Review: Squidboy

Staged almost entirely inside the audience's imagination, Trygve Wakenshaw's Squidboy is absurd physical comedy at its best.

There’s something mesmerizing about the way Trygve Wakenshaw moves. In the same way a Slinky bouncing down the stairs seems unbelievably human as a child, the things he does with his body often seem impossibly alien.

Squidboy – running back-to-back with Kraken, Wakenshaw’s other must-see show at the Herald Theatreis absurd physical comedy at its best. Trained by French master clown Philippe Gaulier, Wakenshaw manages to construct sets, props and characters almost entirely inside the audience’s imagination. In doing so, he tells the story of a fisherman who dreams he’s a squid (or perhaps, a squid who dreams he’s a fisherman) aided only by some basic costuming and subtle lighting and sound design.

Key to Squidboy’s success is Wakenshaw’s audacious charm, which seduces the audience into his quite ridiculous world. Indeed, if it’s his body that constructs the show, it’s his infinitely expressive face that draws the audience in with knowing glances and asides that understate the genius of his miming.

Wakenshaw cleverly begins the show by conducting a hilariously drawn-out induction in which he feeds audience members from a mimed packet of chips. He watches on encouragingly while each person obligingly crunches at thin air, and before long has the entire audience munching away. It’s an absurd moment that feels a bit like a clowning class, but which subtly engages the audience’s imagination for what’s to follow.

The pure joy of watching such committed physical comedy and being drawn into Squidboy’s worldallows Wakenshaw to use jokes and gags that might seem base elsewhere. One of the funniest moments of the show has him trapped in a lift with a farting dog while he tries to chat up the woman on the other end of the emergency phone. Elsewhere, he attempts to clean a cow’s anus while dry retching. It all seems ridiculous now, but it makes so much sense at the time.

The only minor drawback to Squidboy is its own popularity, as it suffered slightly from being staged in a space like the Herald Theatre. While Wakenshaw does an exemplary job of engaging the entire audience in the challengingly steep theatre, it’s impossible to achieve the same level of intimacy as in a venue like the Basement, particularly for a show that requires so much audience interaction. It’s a problem that many emerging shows face, and it’s unfair to count this against Wakenshaw at all – so if anything, let it be a reason to book early and get a seat near the front.

Herald Theatre, 13 - 17 May, 7pm
Tickets available through Ticketmaster

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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