smart and tender stage created by Nathan Joe, and occupied by three bodies with whole citizenships in the land of memory. – VC

Friday 28 February, Basement Theatre
Buy tickets here


Lunar State

Lunar State is a whimsical new work from Lunar Collaborative, which, while confused in parts, nonetheless contains beautiful moments of Red Leap-esque visual playfulness. Devisers and performers Sheyney Ansin, Bridie Sisson and Emily Hurley, supported by practitioner Kate Parker, have taken Italo Calvino’s short story The Distance of the Moon as inspiration for their story world, but have created an entirely new narrative from this jumping-off point. In Calvino’s story, the moon is so close to earth that humans can leap from ladders onto the moon’s surface and collect precious moon milk. Calvino’s fable develops into a beautifully sad kind of love triangle between a man, who loves a woman, who loves a man, who is only interested in the moon.

The devisers haven’t chosen to explore this, but have instead created a narrative about greedy capitalists who destroy the moon through fracking the moon milk. It’s a great contemporary diversion, but unfortunately the script of our guide Cookie Sheila Levin, a very Kiwi scientist who is trying to discover more about moon milk, doesn’t help greatly with our navigation within the story. Ansin’s character, speaking in te reo Maori, is intent on protecting te marama from destruction, and Hurley plays a verbose French man who may be the antagonist, or may not be, it’s hard to tell. Narrative cloudiness aside, there’s some really playful, beautiful pictures with silky moon milk and miniature towns.

What’s most striking for me is seeing new theatre makers clearly drawing on the work of established New Zealand theatre companies or practitioners. I’m into having local heroes, and I think it’s a great thing when emerging practitioners are clearly riffing with local influences. I’m also grateful to Lunar Collaborative for introducing me to this beautiful 1960s Italian short story. But I’m just not clear in the end what this little ditty adds up to. – KP

Friday 28 February to Sunday 1 March, TAPAC
Buy tickets here

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