Dark Lake: A Hunted Interactive Experience

Theatre is all about escapism – a good work should transport you, incite emotion and hopefully resonate in your memory. This interactive walkthrough play, likened to an Edgar Allen Poe story, certainly ticks all these boxes.

Dark Lake is a unique, horror-themed theatrical offering where there is no stage or seats and the Fourth Wall between performer and audience member doesn’t exist. Set outdoors at nightfall with staggered start times that only allow for a small group each time, it gives the audience a whole different, thrilling way to experience theatre.

Just as it requires a level of daring to attend this play, it takes guts – and skill – to put on a production like this as in the wrong hands it could teeter towards the style over substance territory. Thankfully the Hunted team are not amateurs in this game and it shows.

A premise like this relies heavily on creating an environment that is not overly orchestrated so it allows the audience to suspend their disbelief and invest in the story. The company have achieved this brilliantly along with building and maintaining a palpable ominous feeling in the air. Familiar ground take on a more sinister quality in the dark and as there is no stage, the parameters of the performance space have been completely redefined. As the story progresses, there is a very real sense of dread and you constantly find yourself looking in all directions in anticipation for what’s next.

What really sets this apart from your standard theatre piece is the interactive aspect. The experience is set up so that you are meant to engage with what’s happening and while you can be as involved as you want to be, you also should be prepared to do what is required to proceed. The narrative evolves organically depending on how you as a group choose to act and react as things unfold which keeps things unpredictable and malleable.

While the characters you encounter on the journey are interesting and disturbing in equal measure, there is room to delve deeper to give this macabre story more depth. Similar can be said about the puzzles peppered along the way – more of these would have upped the stakes and enhanced the narrative. The experience is considerably short so there is definitely potential to push the envelope further and increase the eerie factor that bit more.

Dark Lake is a well crafted, thoroughly unsettling and chillingly atmospheric experience that will have you on edge from start to finish. It is not for everyone but if you can brave it, this is an unforgettable, visceral experience that challenges the boundaries of what theatre could be and where it can go.

Dark Lake is in multiple cities across New Zealand. The exact location is secret and will be emailed to you once you have booked tickets. Most dates are already sold out so get in quick! For dates and more details, click here.

Dominion Rd The Musical – The Heart of the City

Musicals have that wonderful ability to give life’s topical issues new light simply by putting a melodic spin on it. This developmental work by accomplished art practitioners Renee Liang and Jun Bin Lee does exactly that to brilliant effect.

Dominion Rd The Musical not only delights in the rich history and diversity of this iconic road in Auckland but it also celebrates the musical genre itself. From the catchy opening chorus number to its archetypal narrative structure, it bears all the hallmark tropes of what we all know and love in a musical.

The story follows the lives of various residents and shopkeepers on Dominion Road and their subsequent reactions when city councillor Stevie (portrayed by Brady Peetie with charming bravado) proposes to rebrand the street as Auckland’s Chinatown. The set is effectively minimal; adorning the stage are four large sandwich boards with stills of real-life shopfronts – a clever way to represent the street – which coupled with well-choreographed cast members playing buskers and passersby, suitably transport us to the hustle and bustle of Dominion Road.

The cast is fairly big in number, as to be expected, and wonderfully diverse which is not usually expected so was a joy to see. The five main characters are well cast, each with a different story to tell; particularly enjoyable are neighbouring proprietors Alison and Ahmad (played superbly by Jackie Clarke and Mustaq Missouri) whose animosity towards each other provide great comic relief.

Marissa Holder’s Geeta is the classic likeable protagonist who seeks to bring the community together to curb the rebranding with the help of her best-guy-friend-potential-boyfriend Terry depicted earnestly by Benjamin Teh. These two characters were the most interesting in terms of their backstory so much so that the will they/won’t they romance felt a bit out of place and almost unnecessary.

There is plenty of music to enjoy with a generous song list and varied repertoire of styles and arrangements all of which are performed excellently by the five leads and chorus. From fetching crowd numbers to droll duets and stirring solos, there is something for everybody. Liang and Lee are a dynamic duo; together they have created a fabulous tapestry of songs that wonderfully encapsulate the colourful and eclectic nature of Dominion Road.

What makes this work truly special is how intrinsically New Zealand it is. It is unequivocally a musical just as it is unquestionably a New Zealand story. More importantly it reflects the melting pot of cultures in which we live in today – something that is not showcased all too often, particularly in musicals. It may possibly not resonate quite as much to a wider audience outside of New Zealand however it is still an important story to tell.

Dominion Rd The Musical is a discerningly crafted, easily enjoyable symphony of sound celebrating all that is uniquely wonderful about Dominion Road and, in a broader sense, living in Aotearoa. It brilliantly fuses political and musical together resulting in a delightful work that is feel-good and thought-provoking, uplifting and heartwarming.

Dominion Rd The Musical is on at the Playhouse Theatre on 15 Glendale Road in Glen Eden until 19 August. For more details and to book tickets, 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.

4-stars

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-pat

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.

4-stars

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 shortandsweet.org.nz.

 

 

 

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 shortandsweet.org.nz.

 

NZICF 2016: Stuart Bowden – She Was Probably Not a Robot

Stuart Bowden - Probs Not Bot

Physical theatre is often either farcical or brilliant and this modestly charming one man show by Stuart Bowden sits firmly in the latter camp. She Was Probably Not a Robot is a quirky and engaging sci-fi adventure about the end of the world and one man’s plight to survive.

The show unofficially starts as the audience are taking their seats though this isn’t immediately obvious. It is only when the lyrics in the catchy tune we are listening to start referring to what is happening in the theatre that we realize we are being serenaded live by Bowden who is just beyond the curtains.

This is a cleverly placed ‘easter egg’ to what is to come which is an unusual theatrical experience that is a little bit bizarre but a whole lot of fun. We learn that the world has ended and we have all died. Before we can even process this, Bowden goes on to explain to each one of us – to hilariously detailed effect – how we died. This off-beat kind of humor forms the comedic vein of the show.

Over the course of the hour, we are expected to suspend our disbelief and let our imagination soar. Playing both the world’s sole survivor as well as a friendly, other-worldly celestial being aptly named Celeste, Bowden uses the space effectively along with clever use of an audio recording device to take us on a surreal and epic journey.

With only a bare stage and very minimal props, this show relies heavily on the performing prowess of the actor which Bowden possesses in spades. As he sings, mimes and even ‘soars through the air’, it is clear he is a skilled storyteller and talented showman. The theatre essentially becomes his playground with no Fourth Wall or divide between performer and audience making this a fully interactive, immersive show.

She Was Probably Not a Robot is wonderfully whimsical, delightfully melancholic and irresistibly endearing – an absolute joy to behold. This easily enjoyable, thoughtfully poignant theatrical piece is sure to tickle at your heartstrings and funny bone.

5-stars

She Was Probably Not a Robot is on at the Herald Theatre at 7pm until April 30th. For more details and to book tickets, click here.