Auckland Theatre Company: Six Degrees of Separation

Written originally for the stage in 1990 then adapted into a film, Six Degrees of Separation is no newcomer to the scene. Thanks to a blend of superb canon to start with, intelligent set and lighting design plus well appointed casting, Auckland Theatre Company’s adaptation feels fresh, contemporary and still bears relevance today.

The premise that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else through a chain of six people is one that should resonate to most particularly in this digital age in which Facebook tracks your connections through your social network. Where playwright John Guare expands from this theory is by arguing that it’s not just six people but which six people.

Guare’s sharp and intriguing play is brought to life by a small but stellar ensemble cast which include heavyweights in the industry thus already raising the expectations considerably. The play is centered around Flan and Ouisa Kettridge, a rich couple who live the privileged high life in New York City whose lives are turned upside down when a stranger (played excellently by Tane Williams-Accra) stumbles into their home.

The Kettridges are portrayed brilliantly by ATC household name Andrew Grainger and the esteemed Jennifer Ward-Lealand who really needs no introduction. It’s always a treat seeing Ward-Lealand perform – she has a captivating stage presence and commands the stage with ease. Her and Grainger have great on-stage chemistry that was a delight to see and particularly engaging were the moments when they narrate directly to the audience; inviting us in to their world, personalizing the experience.

Another impressive aspect of the piece is John Parker’s set. Imposing columns give the performance space a cavernous depth and combined with the discerningly devised lighting by Jo Kilgour aptly give the overall ‘world’ not only a sense of grandeur but also conveys emptiness which feeds into the premise that while we are seemingly closely connected in this world, this still doesn’t take away feelings of isolation – something we can all relate to.

All in all under the skilled direction of ATC Artistic Director Colin McColl, Six Degrees of Separation is another slick production by Auckland Theatre Company. It’s entertaining theatre with weight – the lighthearted moments are enjoyable and well-placed but its underlying message is thought-provoking and challenging which will give you something to think about as you leave the theatre.

Six Degrees of Separation is on at the ASB Waterfront Theatre until 30 August. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

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Zanetti Productions: Medusa

This is Medusa as you’ve never seen before. There is no creature with a head of snakes instead the rage that embodies this character unravels before our eyes in a vivid and visceral tapestry of spoken word, light and sound.

Nisha Madhan, Julia Croft and Bronwyn Ensor collectively “play” this mythological monster and they do so like a well-oiled machine. The piece starts in complete silence bar a few awkward sniggers and shuffling before evolving, coming alive and eventually going the other extreme in a defiantly discordant way.

We are taken on an erratic journey where any notion of a conventional narrative is completely dismantled. Things get chaotic, raucously loud, uncomfortable, raw, unsettling yet oddly hypnotic. The lighting design and soundscape are like characters in their own right, adding a visual and aural layer to the cacophony of words.

Medusa is an assertive assault to the senses, reminding you of the power of theatre. Postmodern in its approach, it will not be for everyone but for those who take the chance, it is a bold beast that will affect and bewilder as well as challenge your ideas on femininity.

Medusa is part of Q Theatre’s Matchbox 2018 season and is on upstairs in the Loft until 3 November. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Proudly Asian Theatre: Orientation

Love and sexuality are complicated enough to navigate without adding race in to the mix. Orientation is a bold new work by Proudly Asian Theatre that explores what it means to be Asian in Aotearoa, dissecting in particular common stereotypes associated with sex and relationships.

Mei, the central character of the story, finds herself battling an identity crisis being half Pākehā and half Chinese yet only having dated white men. Enlisting the help of the ‘Asian Everyman’, she goes on a quest – to “root herself back to her roots”. As she speed dates her way through various suitors, we are given a superficial representation of “Asianess” which will no doubt speak to and resonate more to those of Asian descent in the crowd.

This audacious way of self discovery is certainly unorthodox but paves the way to the bigger subject matter at hand – the racism and social conditioning that is deeply ingrained into the fabric of New Zealand society. From dumplings and that iconic lucky cat to throwing around popular prejudice and cringe-worthy clichés, playwright and director Chye-Ling Huang’s script is unabashedly honest as it is deeply perceptive.

Where this piece falters ever so slightly is in its over ambition and pace. While what is being presented is compelling, the overall narrative could have benefited from being tighter, focusing on a select few talking points rather than a whole slew – though perhaps this was the intent. Regardless things did drag in parts and at times felt on the over-indulgent side.

All in all Orientation packs a punch. It is an edgy and thought-provoking theatre piece that uses one woman’s mission to find her place as the beacon that casts a light on Asian sexuality and the racial undercurrents that exists in this country.

Orientation is on at Q Theatre until 15 May as part of the MATCHBOX 2018 season. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

Indian Ink Theatre Company: Mrs Krishnan’s Party

Indian Ink Theatre Company are renowned for their innovative and visual storytelling with Mrs Krishnan’s Party delivering just that and more. Taking place in the back room of the titular character’s dairy, it centres around recreating Onam, the annual harvest festival of Kerala which celebrates life, death and rebirth.

The party atmosphere is pulled off brilliantly with the use of theatre in the round style seating. Performance and audience spaces are very much blurred with no Fourth Wall in sight as audience members are engaged in conversation and invited to participate. The different tiers of tickets allows attendees to be as involved as they want to, very much mirroring what would happen at an actual party.

Aspiring DJ James played with charming aplomb by Justin Rogers is the amiable host of the festivities who is intent on bringing us together for a merry affair that’s like “Christmas, Easter, and Diwali all rolled into one”. Colourful scarves are passed around and bindis donned before the imminent arrival of the assertive yet endearing Mrs Krishnan herself portrayed superbly by Kalyani Nagarajan.

A highlight of this festive gathering is watching a pot of dahl come together live before our eyes. Just like how the flavours of a curry build over time, the depth of both these characters develop (and unravel) as the narrative unfolds. The journey their characters go on parallels the heart of Onam and the Hindu mythology that surrounds it.

Mrs Krishnan’s Party is another solid offering from Indian Ink Theatre Company that is a heartwarming recipe of culture, folklore, dance and cookery. It is a fun, feel-good, multi-sensory theatrical soiree that uses interactive theatre – and food – to bring everyone together.

The season at Q has finished but the company are taking the show to Wellington and Christchurch next. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

A Slightly Isolated Dog: Santa Claus

Don your antlers and put up those festive fairy lights as it’s that time of the year again – the much anticipated annual Christmas show at The Basement Theatre! This year’s edition Santa Claus has all the right ingredients for the perfect end-of-year Christmas treat.

The “very famous and very French” quartet that make up A Slightly Isolated Dog (Hayley Sproull, Jack Buchanan, Andrew Paterson, Susie Berry) are the gracious hosts of the festivities, adorning audience members with tinsel while engaging in pleasant banter. The arena theatre and cabaret style seating work well to further accentuate this communal, merrymaking atmosphere.

The show kicks off in very much the same vein – there is no Fourth Wall or traditional stage with the action taking place and story unfolding all around you. Conversations that took place earlier are auspiciously incorporated into the narrative, shaping it and adding comedic value at opportune moments. Audience members are also regularly called on to get involved in the hysterical high jinks of the evening.

Part sketch comedy, part musical with a whole lot of improv and a generous helping of raucous shenanigans to boot, this is a jam-packed show with many moving parts. As is tradition, each performance has a mystery guest; ours was RadioLIVE broadcaster ‘Moustachio Sex God’ Mark Sainsbury who was a great sport and took it all in his stride.

The improvisational nature of this type of production keeps things unpredictable which makes for quite an exciting experience. What unravels is heavily reliant on audience participation and the special cast member but Sproull, Buchanan, Paterson and Berry never once lose control of the plot and coupled with their sharp wit adeptly manage any hiccups or unexpected turns.

From Christmas gifts with a twist to a hilariously irreverent full-fledged Christmassacre, Santa Claus turns what we know of the silly season and the jolly man in the red suit on its head. For a riotous outing of festive fun and frivolity that promises a rollicking good time, this is the ticket.

Santa Claus will be causing mayhem at the Basement Theatre until 20th December. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

 

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and The Dust Palace: Midnight

For one night only, the APO, who are known for their first-rate, innovative work, team up with The Dust Palace, touted as Auckland’s leading circus theatre company, to bring a magical evening of breathtaking cirque and glorious symphony. When two powerhouses such as these two come together, you just know you’re in for an incredible theatre experience.

Midnight is a delightful and captivating tale that takes place both on the stage and in the air perfectly complemented by a full-size onstage orchestra who deliver a spellbinding score which include notable works from Mendelssohn, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. The audience are taken on a fantastical journey of acrobatic and orchestral proportions with a bit of comedy and mime thrown in for good measure.

The premise takes place in an enchanted land and when the King takes ill, the Queen calls on the Doctor for help and together they go on a quest seeking medicine that will save him. Along the way they come across an array of otherworldly beings like impish forest creatures, floating fairies in hula hoops and formidable stilt-walking spirits who dance, leap, contort and fly in effortless harmony with the melliflous soundtrack.

The troupe of performers who play the cast of characters do so with grace and impressive skill, seamlessly pulling off a stunning repertoire of circus and physical artistry from jaw-dropping contortion to gasp-inducing aerial acrobatics. Credit must be given to Eve Gordon and Mike Edward for the dynamic choreography and superb direction; equally the APO are in top form, operating like a well-oiled machine, with David Kay at the helm.

Midnight brings together New Zealand’s finest cirque performers and orchestral musicians for an extraordinary evening that is a treat for the eyes and ears. This enthralling collaboration is a beautiful celebration of circus and symphony deserving of a full season as put simply it is an experience that needs to be seen far and wide.

To find out when APO will be performing next, click here.

To find out when The Dust Palace will be performing next, click here.

Rollicking Entertainment presents The Dunstan Creek Haunting

Whether you are a believer or a skeptic, there’s something eerie about a ghost story that’s based on real-life events. The Dunstan Creek Haunting explores the spooky happenings that took place in St Bathans, Central Otago (formerly known as Dunstan Creek) during the gold rush era which is reportedly the most haunted region in New Zealand.

Dave and Lizzie are keen paranormal investigators whose appetite for the supernatural lead them to dig deeper into this former mining town with a dark past. They present to us their findings in the form of a series of slides with the main focus of their discourse being the Vulcan Hotel which hosts the town’s most famous ghostly resident, Rose McKendry.

The show’s synopsis and publicity make it no secret that there is more to expect than just visual aids and reenactments, that the performers’ affable disposition and jovial banter is really a red herring to mislead us. Slowly but surely we get a sense there is something sinister lurking underneath the surface; not knowing when and how things are going to unravel is what keeps the audience on edge.

The narrative turns on its head when a chilling presence disrupts the proceedings prompting the space to quite literally come to life through clever staging and well thought out trickery. The timing is pitch perfect  and paced effectively to create an increasingly tense and unsettling atmosphere. There is a very palpable air of dread and foreboding among the audience which Dave and Lizzie skilfully harness and build on until the most heart-pounding, thrilling conclusion.

Part seminar, part séance and full on nerve-wrecking, The Dunstan Creek Haunting is a terrifyingly excellent take on the horror theatre genre. It is brilliantly crafted and thoughtfully designed to be a genuinely harrowing experience that is sure to unnerve even the biggest of cynics.

The Dunstan Creek Haunting is at the Herald Theatre until 31st October. For more details and to book tickets, click here.