Guest Post: REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath”

August 26th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

REVIEW: Dr Who “Deep Breath By John Stringer

BBC Season 8: Episode 1 (Peter Capaldi, new Doctor).

Global simulcast and cinema screenings 23/24 August 2014.

I was tempted to take a rubber toilet plunger with me to DR WHO 8:1 (the 12th Doctor, well sorta the 13th or maybe the 15th) that opened worldwide yesterday as Season 8, Episode 1 (ok, both the numbering of the Doctors and episodes is as confusing as the time continuum).  In New Zealand it was featured at Hoyts cinemas. I attended the sunday 10am session (both sessions completely sold out) with Sky Goddess and Off Spring 2.  Here’s the official trailer as an appetizer before we get in to it…

Dr Who, Romance and Same-Sex Marriage

This outing is written by Who master Steven Moffat, responsible for much of the genius of the revived franchise and was directed by Ben Wheatley.

It returns several old favourites: Strax the Sontaran (who opens this meal), the Silurian Madame Vastra (in a same-sex marriage) and companion Clara (whose ‘romance’ with 11Dr Matt Smith is well and truly ‘put to bed’ [pun intend].  Capaldi 12Dr: “I’ve made some mistakes, but I intend to do something about that…I am NOT your boyfriend!”  “I miss Amy…”  “WHAT?” “Nothing.”).

Well, I’m glad we got that sorted out: no more ambiguous metro-sexual shenanigans in the Tardis, thank you, we’re British! And being an older man (“who worried these wrinkles on to my new face?”) it’s nice to re-establish the Hartnell plutonic-ness of an older Doctor hanging about in Police Boxes with young attractive women in public places. Rolf Harris and all that.

And as if to reiterate the point, Capaldi 12Dr wears a… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves (how very Time Lord of me).

The Opening (Strax)

Episode 8: 1 opens with a humorous video report to camera by Strax recapping the respective reincarnations of the Doctor, which is very useful for new entrants.  Lots of tongue-in-cheek references to chins, ears, scarves and Strax continually mistaking Dr Who’s gender.  Hilarious.  I’ve never really liked Strax, he’s kind of like Pumba from Lion KIng, and as a military race(“Kill them and melt them with Acid!”), Sontarans should have deeper more menacing voices, like the Zygons. They’re like happy Mr Potato Heads in armour.

And Strax is rendered permanently cartoonish when 12Dr’s opening lines are to confuse him with “Grumpy?” “Sleepy?” “Dopey?” of the Seven Dwarves.

This ability to laugh (and Strax roars with laughter) at the previous actors has always been an ease of the Dr Who writers and an accepted playfulness.

The Previous Doctors

Previous doctors have been nicknamed by other Doctors, as:

  • 11Dr. Chinny -Matt Smith
  • 10 Dr. Sandshoes -David Tennant (married to 3Dr’s daughter in real life).
  • 8.5D.r Granddad -John Hurt, to which we might add:
  • 3Dr. Dandy -Jon Pertwee
  • 4Dr Scarfie -Tom Baker
  • 5Dr Cricket -Colin Baker.
  • 12Dr Capldi will perhaps win the moniker “Eyebrows.”  “Look at these eyebrows. These are attack eyebrows! They could take off bottle caps!”

Capaldi as 12Dr

Peter Capaldi is brilliant: quirky, sexless, eccentric, old(er), darker, all hands and legs and YES a Scottish accent that wafts in and out. 12Dr: “You all sound… English! You’ve developed a fault!” He is a conscious move away from the younger Dr Whos of the past decades This is reinforced by the new costume, a throw back to the coat tails of the 1Dr (Hartnell) and 2Dr (Troughton) but with contemporary accessories (Dr Martin type shoes and a red inner lining). Capaldi pulls this off.  I would place him as a combination of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee.

Capaldi has been in Who before, as a Roman character, but is perhaps best known to us as the scientist at the back end of World War Z with Brad Pitt.

This 12th Doctor is confused and ‘lost’ in the ruin of his latest transformation, and dashes about like a concussion patient, rambling manically, but eventually gets to the crusade.  That helps to establish this character as a bit darker a bit more unpredictable (doesn’t Dr Who always reflect his age, as in era)?  The girlies are left abandoned and gasping, only to be saved and reunited “just as friends” in time to hold the female audience (who after all, like older men?).

The wrinkles and gravitas coupled with the Matt Smith and David Tennant acting physicality is a perfect blend.

The Tardis and its Arrival.

The Tardis arrives creatively, caught within the throat of a ginormous roaring female T-Rex godzilla-ing herself around Edwardian London and threatening to knock over Big Ben.  “Sorry, I brought you over accidentally…I’m not flirting…but you are a big sexy female…”  Momma T.Rex eventually gets roasted from within by the bad guys.

The Tardis is re-decorated for this new Doctor, evoking the eternal script line, “You’ve re-decorated! I don’t like it.”  “Yes, I miss the roundy things, I need more roundy things.”

Clara

Is awesome.  There is a very moving phone call between Clara and 11Dr Who (Matt Smith) through time and space that helps embed the transition to Capaldi…but no spoiler on that.

Let’s get to the baddies.

Rubbish Robots from the Dawn of Time

A new alien beastie.  A half man half robot restaurateur, not a cyborg exactly, who makes a ghastly Edwardian air balloon out of human skin.  He’s all ‘borrowed’ eyeballs and clanking clock wheels, oh, and a blow torch on his Hellboy fist stump.  None of them breathe, thus the episode’s title “Deep Breath.” His minions evoke the scary Weeping Angels but with slashers. BothOff Spring 2 and I thought we were witnessing the origins of the Cybermen.

Like the Snowmen, and the Weeping Angels before them, these clockwork cyborgs tap the rich Dr Who vein of childhood fairy tale creepiness (Victorian clockwork dolls).

Oh and head Rubbish Robot looks like Liam Neeson. More of that Scottish theme again, to go with Clara’s tartan mini skirt.

Brick Bats

I did not like the new theme version, it was a bit ‘soft.’  Bring back the grimy mechanical earlier versions.

I’m a bit tired of the London period pieces, and Matt Smith’s Western episodes were a bit kitsch. I’d like some more alien planet stuff (cue some obligatory BBC CO2 smoke).  But 8:1 I guess sets off from where it began, London, and British Victorian and Edwardian stables. British Empire and all that hurrah!  Dr Who is re-colonising the world, including the USA.

Extra Features

There were some extra features, and we got to view Who and Clara (Jenna Coleman) at the first script reading of Episode 8:1 with the other actors.  You see here just how brilliant these actors are and how much talent is required to pull this stuff off.

The real hero for me was the writing.  The dialogue is quick, witty and fun.  The show is able to be hilarious, almost cartoonish, yet sinister and moving. Not many shows can achieve that (and over 50 years?): Dr Who does this in Zygorian spades.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the first episode.

•12Dr and Silurian Vastra: “I never bother with sleeping. I just do standing-up cat naps.”
”And when do you do that?” 
”Generally, when everyone else is talking. I like to skip ahead to my bits [of the script].”

• “I could use it to blow this whole room if I see one thing I don’t like, and that includes karaoke and mimes.”

• “He’s seen stars fall to dust. You might as well flirt with a mountain range.”

• “I need clothes. Yes, clothes and a big, long scarf. No… never mind that. That’ll look stupid.”

• “Have you ever looked in a mirror and thought, ‘I’ve seen that face before’?”

• Re the same sex marriage between Vastra and Jenny…”I don’t like her, ma’am, I love her. And as to different, well, she’s a lizard.”

Great relaunch and reincarnation.  Full of change and re-setting, with lots of back to the Future and framing the future with the Past.  Dr Who just keeps us guessing. We-oo-o-ooo.

~ John Stringer.

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A View from the Bridge

July 21st, 2014 at 4:46 pm by David Farrar

Another Arthur Miller classic has just started at Circa, A View from the Bridge.

The promotional tagline is “Love. Loyalty. Family. Revenge” and that is a fairly pithy summary of the play.

Eddie and Beatrice Carbone are an Italian-American family in Brooklyn. Gavin Rutherford and Jude Gibson both do excellent jobs of emulating the distinctive twang we associate with such families.

Eddie and Beatrice are guardians to Eddie’s niece Catherine, played by Acushla-Tara Sutton. Catherine’s parents are dead and her mother was Eddie’s sister. She’s 17 and debating whether to stay at school or enter the workforce.

Eddie, Beatrice and Catherine are a loving family. They argue, but they are there for each other. Then the family extends as they take in two cousins of Beatrice’s from Sicily. Marco and Rodolpho are illegal immigrants who have come to America as there are no jobs or income back home. Marco has a wife and young children back home. Marco is single. they are played by Alex Grieg and Paul Waggott respectively. The sixth cast member is Christopher Brougham who plays the lawyer and narrator Alfieri.

As with almost all Miller plays, they are dramatic portayals of the tensions within a family. And this has tensions in all directions:

  • Eddie’s over-protective attitude towards Catherine goes from paternalistic to creepy
  • Eddie and Beatrice’s strained needy relationship
  • The blossoming love between Rodolpho and Catherine
  • The suspicion that Rodolpho may be more interested in a green card than Catherine, and may not even be that interested in women
  • The protective attitude of Marco to Rodolpho
  • The Sicilian and Italian attitudes towards family and honour

Susan Wilson directs a very faithful and compelling recital of the Miller play. The 80 minute first half sets the scene, with the tension building slowly, and the 40 minute second half is full of explosive tension, which keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The play was once banned in the 1950s by the UK Lord Chancellor. Today it would not even get a PG rating.

This is a play about passion, and the cast succeed in portraying this. You feel yourself swept into a maelstrom of emotions. You wonder about whether the over-protectiveness is sinister or just inappropriate. The question of Rodolpho’s intentions tease you throughout the play. I suspect if you polled the audience, they would be divided 50/50 on whether he loves Catherine or not.

The play has a dramatic conclusion, yet it also (deliberately) leaves many questions unanswered. If Miller had ever written a sequel set ten years later, I think that would also have become a classic.

This is the 5th Arthur Miller play directed by Susan Wilson. It was an excellent production as good as you’ll see anywhere. A very good night’s entertainment.

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The road that wasn’t there

July 14th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Road That Wasn’t There is a smart, short delightful production at Circa.

The play starts with Gabriel furiously stamping papers in an office job in Australia. He rushes through them to try and grab the phone, but always missed it and it goes to voice mail. The fact the phone is a 1950s type phone just makes the incongruity fun.

The set is a collection of cardboard boxes that get turned over or removed to announce each new chapter. One of the boxes also double as a projection screen, where a series of shadow figures are creatively displayed.

The plot is simple, yet convoluted. Gabriel returns home as his mother seems to be going nuts, including stealing maps and hanging them all over her house. The mother eventually tells Gabriel the story of his father – which is a fairy tale involving paper roads, Blanket Man, monsters and and a theatrical company.

Everything works well in this play. The three actors entertain wonderfully. The shadows and the puppets are delightful, and the story captures you. You want to know how it ends.

A great play that appeals to all ages. On until Sat 19 July.

 

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Equivocation

June 8th, 2014 at 8:19 pm by David Farrar

Just got back from seeing Equivocation, at Circa. It’s on for two more weeks until Sat 21 June.

The play is about telling the truth in difficult times, with a fictitious setting of Shakespeare having been commissioned to write a play based on Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot. Does Shakespeare tell the truth about the plot, or the version the Government in the form of Sir Robert Cecil wants?

The cast has five men who play multiple roles each, and one woman – Tai Berdinner-Blades who plays Shakespeare’s daughter Judith.

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Andrew Foster plays Shakespeare - still grieving his dead son (Judith’s twin) and having to choose between choosing to lie or choosing to live.

Paul McLaughlin play Shakespeare friend and troupe actor Richard. he also plays Jesuit Henry Garnet.

Tom Eason plays young actor Sharpe, and King James I.

Jason Whyte plays an older actor Nate, but also the sinister Sir Robert Cecil.

And finally Gavin Rutherford is at his comic best playing Armin and many other roles.

It’s a long play, almost three hours long (including an interval). The first Act was a bit slow, but the second Act was fast paced and often funny.

The play breaks pretty much the first, second, third and fourth walls. You’re never quite sure if you’re seeing the play, seeing them play a rehearsal, seeing them play a play – or just seeing them talk to the audience. There’s lots of audience interaction – especially for those in the aisles.

The acting was first class, with all six cast playing their roles very well. The costume changes were non-stop, and the overall plot very cleverly done with many allusions to other plays – especially the Scottish one. It was a fun thought provoking night.

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2b or nt 2b

May 18th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Went last night to the opening performances of 2b or nt 2b and 4 Billion Likes!

They’re two different shows, but both performed by 1st Gear Productions Youth Theatre and written and directed by Sarah  Delahunty.

2b or nt 2b

This was a well acted and produced performance of six iconic fictional characters in the modern world.

Bronwyn Ensor plays the manipulative Hedda Gabler.

Neenah Dekkers is an emo like Masha.

Michael Trigg is a woeful Hamlet.

Alice Orchard is Irina Sergeyevna Prozorva.

Sylvie McCreanor is a very angry and bitter Antigone.

Georgie Sivier is a babbling lovely Helena.

The play starts with them all ringing various companies for assistance, and there is much humour with some very well known automated call systems trying to cope with their requests.

Then they discover an online bulletin board, where they get chatting to each  other. Hedda convinces them all to meet the Bridge to Nowhere (now in the Hutt!) and go out in style. Their meeting is both dramatic and funny. Antigone and Hamlet compete for who has the worst uncle (she wins) while Masha is hilarious talking about how miserable her life is working in the Foxton PostShop.

The play is 60 minutes long, and was very enjoyable. The six actors all succeed in bringing their characters to life, and the blending of historical fiction with the modern world is nicely done.

4 Billion Likes

Neenah Dekkers returns after the interval to play Chloe Anderson from Hamilton in a sole performance. I’d call Chloe a dumb blonde, if she wasn’t brunette. But her character is wonderfully played as a self-obssessed teenager who blogs about her attempts to lose 2 kgs in a few days. Lots of humour as she complains that the webpage that told her she can do it by just drinking water didn’t mention she needs to exercise also – and how can you exercise if you have only been drinking water!

The play is almost non stop laughs for the first two thirds. Dekkers nails the role, and her trite observations have you cracking up. But in an excellent turn of events, the play then deals with a very serious issue, and you go from laughter to breathless silence as the final scene plays out. A real emotional roller coaster.

What is nice is how trite observations at the beginning of the play, turn out to be very meaningful towards the end – and it forms a nice homily to the power of social media to do good, as well as the social.

The two plays combined to produce a very enjoyable, but also thought provoking, night.

 

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Other Desert Cities

May 2nd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I saw Other Desert Cities at Circa this week.

It’s a local production of the play written by Jon Robin Baitz, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and nominated for five Tony Awards in 2012. Baitz wrote some episodes for the West Wing and created the Brothers & Sisters TV show.

The play is set in 2004 (and 2010) about the Wyeths, and the family, social and political tensions that threaten to tear the family apart. It is directed by Ross Jolly

Lyman Wyeth is the retired father who is a likeable patrician. He is a former senior GOP Chairman and US Ambassador, and his conservative views are not shared by his New York based daughter and to a degree his son. Lyman is ably played by Jeffrey Thomas (played  Thrór in The Hobbit) and you really would think he is America (actually Welsh) with his accent and mannerisms.

Polly Wyeth is the “hard arse” mother who is pretty unlikeable, and pushes her children hard as she thinks weakness means they will fail. She is reputed to have once reduced Nancy Reagan to tears, and Catherine Downes does well in bringing her to life.

Polly’s sister Silda adds a lot of comic value. She lives with them as she is a (recovering) alcoholic. Emma Kinane has fun with the role, and she is a real contrast to her sister.

The son, Trip, doesn’t have as key a role as the others. He is the peace maker between his sister and his parents. He’s a reality TV show producer (court TV) and even his parents admit he is addicted to porn and sex. Paul Waggott makes Trip the likable character that everyone tries to get on side.

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Photo by Stephen A’Court.

The protagonist is daughter Brooke. A New York based writer who had a breakdown, partly caused by the suicide of her brother after he took part in a terrorist bombing of a military installation. She has finally written her second book, but what her family don’t know is that the book is about the death of her brother – and what drove him to it. Michelle Langstone excels in portraying Brooke as both strong and vulnerable.

The family feel betrayed by her writing about such a personal tragedy to them, and even worse her parents feel they are being blamed and vilified for it.

As with all good plays, there are some wonderful surprises and twists in the plot. The play is two and a quarter hours long and has bucket loads of drama, and a reasonable dose of humour.

The US accents are near flawless, and the director told me they had a special voice coach for them. You really would think it was a production with US actors.

The acting is excellent, both with the script, and the body language.

I found the portrayal of the parents slightly too stereotypical for comfort, but stereotypes are often false – and the play is a good reminder of that.

Overall a very good drama, and a satisfying – if somewhat mysterious ending.

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Barefaced stories in NZ

March 3rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Went to my final fringe show on Saturday night, which was Barefaced Stories in New Zealand, at Bats.

It’s a simple but effective concept. Two Perth entertainers compere a session of story telling, with five locals getting up and telling a true story.

The first story was my favourite – the girl who went to a Flavour Flav show and then got invited back stage, and then out to a drink at a bar and finally up to his hotel room.

Also amusing was the guy who was so hung up on his ex girlfriend, he was unsure whether to go back to a tent with two girls who invited him in.

Another story was more sad, about suicide.

To a degree the highlights were actually the two Perth entertainers. They read out extracts from the diaries they both wrote as 14 year old teenage girls. The passages were often hilarious.

The show lasted around 80 minutes. Was on for one night only. Would go to a similar show again.

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Power Plant

February 27th, 2014 at 10:00 pm by David Farrar

Just been on a media preview of Power Plant, which opens tomorrow at the Botanical Gardens. It’s superb, and a must see. You start at the Cable Car and follow a 50 to 60 minute loop path through the gardens. Not only is there a great array of different lighting on the plants, the sound effects merge in wonderfully also.

Below are a few photos to give you an idea of the different sights. I understand it is already fully booked up this weekend, but it carries on until the 16th of March.

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Well done to Contact Energy and the production team for a great spectacle.

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Bus Ticket

February 27th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Never thought I would have such a good time spending an hour on a bus, but I did last night during Bus Ticket, at the Fringe Festival.

The show starts at the bus stop on Cambridge Terrace where you get an amusing briefing (by coincidence by one of my former staff) and then the bus pulls up. You take you seats and wonder where things will head.

After a few minutes you notice a couple of passengers behaving strangely. You have no idea who are cast, and who are fellow passengers. The girl in front of us basically changes into her more glam clothes on the bus, does her makeup using the bus mirror and even brushes her teeth. this is because her boyfriend gets on the bus at a later stop.

Another girl is rather ADD and blurts out random facts and asks people both on the bus and outside if they will be her friend and go clubbing with her. The people outside the bus not knowing this is a production look very surprised at having someone yell out inviting them to go clubbing.

One poor guy just misses the bus and runs after it in his suit. He is really fast and a sprinter – almost catching it but not quite. He reappears to comical effect all over Wellington. The bus even breaks down for a while and you decamp into a park which sees some more drama. Some of the audience get pulled into the production – but not in a major way.

Overall the show is a pretty hilarious 60 minute voyeur session. The bus moves all around the city and suburbs and various cast get on and off and all add to the drama. If you travel on a bus, some of the scenes will be very familiar – the loud businessman on his phone. The fighting couple. The nervous traveller. The overly talkative girl.

The show was lots of fun, and a very neat concept that would have required a lot of logistical planning.  The show is sold out (no surprise) but if they ever do another one, I’d recommend going along for the most fun you’ll ever have on a Wellington City bus!

 

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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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Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular

February 22nd, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular debuted at the TSB Arena last night. I can’t think of a better word for it than spectacular, as it was. I had high expectations of a great night out, and they were exceeded. It was great on every level. For Dr who fans, it was a fantastic experience, and the arena was packed full of fans from kids to grandparents who have been watching it for 50 years. A fair few were even in costume.

The musical side was superb, with the NZSO led by Dr Who specialist conductor Ben Foster. Wellington’s Orpehus Choir provided backups and there were some stunning solos by Anna (?Pierard). The music alone was reason to go. But there was so much more.

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Each piece was accompanied with clips from the show. Some of them were episodes I had seen, and some were new to me. But for all of them, the music and visuals told a great story which made speech unnecessary. Most were of the 11th doctor, Matt Smith, but a couple were compilations of all 13 doctors, including a regeneration series.

Talking of Doctors, the show was narrated by a youthful looking Peter Davison (No 5) and a couple of video clips from a less youthful Tom Baker (No 4). Conductor Ben Foster also took to the microphone a bit, with a very funny scene in which the Dalek proclaimed he must be exterminated for over-acting.

Yes there were Daleks. They were on stage, and in the aisles along with Cybermen, the Silence,Silurians, Ood, Weeping Angels and a Jodoon.

The show has been going around the world for the last year or so, but it has been updated. This version included songs based on the the most recent specials such as the Day of the Doctor.

It was a great show. Everything worked. A very fitting homage to the 50th anniversary of an iconic show.

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The Bloody Benders

February 20th, 2014 at 10:07 pm by David Farrar

Just got back from seeing the Bloody Benders at the Fringe Festival. A really great show, that has mass appeal. Some fringe shows are an acquired taste, but this one will appeal to almost everyone.

The blurb is:

What’s a love-struck teenage serial killer to do, when your next victim seems to be the love of your life? And on top of that, your mother talks too much, your dad doesn’t talk enough and your brother hangs on every word you say. Some things are just a little too close for comfort and Kate Bender Jr. soon finds out that growing up in a household where murder is the family business is deadlier than any weapon she’s ever wielded. Inspired by a true story, The Bloody Benders, an exciting new horror-comedy presented by the Killer Darlings Collective promises to deliver pure escapist theatre with a side serving of emotional heft. 

The play is based on a real family of serial killers.

The two Kates are the stars of the show. Kate Jr (played by Kate Hounsell) does the menancing crazed look so well, while Kate Sr (played by Hannah Kelly) is superb as the slightly out of it mother.  The mother – daughter fights are superbly done, with pouting, face pulling and sighs.

David Williams has a brief role in the beginning as Hank McCoy and Jonathan Harris plays the father, John Bender. A major role was also played by Ben Emerson whose relationship with Kate Jr was teasingly played out. Emerson was excellent in portraying a nervous suitor.

There are a couple of yucky and shocking twists, but they just add to the fun.  Most of the audience were laughing throughout the play, and it got a great reception at the end.

As I said some fringe shows are, well a bit fringe. This show has real mainstream appeal and if you want to see it, its final night is tomorrow (Friday) night.

My only complaint was that the venue (Museum of City and Sea) wasn’t set up ideally with no elevated stage for the actors, which meant it was a bit hard to see some of the action from the back.

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De Sade

February 20th, 2014 at 8:32 am by David Farrar

Went to see De Sade at the Fringe Festival last night, along with Striker. Jadis was in town also so we grabbed a third ticket. The blurb for the show is:

de Sade, a tour through the depths of the darkest mind that ever existed, premieres as part of the 2014 New Zealand Fringe Festival and will be performed from 19-22 February at the Cavern Club Allen Street. Alexander Sparrow – writer and comedian – will become the Marquis de Sade for four nights only. For everything you need to know about fetishism, sadism, and everything in between, de Sade will give you your fill on the writer of 120 Days of Sodom and Juliette.

Sparrow says, “The Marquis spent most of his life in prison, but imagine if he hadn’t. Imagine a school of sadism and rioting. This show will divide the masses – he wanted a republic, he wanted complete sexual freedom, he wanted a world that was impossible to build for the destruction it would cause.”

A comedian and writer on the Wellington circuit, Sparrow’s show is going to be a insane mix of sadistic acts, fetishism, history, and wit. “de Sade wasn’t just disgusting – he could be hilarious and cheeky too. There’s more to him than his books.” 

This is an hour of chaotic ecstasy from the king of sadism himself. It’s time to tear apart society and screw in the streets. It’s time to rid ourselves of the monarchy. “It’s time, dear reader, to have a little fun.” 

You descend into the Cavern Club and the first thing you note is the naked man lying on the table at the front of the room. We sensibly decide not to sit in the front row and enjoy the couch at the back.

Sadly for the women in the audience the nudity is temporary, which is possibly not a bad thing as Sparrow’s mother and sister were in the audience. We learn this as the Marquis talks about how he would like to have sex with everyone in the audience (and then breaking the wall mentions he didn’t realise his mother and sister would be here).

Sparrow does a fun charismatic portrayal of the Marquis. He rants against his mother-in-law who got him committed, and talks about the awfulness of a man so devoted to sexual pursuits being locked in prison by himself for most of his life.

In case it is not obvious from the show blurb, this is not a show for prudes or shrinking violets. We see his masturbation calendar where he indicates he has had to masturbate 400 times in the last six months. He the admits that when you break it down to a daily basis, it isn’t that impressive!

The audience get pulled into the show in various ways. At one point he is talking about his novel Justine. Jadis helpfully offered that the book is too long (1000 pages) and his eyes light up at having found an audience member who has (presumably) read the book. This leads to him asking Jadis to go up on stage and beat him with a crop. The unfortunate thing for the Marquis is that Jadis is a former provincial cricketer and can swing a bat quite well. After a couple of painful blows, he substitutes her for his mother!

During one part of the show he exhorts the audience to look at the person next to you, find some features that are attractive, and tell them what they are and how much you would like to have sex with them. This pushed Striker and I into fits of laughter, as she works for me, and I’m pretty sure a conversation along the lines of that proposed by the Marquis would breach a number of employment laws! He later asked if Jadis and I were married, and I explained that the three of us worked together and this was a work outing. He said he was very keen to come work at Curia also!

So the show was lots of fun, and the audience participation hilarious. Despite what you may think, it was a bit tame. I think Sparrow could have pushed the boundaries more. The first segment was a bit slow to warm up also. But Sparrow did well to keep the audience engaged and laughing, and slightly nervous. It was a fun classic Fringe show.

The show ends with him answering the question whether he has regrets and whether given the chance he would do it differently. I’ll leave it to you to find out the answer, if you go to the show. It’s on for three more nights.

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The 7 person chair pyramid high wire act

February 14th, 2014 at 3:36 pm by David Farrar

I went along to The 7 person chair pyramid high wire act at Puppies Bar on Tory Street on Wednesday Night. The blurb is:

In the wilds of Siberia, Charles Darwin goes off in search of the Yeti. The Yeti (if she exists) enters a radio station’s dance contest, hoping to win an all-expenses-paid vacation to a place that doesn’t exist yet. Darwin’s research companion—a little brown bat—falls in love with the radio station’s electromagnetic emissions—but how could that ever end happily? Meanwhile, Siberia’s caves are home to a secretive tribe of ropemakers—but their disintegrating family structure may cause their ancient craft to be lost forever. Through the lens of the real life allegory of the Flying Wallendas’ famous high-wire act, two performers on a tiny stage unfold Darwin’s laboratory, unfurl anatomic diagrams of the yeti, and try to tease out the difference between miracles and non-miracles.

The fringe festival show was at Puppies Bar, which is a very small and intimate bar on the corner of Tory and Vivian Street. Quite nice to be able to watch it from comfortable couches.

The show is performed from a sort of Punch and Judy style box. Both the actor and actress are clad in wonderfully garish lycra, which makes her claim to be the electromagnetic spectrum quite plausible.

The show was amusing and ridiculous in equal parts. I enjoyed it, but the overall message it was trying to send was somewhat laboured and it never really got me engaged.  It was a bit too abstract for me, but will appeal to those who are into more symbolic productions. The acting was good, and both leads had a quirky charisma about them. I enjoyed the ending about the The Flying Wallendas, but overall wasn’t quite my cup of tea.

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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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The Wolf of Wall Street

January 5th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Wolf of Wall Street, a controversial tale of financial greed, orgies and drug-taking starring Leonardo DiCaprio, has set a record for profanity in a major Hollywood movie.

It uses the F-word 506 times during its 180-minute running time – that’s once every 21 seconds.

The Martin Scorsese-directed film, a blockbuster hit in Kiwi cinemas this summer, eclipsed the previous record held by Spike Lee’s 1999 movie Summer of Sam, which notched up 435 mentions, according to Variety, the entertainment industry trade publication.

I saw The Wolf of Wall Street on Friday night in Hamilton, and loved it. A three hour movie is either going to be great or unendurable. It was the former. Just cracked up laughing so often. The highlight or lowlight was when the future wife of the Jordan Belfort walks into a party.

Funnily enough I didn’t even notice the profanity. Maybe it is partly because the F work hardly registers as a shocking word anymore (unless used directly at someone) but partly because it just fitted the environment the film depicted.

Some people will hate this film, but most people will love it.

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An officer and a spy

November 15th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Managed to read An Officer and A Spy on Wednesday while flying to and from Auckland. It’s a novel by Robert Harris, based on the Dreyfus Affair.

Harris is an excellent novelist. Fatherland is the novel he is probably most well-known for. He has also written some very good historical fiction books around Pompeii and Cicero.

I had been generally aware of the Dreyfus Affair, but not to any great detail. Harris brings it to life, with his novel written from the point of view of Georges Picquart.

Two things struck me while reading the novel.

The first was how horrendous the gross miscarriage of justice was that saw Dreyfus convicted on next to no evidence, but even worse how the Army used forgeries and worse to persist in trying to prove he was a traitor, and the malice against those who produced evidence to the contrary. Even worse was that they then moved to protect the real traitor, just so they would not have to admit they were wrong.

The second is the extent of antisemitism in France 100 years ago. The Holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis did not come about in a vacuum. Antisemitic sentiments were strong in many parts of Europe, and people were quite happy to see an innocent patriotic solider rot in an island prison just because he was a Jew.

Anyway if you’re a student of history, I can recommend the book as an excellent read.

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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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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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Book of Mormon

August 7th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Book of Mormon tickets are sold out almost up to a year in advance, unless you pay around US$450 a ticket for premium tickets. On our first day in New York we checked the theatre out and by chance they were having their daily lottery, where for half an hour you enter into a draw and 11 sets of 2 tickets are drawn out, which you can buy for $32 only. There’s over 200 people queued up, so your chances are around 5%, and we didn’t win.

We saw Chicago instead, which was really good. But didn’t give up on seeing Book of Mormon, and so I headed down early Saturday morning to queue up and see if any tickets were available from overnight cancellations. Jackpot – there were. I managed to get two tickets in the very middle of the theatre just six rows from the front. Perfect. And the tickets were at a more affordable price, so all go.

The show was the funniest show I have ever been to in my life, and probably ever will go to. I can’t undersell how great it was – not just the humour, but the sets, the costumes, the script, the acting, the music. At the end of the show, all 1,100 in the audience gave a huge standing ovation.

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The musical won nine Tony awards, and was called the best musical of this century by a New York Times reviewer. It is by far the hardest show on Broadway to get tickets for.

The show was created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker of Southpark fan. However it is definitely not a musical version of Southpark. It is about two Mormon missionaries – the charismatic one with the huge future and the nerdy overweight one. Elder Price (The former one) is sure he is going to be posted to Orlando (his dream location) but instead gets Uganda with Elder Cunningham.

Their attempts to get the locals interested in the Book of Mormon, are hilarious. A highlight is when they are telling the locals how God cursed the Lamanites with black skin so they would not be so enticing to the Nephites (which is in the Book of Mormon). As their all black audience stares at them, they stutter and suggest they skip that part.

The villagers are more worried about AIDs, a local warlord that wants to circumcise all the women in the village, famine and poverty. Their way of coping with such gloom is to sing and chant “Hasa Diga Eebowai”. The mormon elders join in until they ask what it means and get told “Eebowai” means “God and “Hasa Diga” means “Fuck you”.

But don’t think this is an anti-mormon, or even anti-religious show. While it does mock and lampoon some of the proclamations in the Book of Mormon, it portrays Mormons as very kind well-intentioned people, and at the end of the show you have the villagers saying that they understand the book is about parables and metaphors, and not to be taken literally – so they should follow the intent, if not the the literal word.

The LDS Church has not condoned or condemned the show, and even advertise in the show programme suggesting people try the actual book, as being even better than the musical. It is a rare thing to hilariously lampoon a religion, but to do so in a way that is funny, not nasty, and even respectful in an obtuse way.

As I said, the show was beyond first class. If you plan to be in New York at any stage, then book tickets as far in advance as you can.

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The guy on the left is Matt Doyle who played Elder Price. He has a hilarious dream scene where he thinks he gets sent to hell due to his sins, and there he meets Jeffrey Dahlmer, a very gay leather clad Adolph Hitler, Genghis Khan and amusingly famed defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

It’s great the stars come out after the show to do autographs and photos.

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This is Cody Jamison Strand, who played Elder Cunningham. He succeeds where no-one else does, in converting the whole village to Mormonism. However he is a pathological liar, and having not read the Book of Mormon, he just invented his own. All goes well, until the LDS President visits to congratulate them, and the local village puts on a performance of their own based on Elder Cunningham’s teachings, without him knowing they planned to do this.

All I’ll say is I’ll never look on frogs the same again!

If Book of Mormon ever tours to New Zealand, I’ll be going again. Hell if I’m in New York again, I’ll try to go again. It really is the musical of the century.

 

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Yes Prime Minister

July 9th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Around a year ago I purchased tickets for the Wellington production of “Yes, Prime Minister”, based on the famous TV series of the 1980s.

So with great excitement on Friday night I went along to the State Opera House to see the show.

However I left slightly disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a very good show, and I enjoyed it. It is definitely worth seeing if you enjoy politics and humour.

But it was also a reminder of how almost perfect the TV series was. The actors, the scripts, the mannerisms were sublime.

I spent the first 15 minutes of the show thinking that isn’t how Sir Humphrey would speak, that Bernard is too old, and that Jim Hacker not enough of a klutz.

After a while you do get used to the new cast, but they don’t gel quite as well as the originals.

The plot, which is needing a deal with a fictional Middle East state for an oil pipline to bail out Europe is well done, and has some classic elements of the show such as Sir Humphrey trying to sneak past Hacker that the deal will require the UK to join the Euro.

All in all, a good show, and a pleasant reminder of the TV series. But not in the same league.

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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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