…with a stranger…: Circus Travels to Stranger Lands

...with a stranger...The carnival is no longer just for kids, folks.  Touted as “arthouse circus”, …with a stranger… brings cabaret and carny to a whole new level in this sublime and scintillating collection of short vignettes delivered through breathtaking aerial dance and impressive circus acrobatics.

Created by renowned circus theatre company The Dust Palace, this visually stunning production is an intriguing study of human nature and the concept of duality.  It explores the idea that intimacy can exist among strangers just as much as it can lack between lovers.

The choreography is heavily influenced by the style of revered Montreal circus troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main (The Seven Fingers of the Hand) and is performed flawlessly by a star-studded cast of Auckland’s top circus performers.  This extremely talented ensemble display staggering strength and incredible control both on the ground and in the air, defying gravity and contorting their bodies in ways that will leave you awestruck.

Mike Edward and Eve Gordon, who are also the co-founders of The Dust Palace, share an electric chemistry and are simply astounding on aerial silks.  Equally impressive are Rochelle Mangan’s and Zach Washer’s superb skills with the aerial hoop and aerial chain respectively.  Edward Clendon showcases great aptitude with the more ground-based gymnastics and Geof Gilson rounds up the cast nicely as more of an observer of the stories that unfold.

What further enhances this spellbinding evening is the intimate atmosphere that comes from the physical space itself.  The circular stage and cabaret-style seating work effectively with the mood lighting and superb sound design to create a truly immersive experience.  This is a show that really needs to be witnessed live as words alone just cannot do it full justice.

…with a stranger… is a mesmerizing and jaw-dropping visual spectacle and an absolute theatrical masterpiece.  Circus does not get any sexier and more dangerous than this.

The Whimsical Banana rates …with a stranger…: 5/5 bananas!

…with a stranger…  is on at 8pm at TAPAC –  100 Motions Road, Western Springs until June 22nd (no shows Mondays and Tuesdays).  Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

This review can also be viewed on Keeping Up With NZ.

NZICF 2013: Titty Bar Ha Ha

Titty Bar Ha HaTitty Bar Ha Ha – the name alone should grab your attention and get you curious enough to buy a ticket to find out more.  Sexy, bawdy and just a little wrong, this is the perfect late night rendezvous for those who like their cabaret a little blue.

Set in 1943 England during World War II, we meet Hope and Gloria, the “providers of pleasure” of Titty Bar Ha Ha, a burlesque bar they run.  We learn that they are hiding a very human, very dead secret in their basement which is causing some anxiety but this does not stop them from doing what they do best – entertain and deliver a rollicking good time!

Throughout the hour you can expect many a raunchy song and suggestive dance that will make you both giggle and blush.  The lyrics are incredibly audacious and unabashedly risqué with witty double entendres and are performed superbly with great conviction by this talented duo.  They have some serious vocal chops and they also do an impressive kazoo duet which was a clear crowd favorite.

Although Hope and Gloria love the attention and the spotlight, they also enjoy interacting with the crowd.  They mingle and flirt with the audience and be prepared to be picked to get involved in the shenanigans too, be it in a game of “spit or swallow” or an impromptu dance audition.  This is definitely not a show for the shy and reserved!

If songs about sex and masturbation make you uncomfortable then Titty Bar Ha Ha is probably not for you.  But if you don’t offend easy and are up for some high-end smut, this show has it in spades.  Be warned though: the songs are extremely catchy and you will find yourself humming the melodies the morning after.

The Whimsical Banana rates Titty Bar Ha Ha: 4/5 bananas!

Titty Bar Ha Ha is at The Basement for 4 more nights – May 15th to 18th at 10pm.  For tickets, click here.

BREL: The Words & Music of Jacques Brel

I always look forward to attending a Silo Theatre production because I know I can expect a slick performance and an excellent night of theatre.  I was particularly excited for BREL as I have only thus far seen plays by Silo and so was really keen to see how they would pull off this extraordinary collaboration of concert and cabaret.

You may not know who Jacques Brel is – as did I – but you will find you have come across his music.  In my opinion, this is the true mark of a great artist.  He wrote over 300 songs in his lifetime and his legacy still lives on to today – many of these have been translated and performed by big names in the business such as David Bowie, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone, to name a few.  He is the third best-selling Belgian recording artist of all time and is known as one of the pioneering chansons in musical history.

Jacques Brel is a singer-songwriter in its truest form.  His songs provide a window into his soul and his perspective on life, love and the human condition.  His writing style is often described as dark, cynical, witty, passionate and revolutionary which spring from his reaction and experiences growing up at the time of the German invasion of Belgium during the Second World War.

Thank you to Jackson Perry for the photo!

BREL, put simply, is absolutely breathtakingly phenomenal.  Described as “cabaret noir”, it is a staggering homage and wonderful celebration of Jacques Brel’s works – twenty-one carefully selected songs performed by some exceptional vocal talent.  Tama Waipara, Jon Toogood and Julia Deans are all household names in the New Zealand music scene and need no introduction.  Rounding up the quartet is seasoned theatre veteran Jennifer Ward-Lealand, touted the “First Lady of Cabaret” who is also one of Silo’s trust board members.

The set up of the performance space is incredibly gorgeous with its many vintage lamps peppered all over the stage; this intimate atmosphere is heavily nostalgic of the smoky, dimly lit underground jazz bars commonly found in New York and Berlin.  This set the mood and tone of the show immediately and increased my excitement considerably.

From the moment the quartet took to the stage and the four-piece band kicked in, you are completely transported into the profound and fascinating world of Brel.  His music is considered one of the major influences in contemporary music today and I can see why – his songs are timeless anthems that speak of both the joy and pain that is inevitable in life and love.  The songs are a perfect marriage of stunning melodies and absolute poetic gold – heartfelt, poignant and gut-wrenching.

Every song is performed to perfection with lots of heart and personality, a hint of cheek, and bucket loads of attitude and flair.  Each performance transitions seamlessly and effortlessly to the next and with each song, you are left wanting more.

I thought all four performers emoted and interpreted the songs brilliantly; they had great intuitive musical timing and consistently delivered the story behind each song compellingly and with conviction.  From haunting ballads to energetic anthems, performed both in English and fluently in French, the song list is an eclectic mix to suit any musical taste bud.

Equally as flawless are “Balkan music titans” Dr. Colossus, the extremely talented men behind the music.  Under the skilled direction of Leon Radojkovic, the band come together smoothly as one voice, either to help instill a sense of drama, build up the narrative of a song or simply to complement the vocal performance.  Throw in the well-timed, effective use of lighting too and what you get is sublime and decadent music magic.

BREL is a cabaret and theatrical masterpiece and an absolute triumph.  Michael Hurst’s accomplished direction has succeeded in creating a mesmerizing and unforgettable musical tribute to one of the greatest artists in the twentieth century.  This is not only a vocal spectacle and musical journey you must experience but one that you NEED to.

The Whimsical Banana rates BREL: 5/5 bananas

BREL is at the magnificent Concert Chamber in the Town Hall until 24 November.  For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

The Red Chair: Obsess + Confess

On entering the Loft at Q, I was immediately transported to some sophisticated piano bar in the heart of New York.  The mood lighting and theatrical fog created a dramatic effect and a sense of  mystery while the cabaret-style seating and gorgeous fairy lights served as the perfect backdrop for what was to come.  Expectations were definitely high and I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The Red Chair, under the superb direction of Aaron Tindell, is music theatre like no other.  Four characters – an older man, his cynical long-time lover, a younger guy skeptical about love and a younger woman with a troubled past – all share their stories candidly and emotively through song.

The songs – everything from Edith Piaf to Boy George – form a musical montage of the many romantic and sometimes obsessive emotions one experiences when dealing with love.  Every song transitions seamlessly to the next cultivating in a beautiful and colorful  journey of music which tackle an array of things – unrequited love, lust, jealousy and even a nervous breakdown.

What makes the show truly unique is how the performance is presented.  The red chair that is in the center of the room leads you to believe that that is where the “stage” is but there really isn’t a stage.  Instead the entire space is the stage with the performers freely roaming the room and mingling with audience members, even sitting at other specially lit red chairs that are placed at selected tables.

This blurring of the lines between the audience and the performer provides a very intimate and immersive theatre experience.  You find yourself having a more personal connection with the performers and because of the closeness in proximity, it does feel like you are a part of the performance as well.

I was blown away by the vocal prowess of each performer.  Andrew Laing’s vocals had a wonderful charm and storytelling quality to it that made him so easy to listen to.  Roz Turnbull effortlessly commanded your attention every time she sang.  What I loved most about her performance was the way she fully embodied the song, delivering not only a fantastic vocal but one with loads of personality too.

Melissa Nordhaus impressed me the most with her incredible vocal range and I loved the honest and heartfelt way she interpreted the songs.  My favorite of the four was Will Barling because of his silky tone and that beautiful vibrato.  His rendition of Petrified from the stage musical Taboo sent chills up my spine; my favorite number of the night, hands down.

The Red Chair was just spectacular and truly a magical experience, one I will not soon forget.  It is live music at its finest – a must for those who want to enjoy music theatre with a twist.  Exquisite performances, extraordinary storytelling through song, and an excellent band who bring it all together – huge hats off to Robin Kelly for providing the musical heartbeat to the show.

The Whimsical Banana rates The Red Chair: 5/5 bananas!

The Red Chair is a Dionysos production and is playing at the fabulous Q Theatre until 6th October.  To buy tickets, click here.

Thank you to Passion PR!

This review is also featured on Keeping up with NZ.