NZICF 2017: Romesh Ranganathan – Irrational

Though Romesh Ranganathan is relatively new to the comedy scene, he has already achieved so much. With multiple panel show appearances, sold out shows in the iconic Hammersmith Apollo and a BAFTA nominated TV series under his belt, he has come a long way from his former career as a maths teacher.

In Irrational, Ranganathan makes a meal of poking fun at the various things in life that he takes issue with. From ingeniously accurate observations to outrageously ridiculous thoughts, he has the crowd effortlessly in fits of laughter. His incensed rant about Wagamama’s shared tables style of dining was a particular highlight and crowd pleaser.

Over the course of the hour, we get to know Ranganathan – his family, his pet peeves, what makes him tick. He regularly talks about his three kids (the brazen way in which he berates them is so bad it’s good), shares the downsides of hanging out alone (especially at the cinema watching a children’s film) and his struggles as a Sri Lankan ‘coconut’ (the key to his success on TV). He is also not afraid to veer in to controversial territory, smoothly managing to find the humour in the taboo.

Ranganathan’s greatest strength is his innate ability to take what most of us are already thinking – whether consciously or not – and bring it to light in the funniest possible way. His fervent ranting monologue is punctuated by regular interaction with the crowd which add a layer of dynamism to the routine.

Irrational is highly accessible, exceedingly funny and is observational comedy at its best. It is an easily enjoyable running diatribe of the every day that is the perfect mix of cynical and comical.

This was one of only two shows Romesh Ranganathan performed in Auckland. To find out where he is performing next and when he will be returning to our shores, check out his website.



NZICF 2017: Markus Birdman – Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

To do a stand up comedy show sitting down is pretty gutsy but if there is someone who can pull it off, it’s Markus Birdman. For those already familiar with his work, you’ll know he brings something quite different to the table and this new offering is no exception.

Every year a momentous event in Birdman’s life becomes the catalyst to crafting his shows. When he found himself buying his twelve-year-old daughter her first bra, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was inevitably born. This year’s show has a more spoken word feel to it however there is still plenty of his gasp and guffaw inducing irreverent style of comedy to go around.

Written as a means of imparting advice to his daughter, this show is largely based on the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale and unfolds in the form of a visual story book. The amusing and comical narrative is divided in to twelve scenes with Birdman playing the narrator.

This year his signature illustrations come to life with the incorporation of quirky animation and comic voiceovers. In between each vignette, Birdman weaves in candid moments from his life, namely his pursuit as both a comedian and an artist as well as his affectionately facetious relationship with his daughter.

While she may have been the impetus, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, at it’s core, is about finding oneself. It is a thought-provoking, delightfully compelling and inherently personal piece that is not your average comedy show but one you should definitely not miss.

Markus Birdman is performing at The Classic until 6th May and the Fringe Bar in Wellington 9th – 13th May. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2017: 5 Star Comedy Preview

A pre-festival staple for over sixteen years, the 5 Star Comedy Preview is a mammoth show featuring a generous lineup of some of the international acts that will be performing over the next few weeks. With such a smorgasbord of comedians on the bill, there is something to suit everybody’s palate.

This year’s showcase is compered by Jimmy McGhie who is a fitting host, easily warming to the crowd with his ‘medium posh’ English charm. In between playing emcee, he engages in friendly banter with audience members (paying special attention to someone with a massive bag of crisps) as well as share what annoys him about being single in his 30s.

Interestingly the theme of the evening across most acts, whether intended or not, was predominantly about growing up and married life – or otherwise. This made for quite a cohesive show with each act seguing smoothly in to the next.

First up is Iain Stirling whose devious and twisted sense of humour coupled with that Scottish twang make for a highly entertaining set. His anecdotes of a racist baby and the fun that can be had as a pensioner is made all the more hilarious by his vivid and animated storytelling.

Adam Hess is next who came prepared with a list of fun facts about himself. His hurried repartee and frenetic persona will keep you on your toes – don’t let his seemingly haphazard demeanour fool you though, he has some comedic gems up his sleeve.

Lou Sanders takes to the stage with a quiet confidence and her conversational style draws you in immediately. Her short stories about the world for children and ploy for how she gets men to remember her at parties demonstrate her cheeky, off-kilter brand of comedy.

Closing the first half is Ismo Leikola, who won our hearts last festival with his quirky observations and delightful Finnish inflection. His comic thoughts on the every day garners laughs effortlessly and he uses the fact that English is his second language to great comedic effect.

Returning festival favorite Chris Martin kicks off the second half giving us a more lighthearted perspective on married life including being a gifted ‘mum whisperer’. His upbeat, slice-of-life observational style and amiable charisma give him the most universal appeal out of everyone on the bill.

Markus Birdman, another returning Kiwi favorite, takes the stage next with a self-assured swag and forewarns us from the get-go of what to expect in his set. His material is audacious yet disarmingly clever and though he had pre-empted us, there are comedic surprises along the way.

If jokes about one’s nether regions are not your thing, Ed Gamble might just change your mind. His entertaining and animated monologue about his trip to the doctor opened the audience to new ways of describing ‘whipping it out’ and had everyone in stitches.

Making his NZ debut, seasoned comic Hal Cruttenden closes the show on a high with his jovial candour and his misleading ever-so-camp disposition. His humorous lament of being in his 40s and amusing stories of his Northern Irish wife were thoroughly enjoyable.

It’s hard to pick favorites in this year’s 5 Star Comedy Preview as it was such a stellar group with a bit of something for everyone. Whether you enjoy your comedy bite-sized, tapas style or you just want a preview of this year’s international talent, your laughing muscles will be in for a workout.

To find out when all these comedians are performing, check out the Comedy Festival website. Some of these acts will also be performing in The Big Show and Comedy All Stars.





Auckland Encore 2017: James Acaster – Recap

After a quickfire run of his last 3 shows, James Acaster decided to treat Auckland with one more bonus show – a prologue to the ‘trelogy’ to fill in the gaps. Considering there was only a few days to sell tickets the turnout was great which is not at all surprising; he definitely has developed quite a solid fan base here.

While Recap does revisit and tie in to some elements of what was covered across the three shows, you do not need to have seen them to enjoy this one (though you probably wished you had gone!). Some material will be familiar to those who are not new to Acaster’s work but such is his talent as both an adept comedian and skilled storyteller that it will feel like you are hearing it for the first time.

Over the course of the show, we are regaled with amusing stories of early life in his hometown Kettering particularly his job as a lollipop man and we also get reacquainted with his alter ego, Pat Springleaf. In between, Acaster weaves in hilariously extensive research on a breakfast staple, a game of flirty Twister and a hapless tale involving a wooden duck. As usual, each anecdote is perfectly paced and impeccably timed so as to generate the most laughs.

Recap is another highly enjoyable and wonderfully whimsical hour from James Acaster which gives fans the opportunity to relive earlier material while introducing new audiences to old comedic gems. If you’ve not experienced one of his shows before, make sure you get tickets quick-smart next time he’s in town!

To find out where James Acaster will be performing next as well as when he’ll be returning to our shores, check out his gig list on his website. You should also follow him on Twitter.

Check out what I thought of the trelogy!
*Read my review of Recognise here.
*Read my review of Represent here.
*Read my review of Reset here.

Auckland Encore 2017: James Acaster – Recognise

When you consider the two extremes of stand up – conventional style versus more offbeat – James Acaster’s brand of comedy definitely sits in the latter category. His eccentric perspective is very much the pulse of his material and this show is no exception.

Recognise is the first chapter of the trilogy and is a cleverly written, multi-layer narrative in which Acaster discloses to the audience that he is actually an undercover cop posing as a stand up comedian so he can infiltrate a drug ring. This far-fetched yet somewhat plausible premise is the recurring theme but in between we are treated to an entertaining diatribe of a variety of things from the mundane to the farcical.

Over the course of the hour we learn of Acaster’s love for finding loopholes, the time he concocted a long drawn out revenge scheme involving bananas and what he thinks is New Zealand’s best kept secret and why which was an audible crowd-pleaser. His anecdotes all demonstrate a witty and devious mind which is a staple in his shows.

Acaster is an animated and captivating raconteur, using his signature whimsical and sardonic candor to superb comedic effect.  In this particular show, there is also a physicality which he adopts as well as audio and visual props he uses that add yet another humorous layer to his material.

Recognise is another enjoyable top notch offering and one that feels more personal than its successors which is refreshing. Whether or not Acaster really is a covert detective is debatable but what is undeniable is his innate ability to effortlessly garner laughs no matter what he talks about.

James Acaster is performing Recognise, Represent and Reset across different days and times at The Basement until April 23rd with a bonus show on Sunday evening. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

*Check out what I thought of Represent here.
*I saw Reset at last year’s NZICF. To read what I thought, click here.

Auckland Encore 2017: James Acaster – Represent

James Acaster is back on our shores for a whirlwind run of his last 3 shows. Tickets to see him always sell out – and quickly! – so this is definitely a treat for those who did not manage to get in the first time.

Acaster describes Represent as 100% whimsy which is 100% accurate.  His trademark idiosyncratic discourse and seemingly haphazard, impulsive style brings us on a side-splitting journey of outlandish proportions. With celebrity gossip updates, amusing snippets from his time as a juror and the most hilariously absurd fable, there is not one dull moment to be had.

Acaster is a skilled storyteller who reads the room and feeds off it extremely well, with every anecdote strategically placed and each punchline perfectly timed. His comedic instincts are second to none; even when the narrative takes unexpected turns at no point do you feel he has no idea what he is doing or where he is going – in fact this is all part of the fun.

The most impressive thing about Acaster’s delivery is his unostentatious yet apparent confidence and effortless way in which he has the audience hanging on to his every word. Even when the show brilliantly goes a bit meta in which he proceeds to actively analyze it, we don’t question it but keep going along for the ride.

Represent is a highly enjoyable and wonderfully eccentric hour, one that’s a fair bit quirky and a lot funny. It is the perfect taster to get those laughing muscles going in preparation for the upcoming comedy festival season.

James Acaster is performing Recognise, Represent and Reset across different days and times at The Basement until April 23rd with a bonus show on Sunday evening. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

*I saw Reset at last year’s NZICF. To read what I thought, click here.


A Ghost Tale

ghost-taleGhosts, darkness, bed bugs, unfulfilled dreams – what are you afraid of? Inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, A Ghost Tale is an independent production which encompasses a collection of horror stories that tackles this very question.

Set in the round, the lines between audience and performer are blurred as the cast of six weave in and out from all corners of the performance space. This decision is a clever one and lends itself brilliantly to the genre as this creates a palpable sense of unease which keeps the audience constantly on edge. It also gives each person a unique perspective of the stories that unfold in that your experience of this piece is highly dependent on where you sit.

Over the course of the hour, the ensemble who play a group of friends take it in turns to tell a scary story in an attempt to ‘out-spook’ one another. Each account transitions smoothly in to the next with the performers taking on a variety of roles. These characters are put in different creepy scenarios – some with more scare factor than others – all of which are thematically linked to exploring horror beyond the usual tropes.

I appreciate the approach Benjamin Teh has taken to bringing this theme to the stage. His script is discerningly written and has to be lauded for not relying on cheap scares but instead choosing to delve deeper into the human psyche, examining what is actually truly scary beyond the things that go bump in the night.

It is very easy for plays in this genre to veer in to over-the-top, clichéd territory and thankfully it manages to just toe the line. Under Jesse Hilford’s thoughtful direction, the performances by the cast strike just the right balance between theatrical and believable.

The only downside about having the narrative broken down into short stories is the audience are not afforded the chance to fully get to know or invest in any of the characters. This aside, the narrative as it stands still works, and considering this is an independent effort, the overall production appears polished and well thought out.

Teamed together with Sean Kelly’s chilling soundscape and complemented by Nova Jackson’s lighting design, A Ghost Tale is a highly atmospheric, subtly thought-provoking and eerily engaging experience. It might not spook you out of your seat but the underlying message may just scare you even more.


A Ghost Tale is on at The Basement until 12th of November. For more details and to book tickets, click here.


Proudly Asian Theatre: Call of the Sparrows


Call of the Sparrows written by Chye-Ling Huang is the much anticipated, full-length version of Proudly Asian Theatre’s critically acclaimed Short+Sweet short story from 2014. The narrative features a rich concoction of storytelling techniques that, under James Roque’s mindful direction, all come together beautifully to convey a captivating and thoughtfully written tale about the struggle between holding on to the past and embracing the new.

Little Sparrow (played by Amanda Grace Leo) is the main protagonist who journeys to a faraway mountain village to wait for Min, the man she has been betrothed to at the hands of matchmakers. She moves in with his family who is run by matriarch Joa Joa who makes it clear from the get-go that she doesn’t approve of Little Sparrow or this arrangement.

Through clever use of a two-level set, shadow play and projected images on an expanse of white sheet that envelopes the performance space, we are introduced to the comings and goings of the village.  In particular, we are made to see the social and political divide between those who live at the top of the mountain and those who inhabit the base.

In the first half, Little Sparrow gets to know the many different characters who reside in the village. She quickly learns of the deeply entrenched traditions of the land as well as the community of crooks and peddlers that run the marketplace. From a whimsical potato seller to a cheeky sweets-obsessed ghost, the talented cast of five – with the help of masks and change of costume – depict the host of characters effortlessly, jumping between personalities seamlessly.

The second half sees Little Sparrow rise in the ranks and a shift in power take place with the arrival of a band of drifters who threaten to disrupt the status quo. This thinly veiled social commentary charting the shift from dictatorship to communism is cleverly illustrated and woven into the story through ‘the flock’s’ unveiling of various decrees and the consequences that follow.

What really brings this play to life is the delightfully immersive soundscape which is performed live onstage throughout. Musician Nikita Tu-Bryant expertly uses a myriad of percussion instruments to add another emotive layer to the story. This thoughtfully composed sound design complements the set design brilliantly and are arguably characters in their own right.

Call of the Sparrows is an engaging, thought-provoking and interactive production that is superbly crafted, visually intriguing and wonderfully atmospheric. Though the piece is inherently Asian, the narrative’s underlying themes of identity, family and belonging give it an easy to relate to, universal appeal.


Just two more opportunities to catch this exciting new company’s first original production! To book tickets, click here.

Short+Sweet 2016: Theatre Season 2

short-sweet-bannerThe second heat of Short+Sweet Theatre kicked off this week and once again, the audience were treated to an eclectic lineup of short stories. I found this subsequent selection of works to be more of a mixed bag with the stronger pieces in the second half.

Culture Clash was my favorite from the first half. A comical, alternative spin on the classic Bard tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, this piece was easily enjoyable with a good blend of comedy, charm and well-executed choreography.  With a little polishing I think there is potential for this work to be made in to a full-length play.

The quirky synopsis for We Mean You No Harm Yet peaks your interest immediately and is a taster for the silliness that is to come. The two performers portray a pair of aliens to comedic effect and though the piece gets a bit too self-indulgent near the end it manages to just about toe the line and pull off weird in a good way.

Meanwhile Keep Calm and Carry the Crumb which centers around an insect version of a ‘girls night out’ party is certainly an unusual idea for a narrative yet it works a treat. The plot had great entertainment value and was excellently depicted by the cast, ending the evening on a high.

Another highlight for me was two-hander The Lady and The Tyger. Like a fly in the wall, we watch as a Kiwi backpacker and Parisian meet and make a connection in the most unlikely way. The two performers had great onstage chemistry; you couldn’t help but be drawn in to their conversation. The dialogue was engaging, subtly thought-provoking and I thought was crafted to suit the ten-minute time frame very effectively.

Alexander the Great was another play I felt made excellent use of the ten-minute format. More dialogue-heavy than action-heavy, the strength of this piece lies in the cleverly written narrative which had some adeptly placed and timed humor seamlessly infused in to the script. The cast complemented each other well, delivering their lines superbly.

Overall this week’s offering, like last week, had a good variety to suit any palette. This big little festival is definitely perfect for someone who likes the idea of consuming theatre like they would a buffet – having a little taste here and there, sampling a little bit of everything.

Season 2 is on for another two nights at TAPAC. For more details and the full lineup, head on over to




Short+Sweet 2016: Theatre Season 1

short-sweet-bannerShort+Sweet, Auckland’s bite-sized arts festival is back for another year! It boasts a selection of both new and emerging talent as well as returning theatre-makers who just want to have another go.

The Season 1 lineup featured a strong selection of works but it was the two single handers that stole the show for me. Slow Dating was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish; Julie Collis’ wonderfully comic and often exaggerated delivery was engaging as it was entertaining. Similarly, 93% was an excellently crafted one-man-piece with the energy of an ensemble cast. Hamish Annan thoroughly impressed with his performance, particularly the physicality in which he embodied the multiple characters he portrayed.

Being a musical fan, I was delighted there were two on the bill. Beyond Four Walls‘ song cycle format was a great concept though the overall narrative didn’t quite translate as clearly as perhaps intended. Where the piece did excel was in the music; there were some solid vocal performances by the cast and I also enjoyed the comedy that was present in the lyrics. Theatre of Love’s Match – The Beginning on the other hand had the opposite impact. While I thought the plot was absolutely brilliant and lyrically sound, the vocals were a bit rough in parts.

Other highlights for me were incidentally the two more low-key pieces of the program. Part lecture, part phone conversation, March of Progress was a clever, quite literal illustration of someone trying to juggle both his work and personal life. Thoughtfully written and performed, the narrative had a good measure of both heart and humor. Dragonflies was another solid offering with a very slice-of-life premise that had an intriguing element to it. The two actors gave subtle yet nuanced performances and though the ending may not have come to a surprise to everyone, I feel the build up to it was superbly executed and delivered with just the right amount of tension to keep the audience guessing.

There is definitely a skill to creating and presenting ten-minute-plays and the Short+Sweet Festival is the perfect opportunity to see this in action. If you want to have a taste of the New Zealand performing arts talent and like the idea of a smorgasbord of short stories, this is the ticket.

Season 1 is on for another two nights at TAPAC before Season 2 kicks off the following week. For more details and the full lineup, head on over to