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


NZICF 2016: Urzila Carlson – Unacceptable

Urzila Carlson

New Zealand’s favorite South African import Urzila Carlson is no stranger to the comedy circuit, having great crowd-pull every time she puts on a show. If you’re a ‘repeat offender’, as she puts it, you know your laughing muscles are in for a workout.

This year’s offering, we are told, is about celebrating the smaller things in life and equally openly recognizing when something is unsatisfactory. After a fleeting encounter on Facebook where Carlson discovered the power of the word ‘unacceptable’, she decided she was going to apply it to everyday life and consequently Unacceptable was born.

The show is essentially a collection of things in life that Carlson deems acceptable and unacceptable. Over the course of the hour, she shares her opinions about school sports, working in hospitality and ‘those green garden chairs’ to superb comedic effect, easily garnering many knowing, agreeing laughs. She also incorporated a crowd round to hear what we thought which added a brilliant interactive element to the narrative.

Considering the premise is largely about airing grievances which could have given the show a whiny tone, it is anything but. Even when she reveals an unexpected turn in a particular story, it does not significantly dampen the mood. This is all down to Carlson being an effortless entertainer with a well-honed comedic eye.

Carlson’s style of comedy is easily relatable and incredibly personable which is a big part of her appeal. She has an innate ability to deliver her material in a way that she instantly connects with her audience. She also has no qualms laughing at herself and her idiosyncrasies which is what forms the charm of the show.

Unacceptable is an exceedingly enjoyable hour of skilfully written, extremely witty comedy that will have you in stitches from start to end. Carlson is a gifted and accomplished comedian who is an utter delight to experience and an absolute must-see.


Unacceptable is on again tonight (May 14th) at SKYCITY Theatre at 7pm. Due to high demand, an extra show has been added after the festival on May 21st at 8pm. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2016: Frenchy – World’s Worst Adult


With over two hundred million views and one-and-a-half million fans on social media, Frenchy’s online reputation precedes him. This show comes with a warning that it contains offensive material which is accurate yet all the same is arguably putting it mild.

World’s Worst Adult is an off-color escapade in to what Frenchy refers to as his ‘immature brain’ in which there are no rules or boundaries and certainly no decorum. From unapologetic sexist jokes to pedophilia and even bestiality, no crude stone is left unturned as the most controversial of subjects are tackled without so much as batting an eyelid.

Weaved among the profanities and obscenities were amusing tales which included recollections from his surprising former life as a high school teacher as well as some hilariously outrageous sex encounters. Along the way, we were also treated to some audaciously tongue-in-cheek, bawdy songs one of which gave the world of Harry Potter a whole new outlook.

Frenchy pairs his twisted sense of humor with his underlying comedic sensibility to form just the right blend of shocking yet still somehow genuinely funny material. He uses his sociable manner with his cheeky charm to superb effect; as vulgar as some of his jokes got – and there were a lot of them – he never once lost the crowd.

It’s no easy feat delivering a show that is designed to offend yet is mindful to not cross the line to tasteless territory. The key to enjoying this show is to dispel all thought of what’s right or appropriate and just indulge in the hilarity Frenchy has unabashedly unleashed from topics of which laughter is an improper response.

Needless to say, Frenchy is not for everyone. If you don’t offend easily though, World’s Worst Adult is a gasp-inducing, no holds barred hour of gloriously filthy and irreverent comedy that doesn’t shy away from laughing at the taboo things in life.


World’s Worst Adult is on just one more time – tonight at Q Theatre at 9pm. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2016: Rhys Mathewson – Nouveau Rhys

Rhys Mathewson

Rhys Mathewson has been in show business for ten years and is heavily in debt which is very likely correlated. To commemorate this, he has a twenty-one-year-old hidden talent he wishes to share with us all.

Nouveau Rhys sees Mathewson change things up a bit by adding a bit of performance flair to his set. The show kicks off with a quite literally stomping opener which incorporated some brilliant toilet humor one-liners that worked an absolute treat with the audience.

After such a vigorous start, the direction of the show was uncertain and you wondered how Mathewson could keep the momentum going but he does so impressively without difficulty. It’s easy to forget that he has been in the circuit for a decade considering he is only twenty-five. He displays a confidence and ease on stage that could rival other more seasoned comics.

Over the course of the hour, Mathewson thoroughly entertains the audience with his intelligent and exceedingly witty commentary about various things in life. We learn about the time he heckled a bus driver, his hatred for ‘Irish tap dancing’ and how he measures time using food. He also shared some amusing and interesting opinions which included what he thinks of democracy and why the Lotto is a government conspiracy.

Mathewson’s casual, conversational style makes the show incredibly easy to just sit back, absorb and engage with. His greatest strength though is in the richness of the material itself which possesses a maturity and well-honed comedic dexterity that is well beyond his years.

Nouveau Rhys delivers a pitch-perfect set of sharp and endlessly hilarious anecdotal comedy that will have you in stitches. Mathewson’s charisma as an entertainer coupled with his undeniable talent at comedy make for an utterly enjoyable hour.


Nouveau Rhys is on at The Classic at 10pm until May 14th. For more details and to book tickets, click here.

NZICF 2016: Nic Sampson – Nic Sampson Has Fallen Down a Well

Nic Sampson

What happens when you fuse comedy and theatre together and want to see if people would be concerned or couldn’t care less at the prospect of a ‘white man in trouble’? You get Nic Sampson Has Fallen Down a Well.

In essence, this fifty-minute piece fuses together a solid repertoire of stand up with some comically exaggerated showmanship. It sees Sampson exercise his comedic and performing chops to deliver one brilliantly absurd, absurdly brilliant show.

From having conversations with strangers at bus-stops and discovering the wonders of nine dimensional cinema to playing the guy who has to fail guide dog puppies, Sampson’s material had great entertainment value and showed excellent comedic instincts. Along the way, different characters come into the mix with Sampson embodying each one to comedic effect.

In the wrong hands, a concept like this could easily veer into self-indulgent territory. Sampson toes this line well and even at it’s most farcical, it somehow still just works. His self-deprecating style of observational comedy pair well with his theatrical delivery to form a lively and boisterous comedy experience.

The premise to this show and how Sampson lets it unravel might be lost on some and if you are someone that just wants to see a straight stand up show then this is probably not for you. Judging by last night’s crowd though, Sampson has found a niche in comedy that overall translates extremely well.

Nic Sampson Has Fallen Down a Well is an offbeat, deftly written show that is a little bit dramatic, a lot eccentric and consistently funny. This cleverly conceived piece will give you more bang for your buck and is an enjoyable late night comedy treat.


Nic Sampson Has Fallen Down a Well is on at The Basement at 10pm until May 14th. For more details and to book tickets, click here.