NZ at Edinburgh 2014

I can’t believe August is fast approaching and soon I’ll be off to Edinburgh again for the largest arts festival in the world!  This year’s Fringe is particularly exciting for me because of the amount of New Zealand productions that will be making an appearance.

NZ at Edinburgh 3Thanks to the support from Creative New Zealand, over 200 artists will be presenting their work throughout the various Edinburgh festivals: the Edinburgh International Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Edinburgh Art Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival and of course, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

This is the first time such a large group of NZ performers have been invited to participate and with an audience of four million each year, this is such a fantastic opportunity for NZ to showcase the country’s exceptional pool of talent and immense creativity in performing arts.

NZ at Edinburgh 1Included in the season are internationally acclaimed director Lemi Ponifasio and his company MAU; Auckland Theatre Company, the city’s flagship professional theatre company; composer Gareth Farr; Pasifika theatre group Kila Kokonut Krew; pianist Michael Houstoun; Te Matatini’s national kapa haka champions; dance company Black Grace; author Witi Ihimaera and many more.

I feel very fortunate to have been allocated to review a number of shows in the season.

NZ at Edinburgh 4While I am looking forward to them all, I am really excited for Royale Productions’ The Generation of Z.  I attended the first version of the show – then called Apocalypse Z – back in Auckland and was blown away by the experience.  It completely eradicates any concept of a Fourth Wall and takes interactive theatre to a whole new level.  If you like your theatre on the unconventional side and you enjoy a good scare, I cannot recommend this enough! (Here’s my review.)

So if you are heading to Edinburgh in August, do check something out from the NZ at Edinburgh 2014 season.  From dance and theatre to visual arts and kapa haka (Māori performing arts), there is something for every performing arts taste bud.

And while you’re at it, do also drop by The Backyard at the Roxy bar exclusively at Roxy Assembly to try the best of NZ’s craft beer and cider, organic soft drinks, award-winning wine and delicious coffee.  Intended to recreate the ambiance of a relaxed NZ villa garden in the middle of summer, the bar will be decked out with bean bags, deck chairs and designer street art, all provided by NZ designers.

For more information on the NZ at Edinburgh 2014 season, check out nzatedinburgh.com.  To check out the shows on offer, click here.

NZ_at_Edinburgh_logoYou can follow all my theatre and comedy reviews throughout the Edinburgh Festival Fringe here – if you go there now you can check out my reviews from last year!

This post is also featured on Keeping Up With NZ.

The National Theatre: War Horse

War HorseWith a stellar cast, superb set and sound design and most especially the remarkably executed puppetry, War Horse is well worth the ticket price.  What I feel is truly priceless about this production is how it is able to so masterfully inject life and emotion in to what is essentially a mechanical prosthesis to invoke in its audience a genuinely emotional response.

Based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo and directed by Alex Sims, this page to stage adaptation by Nick Stafford is an extraordinary tale told through a rich tapestry of arresting visuals, haunting song and breathtaking physical theatre.  Set in 1914, War Horse tells the story of Joey, a young and spirited horse who finds himself at the face of battle when he is sent to work for the English cavalry in World War I.  As Joey sets off on his undoubtedly dangerous journey as a war horse, we also follow sixteen-year-old Albert who, determined to be reunited with Joey, goes on a perilous mission to bring his horse home.

The highlight of this production is definitely the skilled and intricate use of puppetry to portray the animal characters in the story, namely Joey, the play’s titular character.  It is no easy feat getting the audience to invest in a character that is not human let alone one that is inanimate.  However this is accomplished effortlessly thanks to the exceptional workmanship by Handspring Puppet Company, outstanding horse choreography from Toby Sedgwick and a team of extremely talented puppeteers.

War Horse - Joey and TopthornThe trio of puppeteers who bring Joey to life do so with staggering believability; they are a well-oiled machine, seamlessly and intuitively working as one unit to make you suspend your disbelief and have you care, feel and root for the character.  It is astonishing to think that even though you are clearly looking at a puppet and reminded of this constantly as the puppeteers are always in view, all of this never distracts or detracts from the story and seem to just fade in to the background.  You are completely convinced that you are seeing a real horse before your eyes and the same can be said of all the other puppet characters.

Puppets aside, the human characters are just as well cast and all give excellent and polished performances.  I also really liked the simple ‘scrap of parchment’ that makes up the backdrop of the stage which is used to clever, creative effect to convey time and location throughout the narrative.  Another thing that impressed me was how well the space was used.  There are often many performers in the same scene at one time but all aspects of the stage are so well organized and choreographed that it never once felt cluttered or over-crowded.

War Horse is an absolute theatrical masterpiece – utterly gripping, incredibly moving and emotionally stirring.  It provides what I think is quite a unique perspective on war and delivers a powerful message of friendship, unwavering loyalty and unrelenting courage even at the face of adversity.

5-stars

War Horse is at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until April 26th.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

To find out where War Horse is going next and when, go to warhorseonstage.com

MICF 2014: The Axis of Awesome – Viva La Vida Loca Las Vegas

Axis of Awesome - MICF 2014Reviewed by The Laughing Kiwi

Many may perceive this comedy rock band as a one-hit-wonder as they are most known for one particular song on YouTube however if you were to dig deeper, you will soon discover they are anything but. The Axis of Awesome are a pop rock sensation that specialize in parodying hit songs.

Viva La Vida Loca Las Vegas begins with a perfect parodied medley of the three songs that created the show’s title: Viva La Vida (Coldplay), Living La Vida Loca (Ricky Martin) and Viva Las Vegas (Elvis). Fortunately this is an excellent combination that appeals to all of the age groups in the audience who immediately rise to the mood of the occasion.

The band’s set is a good mix of their newer songs as well as reprising some songs from their first album, Animal Vehicle.  Jordan Raskopoulos has the energy levels of the crowd on a consistent high as any band front-man would while guitarist Lee Naimo demonstrates some deliberately transparent character work, most notably in a one-man song about his criminal ways. Both Raskopoulos and Naimo use their trademarked “picking on the little guy” on keyboardist Benny Davis throughout the show to great comic effect.

After a multitude of syllable perfect parodies and some original works, the band open up the show for some audience participation which gave them a chance to get intimate with their audience.  No doubt every evening’s performance will bring something different; for the show I attended there was shameless dad-dancing going on and also some “Choke ’n’ Stroke” action – something you’ll only fully enjoy when seeing it live.

The show wraps up with the band’s constantly evolving claim to fame Four Chords song. This song – which is possibly the only musical remix to contain Elvis, Green Day and Miley Cyrus together – is a clear crowd favourite, getting laughter of recommendation almost every fifteen seconds.

All in all, The Axis of Awesome delivered a very fun and well-formatted ‘rockstravaganza’. It is a high energy and highly theatrical show which will bring a smile to everyone.

4-stars

The Axis of Awesome are performing at The Famous Spiegeltent at Federation Square every day throughout the festival.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

If you are impressed by Benny’s performance in the band, you should also check him out at the Hi-Fi Bar on April 17th where he will be doing some of his solo stuff as his alternate persona ‘The Human Jukebox’.

*Editor note: I went to see Benny’s debut show at the Edinburgh Fringe last year – check out my Broadway Baby review here.

MICF 2014: Lindsay Webb – What’s Your Name, What Do You Do?

Lindsay Webb - MICF 2014Reviewed by The Laughing Kiwi

The title of this show should give away the premise, forewarning the audience that this will be quite an interactive show. After a brief introduction and some witty throw-away jokes, Lindsay Webb lulls the audience in to the sense of safety and security which is all but mandatory for a show that requires us to be relaxed and happy enough to reply to his inquisitions without hesitation.

What’s Your Name, What Do You Do? is either spectacular improv or a seamless display of well-honed and rehearsed one liner responses to the most common of answers to his questions. Regardless of which it is this aspect of the show appeared effortless and flawless, with Webb showing that he was as relaxed with what he was delivering, as we were to hear it.

In the last twenty minutes, Webb drops his guard and lets us in to his world. He recounts an event which clearly panicked him at the time, or at least played upon his paranoia, and had the audience on the edge of their seats, listening to every detail. This brilliant tale brought forth a multitude of laughs from the crowd, particularly at Webb’s guilt, and while his pain was obvious, sometimes that’s the hit you need to take for your art.

Even though the show I attended had a disappointing turnout, there were no awkward silences and Webb had everyone in the room laughing hard. The fact that he was able to get so much from such a small crowd speaks volumes in and of itself for the quality of his work.

What’s Your Name, What Do You Do? is a brilliant hour of comedy. It is a beautifully choreographed play on words expertly delivered to the standard that one would expect from a comedian as seasoned as this nine year veteran of comedy.

4-stars

Lindsay Webb is performing at the Downstairs Lounge at the Swanston Hotel until April 20th (not Mondays).  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

MICF 2014: Timothy Clark and Sam Petersen – Prettygoodfellas

Prettygoodfellas - MICF 2014Reviewed by The Laughing Kiwi

I would have loved to have seen the initial ideas being thrown around for this show. Regardless of how it was conceived, the end result is a well-rehearsed show that is packed with larrikinism.

The concept of Prettygoodfellas is a simple one: Timothy Clark and Sam Petersen always wanted to be what they call ‘gangster comedians’. In this show they get to do just that; pulling off the heist of the century and bringing the audience along for the ride.

At the start of the show, we are informed that we are hostages and are left hoping that if their jokes “kill”, that it’s purely metaphorically. Clark and Petersen are suitably clad for the occasion and they each get a turn to deliver a solo set.

Sam ‘Hairtrigger’ Petersen is up first and his material ranges from politics at home to stories of true London hospitality. The duo are then reunited briefly and some discussion is had about how their heist is going. Authorities are consulted, an audience spokesman is chosen before Tim “Wildcard” Clark takes to the stage. During his set, he dispels rumours of flatting, rolls out some fantastic pop culture and music references, and tells us tales of exposure to semi-racist dad jokes.

Complete with audio cameos from Greg Fleet and a surprise appearance from a well-known big name, Prettygoodfellas constantly has you wondering where it’s going to go next. The show’s climax has some brilliant reveals and a spectacular plot twist. There is also some over-acting that would be perfectly at home alongside Ian Smith (or “Harold” from Neighbours as he is better known as on the panto circuit in England), yet it still manages to perfectly fit in to the show’s premise and with the personality of the comedians.

Clark and Petersen were clearly nervous on the night as it was their first performance and show together and while there is a lot of room for improvement, considering it is their first production, the show is well delivered. They are definitely comedians to watch and I look forward to watching them develop and seeing what they produce when they are more seasoned.

3-starsPrettygoodfellas is at the Imperial Hotel every day throughout the festival.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

MICF 2014: I love Green Guide Letters with Steele Saunders

I love Green Guide LettersReviewed by The Laughing Kiwi

Steele Saunders’ comedy podcast is an interesting concept and one that is not too hard to get behind.  I love Green Guide Letters is, put simply, about complaining and having a go at people who love to complain.

There have been a number of regulars appear over the show’s lifetime, both as contributors to the Green Guide letters and as guests making an appearance.  There was even a road trip to meet one of the most proliferous letter writers at his retirement home to do a live, on-site recording.

This podcast is a brilliant chance to hear some of your favourite comedians sit and chat for about twenty minutes before going on to attack the Green Guide for content.  Occasionally Saunders raids the Green Guide archives and brings a classic letter to the fore.  My personal favourite was the Glenn Robins episode where all of his characters were routinely assassinated by the letter-writing public.

Seeing the fanbase that his podcast was gaining, Saunders was among the first to begin a live podcast recording tradition during comedy festivals.  Now it is not surprising to see live podcasts every year at the Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane comedy festivals.

I love Green Guide Letters is not for everyone but it is a great opportunity to meet the creators and the guests, many of whom bring some of the biggest laughs at the festival.  The best part is if you can’t be there, or even if you are there, you can listen to it later and enjoy the hilarity that ensues.

3-starsI love Green Guide Letters is recorded live every Saturday throughout the festival at the Downstairs Lounge of the Swantson Hotel.  For details and to book tickets, click here.  All live recordings and episodes can be found on the podcast website.

Steele Saunders also has a solo show at the festival – check out The Laughing Kiwi’s review here.

MICF 2014: Adam Richard – Gaypocalypse

Adam Richard - MICF 2014Reviewed by The Laughing Kiwi

If you’ve ever seen Adam Richard do any kind of stand up before, you will know that it’s going to get graphic and filthy, so much so that you feel a shower would be an appropriate chaser. But if you can stomach it, it’s worth it as his material is so funny.

Adam Richard is a flamboyant local comedy icon with ten years of breakfast radio under his belt as well as his landmark appearances on Celebrity Dog School and the belly-flopped Celebrity Splash. Known for not holding back, Richard is well versed in letting people know exactly how things work, sans society-induced sugar-coating and gloss.

Gaypocalypse takes the audience all over the place, but in a way that we never feel lost. Richard makes us take a very serious and sincere look at the zombified remains of a life, when it ends and when things change. He explores the idea that life ending doesn’t mean it is the end; that it could just be the end of an era or just a monumental event that changes the path of your life.

Richard tackles and answers many questions throughout the show. Who are the government and government lobbyists hiding behind the excuses of “boat people” and reneging the marriage equality laws? Who should be sent to combat the environmental impact of a deity’s anger? Who should you get to organise a dance party?

This well-seasoned performer manages to eloquently take us through a whole segment of life, giving us several different perspectives and letting us choose our own adventure and opinions when it comes to what really matters in life. Gaypocalypse is a beautiful compilation of sentimentality, storytelling and a bum sex joke at the end to lighten the mood and wrap it up nicely.

4-stars
Adam Richard is in the Backstage Room at the Melbourne Town Hall until April 20th (not Mondays).  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

MICF 2014: Steele Saunders – Rosebud

Steele Saunders - MICF 2014Reviewed by The Laughing Kiwi

Between his very popular podcast I Love Green Guide Letters, the comedy rooms he runs around Melbourne and from his fabled appearances on Channel 10’s Studio 10, Steele Saunders is becoming a very popular name in the Australian comedy scene. But this year, this well seasoned performer lets down his walls.

For an hour, we are transported to Rosebud, a rich, timeless gem of a small town which lives in the shadow of its big neighbour, Melbourne. From an ill-fated hovercraft to the simple nicknames kindly and lovingly bestowed upon the residents by each other, this town reeks of repressed failure. We get introduced to the locals and hear about all the sights, which include mini golf and that special white box on the pier.

Saunders takes us behind the scenes of the worst night in his life, the lead up to it and the sobering days after. He delves in to the reality that comes with the fun of being young and doing what people do in small country towns. We hear of tall tales that come with boys being boys and the discovery of the small things in life, like when it’s important to keep your knees together and what photos might “poop” up in your future.

It’s important to note that this show touches some very serious topics and often looks at the funny side of it so those with particular sensitivities may choose to steer clear of this. However if you’re hardened to reality, and are prepared to see a man bare it all for comedy, Rosebud simply cannot be missed.

Put simply, this show is brilliant. It is perfectly assembled, eloquently articulated and a little bit embarrassing.

5-stars

Steele Saunders will be performing at the Imperial Hotel until April 20th (not Mondays) – click here for more details and to book tickets.

Saunders is also at the Downstairs Lounge of the Swantson Hotel every Saturday throughout the festival recording a live episode of I love Green Guide Letters – for details and tickets to this, click here.  The Laughing Kiwi also attended this – check out his review.

NZICF 2014: My Top Picks!

NZICF 2014It’s that time of the year again for all us Kiwi comedy geeks – the New Zealand International Comedy Festival!  As I am on the other side of the world, sadly I will not be attending this year – my first in since forever! – but rest assured I will be supporting, reading reviews, tweeting, etc from afar.

Another top line up this year as to be expected with the usual suspects but also some new faces!  For those who are getting overwhelmed by all the shows that are on offer, here are my recommendations (in no particular order):

Chris Martin - NZICF 20141. Chris Martin

Chris’ warped perspective on many things in life and his great comedic sense is an excellent formula for a fantastic, laughs aplenty hour of comedy.

I went to his Edinburgh Fringe show last year and thoroughly enjoyed myself – check out my Broadway Baby review here.

Chris will be performing at the Loft at Q on 25 & 26 April and from 29 April to 3 May.  Click here for more details and to book tickets.

Markus Birdman - NZICF 20142. Markus Birdman

Markus is an extremely sharp and engaging comedian and a captivating raconteur.  His anecdotes are skillfully structured with pitch-perfect comedic timing and will have you in stitches.

Check out what I thought of this same show when I went to see it at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe here.

Markus is at The Classic on 25 & 26 April and from 28 April to 3 May.  He is then performing at the San Francisco Bath House in Wellington from 6 to 10 May before he’s off on a nationwide tour as part of the Comedy Convoy!  Click here for more details and to book tickets to his solo show.

Gordon Southern - NZICF 20143. Gordon Southern

Gordon is the best comedian to go see if you are after comedy that is witty, fast-paced, energetic and just so incredibly feel-good.

Last year’s show was such a joy to watch and one of my favorites from both last year’s festival and the Edinburgh Fringe – here’s my review of the latter show.

Gordon will be at The Vault at Q from 6 to 10 May and The Fringe Bar in Wellington from 13 to 17 May.  Click here for more details and to book tickets – also features my contributor The Laughing Kiwi’s review of this year’s show which is currently at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

Jason Byrne - NZICF 20144. Jason Byrne

Jason is born to be on the stage and to do comedy – he is an absolute master at his craft.  His style of comedy is a little bit silly, very raucous and just bloody entertaining.

I was lucky enough to secure a review ticket to see his show – check out my Broadway Baby review here.

Jason is hosting the Comedy Gala on 24 April and then performing at the Rangatira at Q from 25 to 27 April – only three days so get in quick!  Click here for more details and to book tickets.

Marcel Lucont - NZICF 20145. Marcel Lucont

Everyone’s favorite Frenchman is back on NZ shores!  Sardonic, deliciously narcissistic and oh-so-dashing, Monsieur Lucont is a must-see.

The last solo show I attended was in 2012 when he was last in Auckland – read my review here.

Marcel will be gracing us with his presence at the Foxglove Ballroom in Wellington from 29 April to 3 May before his Auckland run in Rangatira at Q from 14 to 17 May.  Click here for more details and to book tickets.

James Acaster - NZICF 20146. James Acaster

James fast gained popularity during last year’s festival and all the buzz and rave reviews are true.  His material is sharp, witty and highly entertaining.

Here’s my review and if you need more convincing here is The Laughing Kiwi’s review who only just saw him at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

James will be at The Classic on 25 & 26 April and from 28 April to 5 May (not 4th).  His season sold out in a flash last year so get your tickets early!  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Urzila Carlson - NZICF 20147. Urzila Carlson

Though she hails from South Africa, NZ has very much claimed her!  Urzila is extremely funny and a top notch comedian with a natural gift of the gab.

Check out what I thought of her show last year here.

Urzila is performing at the Rangatira at Q from 1-3 May and then at the San Francisco Bath House in Wellington from 6 to 10 May.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Dan Nightingale - NZICF 20148. Dan Nightingale

Dan’s affable nature and conversational style teamed with his hilarious stories and self-deprecating humor make for a genuinely enjoyable hour of comedy.

Here’s my review of the show he brought to last year’s festival.

Dan is performing at The Basement from 6 to 10 May and then at the Foxglove Ballroom in Wellington from 13 to 17 May.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Tom Binns - NZICF 20149. Tom Binns as Ian D. Montfort

For something a little different, Tom’s unique brand of “comedium” comedy is a good option.  He is a talented and adept performer and whether you are a believer or a skeptic, I daresay you will leave impressed.

I went to see him last year and was both thoroughly entertained and amazed – have a read here.

Tom as his alter ego Ian will be at the Foxglove Ballroom in Wellington from 6-10 May and then the Loft at Q from 13 to 17 May.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Stephen K Amos - NZICF 201410.  Stephen K Amos

Stephen is an accomplished veteran in the industry and if you haven’t already seen him, you should!  He is extremely good at what he does, garnering laughs effortlessly with his feel-good style of comedy.

Here is my review of last year’s show.

Stephen is at the Rangatira at Q on 25 & 26 April and from 29 April to 3 May before doing one show at The Opera House in Wellington on 4 May.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.

Other Recommendations!

While I have not had the pleasure of seeing him do a solo show I would also totally recommend Stuart Goldsmith.  I saw him at last year’s Comedy All Stars where he was compère and in the brief times he came on stage, he delivered some really good material.  I also got to see him host his critically acclaimed comedy podcast at the Edinburgh Fringe which was excellent – here’s my review.

If you want more bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong with ensemble shows as they are like the ideal comedic tasting platter!  I would definitely recommend the Comedy Gala; it is quite pricey but well worth it and will get you pumped for the coming weeks of laughs.  There is also the 5 Star Comedy Preview, the Comedy All Stars (this year there are two – #1 and #2) and The Big Show (in the CBD and at the BMC).

For something a little different, Le Comique is a fun variety comedy show that is a great option if you have more eclectic taste.  And finally, for that last comedy festival fix, Last Laughs is a fantastic way to end the festival on a high.

So there you go, my fellow Kiwis – my humble recommendations based on what I have gone to see and enjoyed.  Now get booking and get excited for (in my opinion) one of the best few weeks in New Zealand’s live entertainment calendar!

Russell Howard: Wonderbox

Russell HowardAfter watching many episodes of Russell Howard’s Good News, I was keen to see how the man himself would perform when he swapped his host hat for a comedian one.  Indeed Howard is probably more known in association with his award-winning TV show but I am pleased to say that he is an adept comedian in his own right.

Wonderbox is Howard’s first tour in three years but he is far from rusty.  From the moment he took to the stage he had the audience eating out of his hand easily and hanging on to his every word – his charismatic disposition and magnetic stage presence just pulls you in.

Throughout the show, Howard regales the audience with stories from his life which include some amusing phobias and his jocular relationship with his mother.  He also makes it a point to regularly bring up local references to tailor the show to the crowd which was received very well.

As to be expected in most stand up comedy gigs, there are regular interactions with the crowd.  Howard’s jovial nature meant that these inevitably became shouted conversations across the auditorium yet these never felt distracting or contrived but very organic.  When one audience member got a little too excited by his participation in the show, instead of calling out the interruption, Howard seamlessly included the unplanned addition as if it was part of the set all along.

While his particular style of comedy is nothing too out of the ordinary, Wonderbox is wonderfully upbeat and extremely entertaining.  I found his comical observations and sometimes juvenile antics genuinely funny and surprisingly relatable.

Howard can more than hold his own and his material will have you in stitches.  If you are a fan of Russell Howard’s Good News, going to see him perform live is a must.  If you are not familiar with his work, give him a go anyway as you are guaranteed an evening of laughs.

4-stars

Russell Howard is next performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London from April 14th – 17th.  Tickets will likely sell out so get in quick!  Click here to book tickets.

Wonderbox is also traveling to America, Australia and New Zealand – click here to see all tour dates and to book tickets.  For a taste of Russell Howard’s comedy, check out these videos.