Pasefika

February 22nd, 2014 at 11:14 pm by David Farrar

I wasn’t sure I would ever get to watch Pasefika tonight as there were no car parks within half a km of Circa Theatre. I finally gave up circling around and parked in the New World car park (sorry NW!). I got to the theatre with around 30 seconds to spare.

In my mind I was thinking that I could head home at half time, as I didn’t want to leave my car for two hours in a 90 minute zone and risk a ticket or being towed.

Within around quarter of an hour I was quite engrossed into the play, and any thought of not seeing the second half died a hasty death. Once we did get to the interval, I ran back to the NW car park and moved the car into a paid park by Te Papa that had come free.

The play was based in Paris in the 1860s and Akaroa in the 1840s, with the common them being the French artist Charles Méryon, who was played brilliantly by Jason Whyte. You first see Méryon in Paris as a determined and somewhat demented pursuer of Louise Niveau, a waitress in a Parisian cafe. She reminds him of someone from his past – Ruiha, the daughter of Te Rangi, the head of a hapu in Akoroa.

The play moves backwards and forwards from Paris to Akaroa, with seamless transitions. Meryon in real life did live in Akaroa for two years and this had an impact on his art.

Aroha White played standoffish Ruiha and enthusiastic Niveau very well. Simple costume changes transformed her.

Emma Kinane also had a dual role as Madame Bourgeois in Akaroa and Jeanne Dival in Paris. Madame Bourgeois was a Frenchwoman who had done the unthinkable, and married a native. Both Méryon and Ruiha were disapproving for opposite but equal reasons – the races shouldn’t mix.

Finally you had George Henare as Te Rangi and also as the poet Baudelaire. Henare managed both gravity and a genius for comical timing. The play sounds very serious and intense, but in fact there are lots of laughs, and some wonderfully direct language.

The play was effectively a play of five love stories – Te Rangi and Madame Bourgeois, Méryon ad Ruiha, Méryon and Niveau, Baudelaire and Jeanne Duval and also Baudelaire and Niveau. They are told in a way which captures both New Zealand and French culture.

It was a great show. The acting was first class and captivating.

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A play about fear

February 12th, 2014 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

A play about fear is showing at Circa Theatre as part of the Fringe Festival.

It’s a quirky and hilarious 65 minute production about, well, fear.

I wasn’t sure if it would be very good at first. The first few minutes are a segment called Freak Accidents with the cast acting out different situations involving fear from sharks to serial killers. But around a third of the way through the play a discrete plot line emerges around the Cult of William. I won’t give too much away, but the plot is very funny, and there’s some superb acting.

The set is basically an inflatable paddling pool and five lightbulbs, but they use them to ingenious effect. There’s one particular scene with the paddling pool which is especially hilarious (hint it is deflated).

The actress who plays the pseudo-lead, Charlotte, does an excellent job with her character.

As I said, I wasn’t sure how good the show would be around 15 minutes into it. It was funny, but wasn’t quite sure where it was going. But as the plot unfolds, the humour intensifies and the overall experience is excellent. A great fringe show.

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Con

November 5th, 2013 at 9:20 am by David Farrar

Con is a New Zealand play, written by Gavin McGibbon and directed by Danny Mulheron.

The plot is simple, yet complicated. It’s about two con-men, a girl and a victim. But who is conning who? Without giving too much away, prepare for double, triple and quadruple crosses. Nothing is quite like what it seems.

The two con-men are Earl and Stevie, played by Paul McLaughlin and Mike Minogue respectively. You get introduced to them as Stevie is on the phone to some elderly householder convincing her that her computer is infected with a virus, and telling her how he can help her fix it for a small fee. As she is thanking him profusely for helping save her from a non-existent problem, I reflected how sadly accurate and common that scenario is.

The playwright got the inspiration for this play when his Facebook account got hacked and a scammer posted to his page that he had been mugged and robbed in the Philippines and needed money to be deposited into a bank account to help him get home.

But Earl and Stevie have plans well beyond a common Internet scam. They planned to rip off a charity for a six figure sum of money, and not just any charity but CanTeen – can anything be worse than scamming a charity to help teenagers with cancer.

CON by Gavin McGibbon. Directed by: Danny Mulheron. Circa Theatre, 26 October to 23 November 2013. Wellington, New Zealand. http://www.circa.co.nz/

Photo by Stephen A’Court

Complicating things is the entry of Holly, played by Acushla-Tara Sutton. At first she’s just a pick up in a bar, but it gets more serious. And what does it mean for Stevie when he finds out something personal about her? And how did Stevie end up a scammer? He was once a hero. What was his fall from grace, and is there a path back?

Jason Whyte completes the cats playing the victim, Jeffery, and a couple of minor roles.

The play kept you guessing throughout. There were numerous twists and turns, and not all of them easy to predict. Who was putting on and act, and who wasn’t? The characters were likeable, despite their activities, and you wanted to see how it all ends.

Quite rarely for me, I did think the play could have benefited from being a little longer. It’s 90 minutes long, and I would have liked to have seen more of Stevie’s background, but also more of how the main scam went down and the reaction to it.  It was a bit disjointed at times.

But that didn’t take away from it being a very enjoyable play, which kept you engaged throughout. The acting was excellent, and a nice satisfying ending – for some!

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Paul Jenden RIP

October 28th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Talia Shadwell at Stuff reports:

A bright light of the Wellington arts and theatre scene has been extinguished with the death of lyricist, writer and choreographer Paul Jenden, friends and collaborators say.

Jenden, perhaps best known for his hit Hairy Maclary Show and annual Circa Theatre pantomimes with Roger Hall, died in Wellington Hospital on Saturday evening after a long battle with leukaemia.

I’ve loved Jenden’s work, and would always get excited if I saw he had been involved in a production.

Close friend and collaborator Gareth Farr said Jenden was a tireless worker with a broad creative reach.

Although he was known for his wicked sense of humour and effervescent productions, he was a private man.

“He was just the most genius lyricist and writer,” composer Farr said. “I cannot think of anything I have enjoyed more in my life than working with him.”

Jenden introduced Farr to musicals and, over the past decade, the pair had collaborated on Troy The Musical and The Nero Show. Their working relationship culminated in one final offering this year: C – A Musical, which dealt with Jenden’s personal five-year experience of cancer, and starred his partner Louis Solino.

I saw that play – it managed to both be very sad and funny.

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Midsummer

October 1st, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Midsummer, at Circa, is a wickedly funny play. I laughed almost non stop during it.

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Photo by Yael Gezentsvey 

Kate Prior and Byron Coll play Bob and Helena. Helena is a lawyer and Bob a petty crim. They tell the story of how they met, and met again, and eventually their weekend of blowing $15,000 of cash embezzled from a local crime lord.

The scene of the initial hookup in the bar is hilarious, as their different interpretations of how it happened unfold.

Both Prior and Coll perform some songs as part of the play, but it is their acting which is just superb. They both played their roles with near comic genius. Kate Prior especially was spectacular when playing some of the minor characters such as the local crime lord ( Big Tiny Tam Callinan). Her Scottish accent, her eyes and her screwed up face were just a delight. Coll was excellent also.

They navigate a sister’s wedding (which ends with her 12 year old nephew declaring that Helena said it will only last a year as they met on the Internet), a failed bank deposit for the crime lord, and a visit to a local fetish club where they are left tied up most of the night by accident!

The set is worth a mention also. Simple yet effective with a series of boxes being used to create beds, steps, couches etc. And on the back wall you are intrigued by all the props hanging there which get used at some stage.

There are some serious themes to the play – Bob turning 35 and Helena’s failed previous relationship compared to her sister getting married. But the seriousness never gets in the way of a thumping good time.

The latter half of the play is slightly slower than the first half, but at 95 minutes in total you never get bored – far from it. My co-reviewer commented:

One of its singular charms is definitely its exuberant physicality. Both actors make such great use of all the stage, and undertake such acutely accurate and incredibly funny metamorphoses – into children, thuggish crims etc (let’s not forget the talking cock!). But as well as all the laughs, there was such a sweet poignancy to the recognisable lives and rites of engagement of the protagonists. The songs sung (and strummed) by the actors seemed to heighten both the energy and fun of the play as well as its tender intimacy and truth telling. What a rich and satisfying entertainment – all that laughing over all the clever (perfectly Scottish-accented) dialogue brought to life in such a masterly way by the actors.

Not a play for young kids, but definitely a play I can recommend to any adults wanting a great night out.

Midsummer is also reviewed at Theatreview.

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No Naughty Bits

September 24th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

No Naughty Bits is a play about a copyright lawsuit, specifically Gilliam v. American Broadcasting. Now you might wonder why anyone would see a play about a copyright dispute, but when you realise Gilliam is Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame, and the lawsuit was about ABC editing their shows in such a way that they were basically no longer funny, and hence it damaged their reputations, then the appeal becomes clear.

Monty Python were the comic geniuses of my generation, and their influence on comedy has been compared to the influence of The Beatles on Music. I can recite the script of Life of Brian almost word perfect, having viewed it over a dozen times.

Andrew Foster plays Michael Palin, the lead character in the play. He nails the part, as you can almost believe it is the real Michael Palin there at times. A wigged Gavin Rutherford plays Terry Gilliam to some great comic effect.

The other stand out actor for me was Stephen Papps as Judge Lasker.

No Naughty Bits by Steve Thompson. Directed by: Ross Jolly. Circa Theatre, 14 September to 12 October 2013. Wellington, New Zealand. http://www.circa.co.nz/

 

Photo by Stephen A’Court

The play is an engaging exploration of comedy, US vs UK differences, creative types vs executives and more.

It isn’t a recital of famous Monty Python lines, even though a fair few of them do make an appearance. It is about the right of a bunch of iconic comedians to say to a network that if you edit us so we no longer think it reflects our work, we want the right to withdraw permission to use our work. Through that you get to hear of the many edits ABC tried to make, and why. You are of course always on the side of the Pythons as they fight for their gags to remain. You do also however have some sympathy for the studio as dealing with a bunch of stubborn creatives can be a challenge to put it mildly.

If you are a Monty Python fan, you won’t want to miss No Naughty Bits. And if you are not a Monty Python fan, well you don’t know what you have missed out on!

Threatreview also has a review.

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The Price

August 22nd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Price is another Arthur Miller classic, with an excellent production put on by Circa Theatre.

It’s s small cast of just four, focusing on the relationship between two estranged brothers who have had no contact for 16 years. They finally come together to dispose of their long dead father’s possessions, which have been in storage for 16 years. The planned destruction of his old building has meant their shared history is resurrected, in a tense dramatic performance.

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Photo by Stephen A’Court

Victor and Walter Franz are brothers, played by Gavin Rutherford and Christopher Brougham respectively. Victor is a poorly paid police officer whose wife resents their modest means. He was a gifted science student, but never had the opportunity to do tertiary education as he was caring for and supporting his father.

Walter is the seemingly successful brother, a fabulously wealthy doctor. The reasons for his estrangement with Victor are only hinted at initially, but laid out in the second act.

Jude Gibson played Victor’s wife Esther. She is almost ashamed of her husband’s lowly paid job, and doesn’t like him wearing his police uniform when off duty as it tells everyone how much he earns.

Finally you have what was for me the star of the show, Ray Henwood at the 89 year old Jewish antique dealer. Henwood was fantastic, and his performance alone is worth seeing the show for. A comedy delight.

All four cast played their roles well, with each character having sympathetic and unsympathetic traits. Your views on them change as the show goes on. The only slight negative was that the relationship between Victor and Esther wasn’t clear at the beginning, and you spend a fair bit of time trying to work it out.

The first half of the show, as is often the case, wasn’t as captivating as the second half. It made up for that with plenty of laughs from Ray Henwood’s character. There was also some added drama with a noticeable earthquake during the first half. Let me tell you a crowded theatre is not a nice place to be during an earthquake. The cast however just carried on with barely a pause, as the audience turned pale and started to look wistfully at the exits. Luckily the quake was relatively brief.

The second half is where the conflict is laid out in full, and there are twists and turns you don’t expect. The ending is a good one, albeit not the one I expected.

The Price is on until 7 September. If you like Arthur Miller’s other plays, you’ll like this one also.

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“C” – A Musical

July 8th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

C – A Musical is a musical about the Big C, or cancer. Paul Jenden is a long-time creative force at Circa, but this time the production was about himself – his battle against chronic lymphocytic leukameia.

It’s a sad topic for a musical, and at parts of the show, you do feel downright depressed. Mortality is not an easy topic. But despite that, the show is also uplifting and great fun.

It’s not a typical musical.  It is described as a play with song and poems.

Danny Mulheron plays Jenden himself, and is captivating and lively. He is so convincing, you would think he really was Jenden, the way he described the chemotherapy, receiving the news etc.

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Photo by Stephen A’Court

Beyond any doubt the star is Jackie Clarke who plays the voice inside his head, and sings the songs. Clark is simply fantastic and was a knock out. Her acting, her voice, her costume were all flawless.

Jane Waddell plays Paul’s Mum, who died from cancer also. Some very poignant scenes, but also some funny ones. The one that sticks in my mind is when she is talking to an angel and keeps asking him how much more time she has. He keeps avoiding the question until he finally points out that if you are talking to angels, the answer is pretty obvious!

Sue Alexander does an excellent job on the piano and Louis Solini silently plays Carcinoma most effectively.

On the technical side, the lighting used was done incredibly well. Great use of lights to capture emotions and states.

Most of us know someone who has fought cancer – some successfully, and some not so. The lyrics of “say si si to C” are a statement we can all aspire to.

As I said the play is not a barrel of laughs. At times it is very funny and uplifting. At times very sombre and sad. You ride a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, but well worth seeing.

Threatreview also has a review.

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Tu

June 17th, 2013 at 7:20 pm by David Farrar

Tu is an intense drama.  A Maori East Coast family is torn apart both emotionally and literally by the shafts of love, strife and war.

The play is based on the novel by Patrica Grace. Old Tu (Tammy Davis) recounts what happened to him and his brothers and family as they went to war in the 1940s.

The three brothers are Philomel, or older brother; Boydie and Tu. They’re played by Jarod Rawiri, Taungaroa Emile and Kimo Houltham respectively. Boydie is the flashy charmer. Philomel is looking forward to life with Jess (Aroha White) and Tu is the typical younger brother. Tina Cook performs wonderfully as their Ma, and Kali Kopae is the at home daughter taking an interest in the US marines stationed in Wellington.

The set is surrounded by audience on both sides of it, making it an unusual viewing experience, as you can see the reactions of those seated opposite.

It’s a hard show to summarise, as so much of it is caught up in the emotional intensity of the scenes. You spend the last 20 minutes almost on the edge of your seat – even though you sort of know the inevitable ending.

A great NZ production, that resonated with the audience.

Also reviewed at Theatreview.

 

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After Juliet

May 27th, 2013 at 3:55 pm by David Farrar

After Juliet was written by Sharman Macdonald after her 13 year old daughter saw the film version of Romeo and Juliet and asked “What comes next?”. Macdonald’s daughter went on to act in the play itself, and is fairly well known today as Keira Knightley.

I greatly enjoyed the Circa production of After Juliet. It’s a lively sequel to the famous classic. Those with a good memory will recall that before Romeo loved Juliet, he had an unrequited infatuation for Rosaline. It turns out that the infatuation was in fact mutual, but Rosaline was just playing hard to get. Now Romeo is dead, and she blames the Montagues for it.

The play is produced by 1st Gear Productions, and all the cast were aged between 17 and 23. It was a nice showcase of emerging talent.  Neenah Dekkers-Reihana shone as the lead Rosaline. She was feisty and commanding.

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Photos by Stephen A’Court

Also a great performance from Sylvie McCreanor who played Bianca. Bianca is a cousin of Juliet who suffers from petit mai seizures, and she is very convincing.

After the deaths of Romeo and Juliet there is a truce between the Montagues and Captulets, laid down by the Prince of Verona. You also have a number of trials of those deemed responsible for their deaths, such as the nurse and the apothecary that sold Juliet the poison.

Rosaline is torn between her lost love, her anger, and another apparently unrequited love interest. She wants the feud to continue, and is challenging to be leader of the “Cats”, the younger members of the Captulets.

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The set consists of a corrugated iron fence, a tangled scaffolding type tower where the Montagues gather, and at the bottom of it flowers marking the graves of Romeo and Juliet.

One thing I loved about the play was the mixture of old and new. you had Montagues and Captulets battling it out with swords, while some of the Montague girls were videoing it on their iPhones!  While it is an ancient setting, they used modern devices to get across that this could also be a modern day story.

There were a few good laughs during the play, but mostly it is dramatic tension between the various cast, and most of all to see whether it ends with war or peace – or both.

The play lasted 90 minutes, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was good to see a talented cast of younger actors and actresses and a sequel to a Shakespeare classic.

Also reviewed by John Smythe at Threatreview. It is on at Circa 2 until Saturday 8 June.

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Midnight in Moscow

May 21st, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Midnight in Moscow, at Circa, is a lively story of love, loyalty and politics. It is set in the NZ Embassy in the USSR in 1947. At times it is a bit like a murder mystery, but instead of working out who was the killer, it is more who was the spy?

You also get intrigued by whether that gay man and the young girls’ blossoming friendship may in fact be something for her aunt to worry about. Will the wife find out her husband’s affair with the mistress of Boris Pasternak?

There is of course a political theme to the play, as expected from playwright Dean Parker. Young Madeleine (played by Chelsea Bognuda) have a naive appreciation of the wonders of the worker’s paradise. Her aunt, and head of mission, June (Carmel McGlone) lays out the reality of what the Soviet Union was really about – political prisoners and repression.

Other embassy staff have some surprising views, which reveal themselves during the play.

The star of the show for me was Gavin Rutherford as the witty, urban, flamboyant and promiscuous Kit. His character provides many of the laughs. he provides the signature quote from E M Forster “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”. Stephan Papps also excels as Boris Pasternak.

Jon Pheloung and Jessica Robinson play husband and wife Hugh and Sophie. Hugh is helping the famous Boris Pasternak  translate Doctor Zhivago into English, and also having an affair with Boris’ mistress Olga (Miranda Manasiadis). Hugh’s character is based on NZ diplomat Patrick Costello, who was suspected of being a Soviet spy. The debate continues today as to whether he was. For my 2c I think he was.

There is a chilling moment when Pasternak gets a phone call from Moscow, and it turns outs to be Stalin himself. This is of course based on real life, and I’d encourage people to read the awful treatment of Pasternak and other authors under the USSR.

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Photo by Stephen A’Court

Parker has crafted a very clever play that shows how awful the USSR was (and certainly was not an apologist for it as a Herald review suggested). There were also some lovely moments such as when the three female staff rehearsed for their role in The Mikado, bing out on by the British Council.

I enjoyed the play, but I did have a couple of criticisms.

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The set was very well done, but I found the suits worn by the men (especially Kit) did not look anything like the 1940s. They looked like very modern suits. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by how well shows like Mad Men get the look and feel of an older era so well, but the suits did jar with me, as not fitting into the era.

Another minor point was the idea that a woman would be head of delegation in 1947. I know of course that a play is fiction, but again it made it harder to get into the play. The best plays are where you forget it is a play, and you are one the edge of your seat wondering how it will all end.

I also like a play that grabs your attention at the beginning, and found the opening monologue didn’t quite do that. Also the poetry scene with Hugh and Pasternak went on a bit too long for my simple tastes. The play lasted two hours 15 minutes (plus a 15 minute interval). I thought the first half dragged on a bit and could have been shorter or brisker. The second half though was much more enjoyable, and overall was a very good production.

John Smythe at Theatreview has also reviewed the play. It runs at Circa One until Saturday 8 June.

UPDATE: I am informed that in fact the head of delegation in 1947 was indeed a woman, so wasn’t NZ progressive!

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Tribes

April 8th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

When a play gets the half time interval, and you are annoyed that there is a break, its a good sign that the play has managed to grip your attention and you want to see how it ends.

Circa’s production of Tribes was excellent. A great mix of tension, humour, light and sound.  Thoroughly enjoyed it.

The set is a typical living room, with a large screen behind it. The screen is an essential part of the show, where the sign language is translated, and very amusingly sometimes the private thoughts of the cast also.

The play by Nina Raine, originated in London, and has won three major international awards.

The cast is primarily a family of five, all creative. Father Christopher is an academic critic who critiques everything from his children’s boyfriends and girlfriends to the deaf community and Northerners. His long suffering wife Beth is writing a a book that was originally about a marriage breakdown but hilariously also includes a murder mystery now.

The kids are all in their 20s. Daniel and Ruth have both moved back home, and ignore their father’s entreaties to “fuck off” and get real jobs. She is an wannabee opera singer and he is writing a thesis on language. Daniel has some psych issues (his father blames on pot) and hears accusatory voices all the time. He used to have a stutter, and it returns when his brother Billy moves out.

To a degree the show is about Billy. He was born deaf. His siblings are very protective of him. His father has been determined not to let his disability define him and he has learnt to lip read par excellence, rather than use sign language.

The family is charming and engaging in their mild dysfunctionality, and then things get interesting when Billy meets Sylvia. She can do fluent sign language as her parents are deaf. She was not born deaf, but is losing her hearing and becoming deaf.

Now don’t think this is some sort of woe are the deaf, how miserable their lives are play.  It is a play about tribes – the family tribe and the deaf community.

Father Christopher is very sceptical of Sylvia and asks her at one point about the “deaf community”. She replies that it is very hierarchical with people judging you on whether or not you were born deaf, or became deaf, if you can sign or lip or both, etc etc. She also  comments “Plus of course, we’ve all slept with each other” which rarks the family up as Billy has never had a girlfriend.

Jeffery Thomas is excellent as Christoper, Billy’s father. He provokes and frustrates, and provides much humour. Nathan Mesiter also was very good as Billy’ brother. He is both smart and suave and stammering and lacking self-confidence.

The play is 140 minutes long, with a break. As I said at the beginning I found it got me interested from the first scene, and never let go. There are so many tensions that you want to find out where it all leads. There are no saints in this play, just a mosaic of flawed but loving family.

A lot of humour keeps you engaged also. The thoughts on the screen. The asking Sylvia to sign a translation of “Fucking her was like making love to a concrete mixer” was memorable.

When a local theatre takes on an award winning international play, the worry is that they will not do justice to the original. But the production team and cast have shown this is not the case – it was a great play, and well worth seeing.

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Mike and Virginia

March 24th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Mike and Virginia opened at Circa on Saturday night, and it was 100 minutes of almost non stop laughs.

It is billed as a romantic comedy about romantic comedies. The lead characters of Mike and Virginia are both lecturers in film studies and the audience at times are their class. Virginia is the ice queen who tells you how romantic comedies always have an incompatible couple (due to personality, background etc) who implausibly overcome all barriers to show love conquers all, even though it doesn’t.

Mike is the popular wise cracking Kiwi bloke, who is a published author as well as a lecturer. Of course Virginia hates him, and vice-versa and of course they form the focus of their own romantic comedy.

There is some audience interaction, which was also comic. Mike has a thesis that all films have a monster. He goes through various films such as Shawshank Redemption and asks who the monster is. He then gets to Love Actually and asks the audience who is the monster in that film. The woman behind me yells out “the writer” and we’re all in hysterics.

There were five actors making up the cast, and while in some plays there are one or two stand outs, I thought in this play all five nailed their characters.

Gentiana Lupi (you may have seen her in Eagle vs Shark) was the icy Virginia. Her character started slightly one-dimensional but as the play progressed you saw her sense of humour and playfulness.

Will Hall (Kip from Shortland Street) was perfect for laid back wise cracking Kiwi bloke Mike.

Jennifer Martin was hilarious as the young and beautiful but rather clueless student poet who falls madly in love with, well I won’t give the plot away. But you’ll love her performance.

Stephen Papps and Perry Piercey play the respective best friends of Mike and Virginia – their characters are Harry and Sally!

Papps’ Harry shares his nuggets of wisdom in a very droll fashion and generates aughs a plenty. He just fits the role of down to earth tradesman so well.

Piercey’s Sally is an actor, and gets possibly the best lines of the play. I won’t give too many plot details away but one part of it is how they are meant to be just friends with benefits but Virginia freaks out when Mike holds her hand at one point. She heads home alone complaining to Sally that Mike is getting too intimate. Sally responds with “You’ve had his dick in your mouth with no problems, and you’re complaining that he held your hand!” – classic.

The music and sound effects were done incredibly well, adding to many a dramatic moment with comic effect.

Mike and Virginia was hilariously good fun. Is on until 20 April, and well worth seeing.

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Talking of Katherine Mansfield

March 10th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’ve lived in Thorndon for around 20 years, and in the area of Thorndon that is within 100 metres of so of the Katherine Mansfield birthplace. Despite that I only visited her birthplace for the first time a few weeks ago.

I never studied Mansfield at school, and don’t actually know her story and her works as well as many New Zealanders. So the Circa show Talking of Katherine Mansfield seemed a good opportunity to get to know her better.

The 80 minute show is by Catherine Downes, who is a Mansfield expert. She’s been playing her for over 30 years. The play is a mixture of Catherine talking about Mansfield’s life and reading out some of her writings.

I found it a bit slow to engage initially, but perked up with the recital of Leves Amores and the references to The Thistle Hotel in Thorndon. And from there we learnt of her outraged father who was happy to have her go back to London after she published such scandalous (for the times) prose.

You learn about her relationships and influence on so many other leading literary figures such as D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and of course John Middleton Murry. Murry is not the most sympathetic of figures as you heard about how he would write to Mansfield complaining how hard her dying was on him!

This isn’t a play for everyone, but if you are a fan of Mansfield or just wanting to know about her, it’s a pleasant introduction to her work. Downes has a real passion for Mansfield’s work and she doesn’t just act off a script but engaged the audience in her recital of Mansfield’s life and works. I suspect every night the show is slightly different.

The lighting in the show is worth a mention. The final scene where Katherine dies is done beautifully and to powerful effect as her face fades from view.

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Kings of the Gym

January 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Kings of the Gym had its premiere at Circa last night. It was fabulous fun, with some stand out acting.

The play is set at decile 2 Hautapu High School, and pokes lots of fun at education bureaucracy, political correctness, Destiny Church and even Novopay gets the odd mention! The set was very authentic, with even the fluorescent tube lights in the office reminding you of your own school days.

Ginette McDonald plays Viv Cleaver, the school principal. The principal, referred to as Cleavage by the PE HOD Laurie, is a politically correct bureaucrat who is obsessed with improving the NCEA grades and making sure her friends in the education bureaucracy think highly of her. It is a tribute to McDonald’s skills that she doesn’t just make Cleaver a caricature – but actually turns a pretty unsympathetic character sympathetic.

McDonald has some comic gold lines, and is just superb.

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Paul McLaughlin portrays his character perfectly.  Laurie drives Cleaver mad. He mocks the curriculum and files it in the bin. He states how the PE curriculum mentions well-being 73 times, and winning just once – to stress it is not important. His idea of a class is to play soccer. He’ll often delegate the ref to someone else so he can watch TV and bet on the TAB.

But Laurie is a likeable rogue, and his kids all love him. In fact one of them has become the 2nd teacher in the department, and has seemingly thrown away any ambition and his degree, to be a mini-Laurie. That is Pat, played by Richard Dey. The chemistry between Dey and McLaughlin helps make the play so excellent. The looks they give each other, the hassling, and especially Laurie’s expression when he finds out the girl Pat likes is already engaged. Many comic moments.

You never see the kids on the stage, but they are used to humanise the characters. Cleaver and Annie are horrified that the Vietnamese student is called “Chopsticks” by Laurie, despite he fact that is the name he prefers. He is so good at soccer he is told he must play left footed. Laurie also tells the kids they must have at least three girls on each team, otherwise the boys will win. Hilarious, harsh judgement calls.

But Dougal is the student you hear most about. If he scores a goal, it is worth five points as Dougal has Downs. At first you think such statements are so insensitive, but you later hear how he helps Laurie after school stack up the gym equipment (even though Laurie can do it quicker by himself) and realise behind the gruff, Laurie is hugely protective of Dougal.

Acushla-Tara Sutton plays Annie, the student teacher. At first she is just an over eager high achiever who insists on goals for every class. She is also a top sportswoman, and on the verge of making the Silver Ferns. But the real tensions comes when it emerges she is a born again Christian, and a member of Destiny Church (they don’t call it Destiny in the play – but it obviously is). The real tensions come when in biology class she refers to there being two schools of thought on where humans came from. She also sets up a church youth group, and has some of the students make purity pledges.

The play isn’t mocking of Christians, or the church. In fact she plays tribute to how they helped her, and the real message of the play is about tolerance.

There are some great one liners such as how pregnancy and STDs are the only two areas where the school over-achieves, and a line by the principal about how if one particular female student abstains for even a week, that will reduce the chlamydia rate. Many laughs through the whole play. The first half was a bit more tense at times, while the second half which had the big plot twist and the eventual happy ending had more of those laugh out loud moments – not the dignified giggles – but the forced laughter as it was so hilarious.

Kings of the Gym was a terrifically funny play which made for a great night’s entertainment. Dave Armstrong has produced a very New Zealand comedy that has near universal appeal.

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A Christmas Carol

December 12th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I suspect while almost all of us know the basic themes of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, few of us have actually read the novella. What we know is the change in Ebenezer Scrooge after being visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

It has been made into no less than 28 films, at least 36 different stage productions and the story is deeply embedded into English and American culture.

The production I saw at Circa last night was different to many, as it was a one man show, with Ray Henwood narrating the book and playing all characters. Henwood not only looks the part, but sounds it also.

Most will know Henwood from his role in the fabulous Gliding On series. Henwood is also one of the founders of Circa.

There is no ad libbing in this play. Every word of dialogue is from the original novella. For someone who has never read the book, I found it deeply satisfying. Henwood has a gravitas that was made for the production and was supported by a simple yet effective script, some wonderful period costumes and sympathetic lighting.

The play is not just a reading. Henwood gyrates between narrating the story at the lectern, and acting the roles across the stage.

If you’re never read the full story of A Christmas Carol, this is a great chance to have it performed in front of you over a couple of hours. It is on until 22 December.

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Cinderella – The Pantomime

December 4th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Saw Cinderella on Sunday afternoon at Circa. I’ve been to Circa’s annual pantomime for a few years, but this was the first time on a Sunday afternoon so the ratio of kids to adults was around 1:1. In previous years it has been an evening session with only a couple of dozen kids. This meant the audience noise level was extremely high – but in a good way.

The Rutherfords steal the show with their comic abilities. Lyndee-Jane narrates as the fairy godmother (and occasional queen) while Gavin plays Bertha, one of Cindererella’s evil step sisters. But not so much evil, as just desperate and needy :-)

Lyndee-Jane was superb at making both adults and kids laugh, and had many great one-liners. It’s nice to see they revise the play a bit almost daily, because they even got the All Blacks loss that morning into the dialogue. I also loved her “i-wand” which would sometimes need charging to work!

As usual, a fair number of political jokes, and King John, was King John Key and Mayor Celia and her bike got a few mentions also. The fun thing with pantos is they have jokes for the adults, and fun for the kids.

Panto regular John Wraight plays the elderly eccentric father, and also doubles as the King. Jon Pheloung plays Grace, the other step-sister.

A crowd favourite were the odd couple of Dagma (Emma Kinane) and Swedish Schwen (Paul Jenden). They performed all sorts of odd jobs, and had their own love story. Their costumes, like all of them, were wonderfully well done (by Jenden himself).

Every show needs a villain and Sean Allan performed the role admirably. He was booed by the kids everytime he appeared. Also his costume of tight tight leather pants can’t pass without comment. P Girl commented (not sure if it was admiration or revulsion!) that they left nothing to the imagination! They could almost need to be classified by the Censor’s Office!

Richard Dey played Price James and was suitably dashing.

Cinderella was played by Chelsea Bognuda. She has an incredibly polished singing voice, and her vocal pieces were some of the highlights of the show.

It was a great fun show for adults and kids. The kids get to yell and cheer and boo and even go on stage for a bit. The adults get left alone in the main, but one or two unlucky patrons do get targeted for extra fun.

Circa has a very stable panto team now. Roger Hall writes them, Susan Wilson directs them, Michael Nicholas Williams does the music, and many actors return each year. A very successful winning formula.

The play lasted two hours, with a 15 minute interval. It runs until 23 December and is a good Christmas treat for the family.

John Smythe at Theatreview also reviews it.

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The Mourning After

October 21st, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Ahi Karunaharan writes and stars in his one man play, The Mourning After.

The play is the story of Shekar, a Sri Lankan born in New Zealand. His father has just died, and he wants to travel back to Sri Lanka to spread his ashes. He also has the mystery of a photo of a beautiful woman, who is not his mother.

Karunaharan plays a multitude of characters, and uses his acting skills artfully to argue backwards and forwards with himself. Changes in posture and accent inform you as to who he now is. Karunaharan has a presence and charisma which dominates the small stage.

It took me a while to work out the plot, but it is worth persevering for. After battling his relatives in New Zealand, Shekar arrives in Sri Lanka. His family house is the only one left standing after the Boxing Day tsunami.

It is a house of mystery. Uncle Somu, the adult in the house, relives his days of glory as an extra in an Indiana Jones film. The young Raju provides comic relief and does a wonderful crow call. Malicious Aunty Saroja is the village gossip and then there is the women shut in the room.

The set is minimal, but effective, and director Miria George uses sound and light well in telling the story of Shekar.

I have to be honest and say that this sort of play isn’t one that grabs me. It was artistically done very well, and Ahi Karunaharan is a superb and charismatic actor. The plot revelation was just a bit too obvious I found, and I never found myself fully engaged on the emotional level.

That isn’t to say we didn’t enjoy the play. It was entertaining and many of the characters were entertaining and appealing. A one actor show is a challenging task, and Karunaharan rose to it.

There are also reviews on the play at Theatreview.

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The Truth Game

October 16th, 2012 at 5:00 pm by David Farrar

The Truth Game was a fun drama based in a newspaper newsroom. The playwright and author, Simon Cunliffe is a former deputy editor of the ODT and this shows in the perspicacity of the play, which is on at Circa until 10 November.

The play starts with a corporate businesswoman lecturing a room full of newspaper people on how media need to deliver what consumers want etc. She us using all the annoying jargon (such as synergies) you can think of, and it is a credit to Janine Burchett that she made Belinda such a detestable figure. You almost wanted to throw things at her, and cheered when an audience member (later revealed to be lead actor Frank Stone) calls out bullshit, and then storms out calling her a wanker.

Photo by Stephen A’Court

The curtains then part to reveal a massive set. A newsroom office stretches out, looking just as you imagine a newsroom would look. And they do an impressive split screen with an editor’s office upstairs. Alan Lovell plays Frank Stone. He’s the 30 year veteran who is at war with his corporate bosses, and is the Acting Editor, and likely permanent Editor.

The adroit Jessica Robinson plays news editor Sam Hunter, and  somewhat estranged romantic interest of Frank. The star of the show for me was Brian Sergent who played the loveable old duffer Ralph (pronounced Rafe). Ralph is the walking thesarus sub-editor, editorial writer and 40 year veteran. Paul McLaughlin plays General Manager Paul, who tries to act as a buffer between Frank and the owners. He has told Frank that to become editor he has to sack Ralph, to keep costs down.

Finally there was the young Acushla-Tara Sutton who literally rollerbladed onto the set as the young cub reporter. She gets off to a bad start with Frank, as she talks about Facebook and the like. As she reveals her mother worked on the paper over 20 years ago, you wonder about whether she may have a connection to either Ralph or Frank. Ski Bunny Girl and I both guessed, but got it wrong.

At the heart of the show, was the much debated proposition about whether media should be about hard hitting important news that matters, or providing what customers wants. Frank represented one extreme, and Belinda the other. Cunliffe and director Danny Mulheron have done a good job at dramatically portraying the dilemma. Personally I think they are both right. Media should focus on important quality news, but they also can’t ignore what their readers want. No use being purist and having no readers.  Sam’s character probably best represented the pragmatic middle option.

The best scene for me was when a major development happens in the Middle East, and you suddenly see a newsroom at its best. Focused and multi-tasking to tell history as it happens. Four extras from Whitireia’s Stage and Screen complement the main six characters as they rush to make their deadline. There is nothing quite like a newspaper office near deadline.

We both enjoyed the play. It had plenty of laughs and the central focus on the role of the media is a topical one. Rafe and Belinda were especially good characters that you loved and detested in equal amounts. The part that didn’t work so well for me was the relationships. The Frank and Sam relationship was almost a distraction, and the mystery around Jo’s mother was also not a critical part of the plot. I think the script would have been better to really focus on the main tension of the battle for what news should be, and the work relationships. More could have been done there.

As I said, overall an enjoyable play which will appeal especially to those interested in the media.

Helen Sims at Theatreview has also reviewed the play.

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Manawa

October 1st, 2012 at 5:04 pm by David Farrar

I saw Manawa at Circa last Wednesday. It was an unusual experience as I enjoyed the acting and the script but basically rejected the fundamental premise of the play!

The play is about two inmates. One is Jimmy King,  the country’s youngest murderer, and the other is Mau Vaiaga who is awaiting trial for eating a Kakapo!

The Jimmy King character is based on Bailey Junior Kurariki. Kurariki was convicted for manslaughter of Michael Chow, when he was 12 years old.

Jamie McCaskill wrote the play, and played the Jimmy King character. He was entertaining, intriguing, a non stop likeable talker. You felt significant empathy with him.

And this is whey I struggled with the play. I had a very hard time linking the Jimmy King character to Bailey Kurariki. I can’t imagine in real life Kurariki is anything like Jimmy King. I recall the story about Kurariki giving a “long and often incoherent response”, and nothing like the smooth talking Jimmy King.

Kurariki also seems with little remorse, having recently said he is “just an innocent black man“.

So a play which is about showing the “softer side of Jimmy” was always going to struggle to work for me.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some very good aspects to the play, which I’ll get to. If the play had been more generic, and not so obviously modeled on Kurariki, I think I would have enjoyed it far more. There is a risk in typing it to an individual. I sent much of the time thinking “When are you going to mention the poor pizza delivery guy”. Now of course the character was only modeled on him – not meant to be exactly him, but I just couldn’t get past that.

So what did work for me? Well the three actors were superb. Jamie McCaskill as Jimmy King was almost too successful at bringing him to life and showing his softer side. His ability to talk non stop to his fellow cellmate without even a grunt in response was very well done.

Natano Keni played Mau Vaiaga, the Kakapo eater. He was basically set up, but got reviled up and down NZ for eating the Kakapo. Even convicted killer Jimmy was calling him the most hated man in NZ – which was a insightful piece on how Kiwis react with more horror sometimes to crimes against animals, than each other.

Kali Kopae played lawyer Waimanea Huia. I’ve enjoyed her singing ability as a BeatGirl, and she equally impresses as an actor. Her character was more interested in the publicity from the clients, than the clients themselves.

I won’t give away the plot too much, but there is an interesting twist at the end. As I said the acting and script were good, and I certainly had many a wry chuckle during the play.

But at the end of the day, I’m just not someone open to seeing the softer side of Bailey Kurariki. That may be more about me than the play of course!

John Smythe at Thatreview also reviews it. He comments:

Did I mention it is hugely funny? The laughs come primarily from shock, at the truth of the characterisations and what they do and say. Each character, no matter how incidental, speaks with a clear and distinctive voice. And (apart from the concerns mentioned above) no matter what they do and how outrageous it is, we understand why.

It was hugely funny. I did enjoy the play. I just didn’t agree with its premise.

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Clybourne Park

September 10th, 2012 at 8:58 pm by David Farrar

Clybourne Park at Circa was a superb night’s entertainment. There were so many things I loved about it, it is hard to know where to start.

Let’s start with the play itself. It’s got two acts (total time 2 hrs 20 minutes with an interval) set 50 years apart – 1959 and 2009. Both acts are set in the same neighbourhood and are about the tensions that arise when a couple buys a house in a Clybourne Park , a neighbourhood exclusively of a different race. In 1959 it is a black couple buying a house in an all-white neighbourhood and in 2009, Clybourne Park  has become all-black, but with gentrification a white couple is moving in.

The play, based loosely on actual historical events, has won four major awards. They are:

  • The Laurence Olivier Award by the Society of London Theatre
  • The Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • The Theatre World Award
  • The Tony Award for Best Play

So with a play of that pedigree, it turns on how well Circa would implement it. Well they have been on a real roll lately, and this was no exception.

The first act focuses on Russ and Bev. They are packing up to move house. Their black maid Francine is there also. Russ is  a mixture of depressed and angry since his son killed himself after serving in Korea. The allegations that he killed civilians were too much for him.

Nikki MacDonnell stands out as Bev. She captures that 1950s domestic wife perfectly. Rather like Bree from Desperate Housewives she is so concerned about appropriate behaviour, and being a the good wife. She absolutely nails the role.

Gavin Rutherford also shows his versatile skills as the brooding Russ. You can see him on the point of exploding several times, and when it finally comes you almost want to applaud.

Paul Waggott and Andrew Foster play the local priest Jim and local Rotarian Karl. Karl’s wife Betsy is played by Danielle Mason. The character is deaf (and pregnant) and Mason is so convincing in the role that P Girl and I debated at the interval if she was deaf in real life. A different character in the second half made it clear she was not. But the fact she was so convincing we thought she might be, speaks volumes to her ability.

The 7th character is the first act is the well meaning husband of Francine, Albert. He just wants to help. Jade Daniels plays Albert, and his 2nd act character is similar. Both smiling nice guys – but we see in Act II that he has another side.

The drama is around when Karl tells Russ and Bev that the land agent has sold their place to a black couple, and try to pressure them to renege on the sale. You almost wince as phrases along the lines of folk being equal but different are used. And it gets really uncomfortable when the black maid is asked by the others if she agrees that black people are happier in their own neighbourhoods.

Russ though responds badly to the pressure, and it gets explosive when Karl threatens to tell the buyers about he suicide in the house – thinking that will scare them off.

The first act was very dramatic, but also had lots of laughs.

In the second act they all play different characters, but with some links to the original characters.  Both Nikki MacDonnell and Gavin Rutherford do quite increedible transformations. MacDonnell goes from being a matronly housewive in her 40s, to a trendy yuppy lawyer in her late 20s. You almost wouldn’t think it is the same actor. Likewise Rutherford becomes a grimy more youthful labourer who unearths a trunk which links the two acts together.

I won’t give away too much of the second act, but it was at times side splittingly hilarious. It starts with no tension at all, but eventually it is all laid bare as first the prospective purchaser is challenged to repeat a (not very funny) joke about blacks. Nancy Brunning’s character then responds with a joke which starts with “How is a white woman like a tampon”. The answer had me almost off my chair convulsed with laughter.  The joke fitted one of the characters perfectly.

One of the actors told me after the show that on their “test” night on Friday, the audience was predominantly elderly (as tickets are cheaper) and the response to the joke was more shocked. They were pleased to see the audience on Saturday night responding far more better to the joke. After the initial shock, almost everyone was laughing.

I have to praise the set also. It was one of the largest I have seen at Circa. The nice thing about Circa One it has so much room, and they used it to make the house very lifelike and real. During the interval some smart changes saw it transform into the modern version.

It really was a great show. A clever plot deals with sensitive issues of race in a very politically incorrect way. The drama and tension is punctuated with heaps of laughs. Clybourne Park has been my favourite show so far this year. Absolutely recommended as great theatre, so long as you are not easily offended.

John Smythe at Theatreview has reviewed the play also. His conclusion was:

Clybourne Park is a brilliant play deliciously done.

If you only go to one play this year, this should be it.

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West End Girls

August 7th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The world premiere of West End Girls at Circa on Saturday night, was a superb production. There’s so much to love about the show, it is hard to know where to start.

The play is based on the book by Barbara Tate, who worked in the late 1940s as an innocent 21 year old in a pub, and then ended up as the maid to one of the regulars – a Soho prostitute called Mae.  The play sounded so good that I had so many people wanting to attend with me, to require two extra tickets, as Glee Girl, DC Girl and Stats Girl all wanted to attend. By coincidence all three had their hair done earlier that day, and were a matching set of a redhead, a blonde and a brunette. They all raved about the show also.

Barbara Tate went on to become one of the leading artists in the UK. It was only in her 80s that she published her memoirs of her time working for Mae. Tate had a harsh childhood abandoned by her mother, almost killed by her father as a child, and brought up by a harsh unloving grandmother. Until she meets Mae, she has never really known love or even friendship, and an unlikely friendship begins.

Photo by Stephen A’Court.

Jessica Robinson plays Mae and, as expected, delivers her normal great performance. The part was made for her.

However for me Victoria Abbott as Barbara was the stand out performance. She managed to capture perfectly this shy naive girl, who got caught up in a world she knew nothing about. Abbott played a very different character in Chekov equally well, and this confirms my view that she is one of the future stars of NZ theatre.

The other five actors play multiple roles – 60 in total I believe. Gavin Rutherford’s main role is as Tony, Mae’s lover and boss. Rutherford also busks the West End Girls song (by Pet Shop Boys) on a ukulele, very skillfully.

The whole music and sound effects for the play was brilliant. As Mae got through 150 customers in 36 hours, the supporting cast used various devices to make the sounds on pants going up and down, and condoms being pulled off, and it was a frantic musical cacophony that was comically wonderful.

The play is based on Tate’s memoirs, and was adopted for the stage by Ken Duncum and directed by David O’Donnell. Overall they did a great job of telling the story over two hours.

The first half is on the wonderful blossoming friendship between the 21 year old the naive virgin and the “queen of Soho” prostitute. In the second half, things get more dramatic as tensions arise as Mae goes downhill.

I think this play got everything right – it was a delight to watch and great fun. Wellington is its world premiere – I am confident it will end up being produced in many more cities. Definitely one worth seeing before it closes on 1 September.

John Smythe at Theatreview has reviewed it also, equally positively.

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The Beat Girls

July 17th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I saw the Beat Girls for the first time in 2010. They were great. So how do you beat the Beat Girls? Simple – you add in Jason (Jay) Chasland.

Chasland was a rock and roll star.  At first glance you might think he is an unlikely star being not very tall and slightly chubby. But my God he was a great performer. He sang and crooned the songs marvelously, and had a real charisma and presence about him. His Ray Charles parody was side sidesplittingly funny. Chasland alone would be worth going to see.

The Beat Girls themselves (Andrea Sanders, Carolyn McLaughlin and Kali Kopae) performed just as well as last time. They have a great combination of singing ability, and facial expressions. You enjoy the music, and laugh out loud at their antics.

The performance is effectively a recital of the life of Phil Spector – from his early genius success through to his conviction for murder. In between numbers, they tell you about his various groups and songs. He may have been a demented misogynistic bastard, but he was a hell of a talented one.

The set was highly effective in its simplicity – dozens and dozens of white paper-lantern lampshades hanging from the ceiling, and three small circular stages they performed from. The costumes fitted the set well, and captured the 60s.

The audience participation in the show was high. Many were laughing every few seconds, and a lot of songs had the audience clapping along. Those seated on the front row were often targeted by the performers, with one woman being pulled onto stage and   well let’s just say it was lots of fun.

They perform a total of 21 songs. There were a few hic-cups, as you often get on opening night, but they were skilled at recovering from them. Kali hit her teeth with the microphone at one stage, and managed to turn it into a gag.

It was a 90 minute performance with a short interval. We stayed around for an hour or so after the show, with the cast mingling with the audience. It was a great night’s entertainment and I just can’t imagine anyone not enjoying the performance, unless they have been genetically modified in some way.

A review by Virginia Kennard at Theatreview is here.

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Sunset Road

June 24th, 2012 at 6:14 pm by David Farrar

I enjoyed the performance of Sunset Road at Circa on Saturday night.

The play is set in Rotorua, about a Cook Island family who moved there 20 years ago. Dad (Rob Ringiao Lloyd) is the foreman at the local mill, and Mum (Tina Cook) works in a local hotel. Cook especially gave an excellent performance as the caring worried wife trying to help her husband and children through what eventuates.

The other two cast members are the twins Luka (Nathan Mudge) and Lucia (Aroha White). Luke has almost ridiculous Grease type hair, and rides a motorcycle to complement it. Some of his best scenes are on the motorcycle. Mudge also performed well, because I found myself wanting to whack his character for being such a whining selfish prat at times. When you actually start to react emotionally to the character, the actor knows they are doing their job well. Luka also has the nickname Captain Cook Islands, and produly has their flag on the back of his jacket.

White’s Lucia is the balance to her temptous brother. She is the beautiful calming influence. In fact she is competing the next day in Miss Geyserland, and hopes to finally win the crown that could propel her forward.  Her and Luka plan to travel away together, rather than go to Law School – which their father has been saving money towards for many years.

The interactions between the twins is very tactile. I actually started to worry if there would be an unwholesome revelation about their actual relationship. There are some startling revelations, but not of the kind I was thinking. These come out in an explosive scene that tears the family apart.

The play, written and directed by Miria George, is a journey back to 1970s New Zealand. You have the Police, the dawn raids, the Highway 61 gang, the culturally influential beauty contests of the era and a more God faring population. A simple set means we focus on the characters and their interactions.

It was overall an enjoyable play, but not one that gripped me to the same degree as some others. It took a while to set the scene at the beginning.  Also I can’t give too much away, but found the ending a bit anti-climatic. But this doesn’t detract from an enjoyable 100 minute performance where you get engaged with the characters, and wanting to know how it all resolves.

John Smythe at Theatreview has also reviewed the play calling it an “insightful, delightful and powerful drama”.

 

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All My Sons

June 6th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The last Arthur Miller play I saw was at school – the famous Death of a Salesman.

All My Sons was actually written two years prior, in 1947. It is the play that established Miller as a world class playwright. After having seen so many modern plays, it was refreshing to go to an old classic which is purely about the acting, the set and the script.

Photo by Stephen A’Court

The play is about terrible family secrets. There are ten characters, four of whom are major and six minor. At the heart of the play is Joe and Kate Keller. Joe’s company manufactured some faulty cylinder heads during WWII, which led to the death of 21 pilots. Joe was exonerated, while his business partner and former neighbour Steve Deever was found culpable and remains in prison.

Steve’s daughter, Ann, was engaged to Larry Keller who went MIA over three years ago. She plans to marry his brother Chris Keller.

The tension really starts when Ann’s brother George turns up, now believing his father is innocent and wanting to confront the Kellers about whether he was a fall guy for Joe.

Jeffrey Thomas dominates the play with his portrayal of Joe Keller. Even though you are suspicious of him, you just can not help but like him. He gets you on his side, and you want him just to be happy. Thomas portrays well the moral complexity of his character.

The other star was Emma Kinane playing Kate Thomas. She gets it pitch perfect in teh scene where an angry George is wanting to destroy her family, and she just mothers all the anger out of him by telling him how he looks too skinny, how he needs to eat more, suggesting nice local girls he could go out with. It is a magic performance as you realise that no one could stay angry at such a lovely caring woman. But Kate also has her secrets – and she refuses to believe her son Larry is dead.

Jessica Williams and Richard Dey play the hopeful couple Ann and Chris. They have to put up with a both Kate and George not wanting them to marry. Kate also faces a titanic struggle between loyalty to her family, and to Chris and his family.

The play runs for two and half hours – considerably longer than my normal attention span. But not only did I not notice the time, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire second half of the play as events unfolded. You could have heard a pin drop, the audience were so captivated.

The stage is also worth of mention. A wonderful replica of the backside of a 1940s house, and the back lawn. The artificial grass actually went all the way to the first row of seats, which made you feel very close to the action.  The costumes were also spot on, especially the frocks for the ladies.

I went along with Stats Girl, the Ginger Ninja and Chef Girl and all four of us raved about the play. You understand why it has been a success for over 60 years, and the Circa performance of it was first class. I would recommend it without hesitation to anyone who likes an old fashioned drama. It will keep you captivated, and deliver a worthy inevitable yet shocking ending.

There is also a review at Theatrereview, which gets into some of the themes running through the play.

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