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.

Carbolic Productions: The Revue 2017 – Last Call

What happens when you put an army of young working professionals together and allow them to use the stage as their creative outlet? For those not already in the know, The Revue is an annual artistic get-together by Carbolic Productions very akin to popular comedy variety show Saturday Night Live.

Last Call is another jam-packed program featuring a fun and facetious smorgasbord of skits, jokes, videos, live music, dance and even the odd informercial thrown in for good measure. This year’s shindig has been set up to be the ‘best party in town’ and for the most part, they do deliver the goods.

The main over-arching storyline centres around a group of friends at the aftermath of a party which feels much like the premise of Hollywood flick The Hangover. Interspersed between their piecing together the night before and the lineup of short sketches, the audience are also treated to tunes by Revue house band “The Look”.

From hilarious puns and comic one-liners to silent film mimicry and satirical musical numbers, there is a little something for everyone. Particularly enjoyable and impressive was the hip hop performance near the end of act one – judging by the applause that was the clear crowd favorite of the night.

With such a massive cast and the narrative made up of so many varying vignettes there are a lot of moving cogs in this show. It is no surprise then that it requires a band of directors to pull the whole thing together and credit must be given to Shuchi Ghosh, Alysha Jensen and Shawn Moodie for managing to bring such a massive operation to the stage.

There are some solid comedic gems but there were also some misses.  The main plot point didn’t feel altogether necessary while the format of this style of show unavoidably involved a lot of fading in and out and logistical activity which did feel quite distracting. The infectious energy of the cast does somewhat make up for it and the inclusion of the band in the proceedings was definitely a welcome break as well.

The Revue 2017: Last Call is an entertaining albeit mixed bag but with such an eclectic selection on offer, there will be something to tickle everyone’s funny bone. For a night out at the theatre that offers something a little different, give this a go.

Check out Carbolic Productions to find out more about this project and follow them to be in the know about next year’s Revue.

 

 

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.