Janeece Gunton: Herstory

Janeece GuntonThere are not many theatre productions that can both completely repulse yet still entertain.  After watching this very controversial black comedy, I felt perplexed and torn – there were parts I did honestly enjoy but there were also other bits which were genuinely quite traumatizing.

Janeece Gunton: Herstory by Pandora Productions paints an extremely graphic and exaggerated picture of who many would consider the ultimate lowlife  in New Zealand society.  Janeece is vulgar, devious and an all round despicable human being.  Everything she does is for her own personal gain and there is absolutely nothing that she won’t do to get what she wants.  This self-serving quality is a central theme in the narrative and is the catalyst to many of the events that unfold.

The story is told candidly by Janeece herself who is portrayed with remarkable believability by Yvette Parsons.  The Fourth Wall is absent as she converses with the audience directly, sharing her cunning and fraudulent plans with us.  The rest of the cast put on credible performances as well, in particular Andrew Ford as the creepy WINZ fraud officer with the very disturbing sexual fantasies.

Janeece’s crude and larger than life personality is a lot to take in and the same can be said of the dynamic set design.  The performance space is incredibly well thought out – not only does the disordered surroundings greatly enhance the story but it also is an extension of Janeece, giving her character more depth and providing us with even more insight in to the kind of life she leads.

Personally it was a little too bawdy and gross for my liking but I can certainly appreciate that that is the point and in that sense, this production has hit the nail on the head.  It is highly irreverent, extremely crass and above all it is not afraid to challenge the boundaries of theatre; there are things that you will witness that will make you gasp, cringe and wish you could unsee.

Janeece Gunton: Herstory is an assault to the senses and is not for the easily offended or squeamish.  But if you’re up for some vile and unabashedly bad taste theatre done brilliantly, you will not go wrong with this show.

The Whimsical Banana rates Janeece Gunton: Herstory: 3/5 organic bananas!

Janeece Gunton: Herstory is at the shiny newly refurbished Basement Theatre until June 29th.  Click here for tickets.

NZICF 2013: David Ladderman – Battle of the Bastards

Battle of the BastardsWhoever thinks Shakespeare is not for everyone needs to get a ticket to Battle of the Bastards. A play that is a play on King Lear, this is a unique and refreshing theatrical piece, particularly in a sea of stand up comedy shows.

Written and performed by David Ladderman, this hour-long play takes one of Shakespeare’s classics and gives it a more contemporary and comical feel.  At its core, Battle of the Bastards, as David explains to us, is essentially about three things: three acts of bastardy, three essential characters and three letters.

With just a bare stage and minimal humble props at his disposal, David skilfully brings to life the world within King Lear.  The Fourth Wall is torn down as he seamlessly goes in and out of character throughout the show; keeping us abreast with the key plot points and regularly checking in with quick recaps to make sure everyone is still on the journey with him.

There are also opportunities where the tables turn and audience members are invited to participate and get involved in the action – including an elaborate fight scene where you even get to cast your co-star.  David’s humor, charisma and affable nature make this interactive element of the show incredibly engaging and particularly fun to watch.

Battle of the Bastards is an enjoyable, fast-paced and highly energetic tragi-comedy and is Shakespeare at its most accessible.  David Ladderman is an excellent writer, a talented performer and just a fantastic entertainer – a triple threat.   Recommended for both Shakespeare fans and the literary novice.

The Whimsical Banana rates Battle of the Bastards: 4/5 bananas!

Battle of the Bastards has finished its run at The Basement in Auckland but begins its Wellington season from May 15th at the BATS Theatre. Four shows only so don’t delay – click here for tickets.

NZICF 2013: Idiots of Ants – Model Citizens

Idiots Of Ants

If you’re looking to venture beyond the regular stand up routines and experience some alternative comedy at this year’s festival, I have three words for you: Idiots of Ants.  Their show is a riotous and action-packed hour of fast-paced sketch comedy and the best part is we get to be a part of the fun too!

Model Citizens is a mad barrage of hilarious short stories presented by Andrew Spiers, Elliott Tiney, Benjamin Wilson and James Wrighton, who are the talented foursome that make up Idiots of Ants.  As soon as the show kicks off the Fourth Wall is torn down with the first short story – a prospective flatmate who loves the place except for the fact that the flat comes with an audience.

The rest of the show carries on in this comedic vein.  Each skit is excellently written, masterfully crafted and superbly performed.  There are musical magazines, conversations at gunpoint and a casual game of toss-the-baby – and of course an expected encore of the comical “hens night gone wrong” skit which they performed at the Comedy Gala.  The boys are skilled performers and have great command of the stage, transitioning between each skit quickly and seamlessly.

There is no one stand-out sketch as they are all brilliant in their own right but a fully grown man dressed as a baby and swearing like a sailor truly is quite a sight to behold!  The very funny “the man who took the audience to dinner” pseudo-love song was another favorite of mine.  Yes, they can sing too!

It’s no surprise these boys won the NZICF Best International Show Award last year as they are, put simply, a class act.  Model Citizens is a definite must see – it’s extremely clever, wildly entertaining and just so much fun!  An outstanding hour of improv that is best experienced live.

The Whimsical Banana rates Model Citizens: 5/5 bananas!

Just 3 chances left to catch this fantastic sketch group in action at the fabulous Rangatira at Q so don’t miss out – get in quick!  Click here for tickets.

Apocalypse Z: An Immersive Theatrical Experience

Apocalypse Z

Can you imagine quiet and peaceful Auckland being overrun by zombies?   How long do you think you will last in a zombie apocalypse?  Zombies have become quite the phenomenon across a range of entertainment mediums but have yet to make an appearance in live performance…until now.

Apocalypse Z is theatre like you have never experienced before; it is a unique blend of interactive and immersive theatre.  You are invited to suspend your disbelief as the show challenges the conventions of theatre, breaking the Fourth Wall by plunging the audience at the cold face of a zombie outbreak right in the heart of the city.  We are told that the only chance of survival is a safe zone that has been erected at the corner of Aotea Square.

As you make your way in to the outpost, from the armed guard keeping watch up high to the ARC (Armed Rescue Coalition) personnel performing tests on you to ensure you are not infected, you quickly forget reality and easily get sucked in to this world where Auckland is under threat.  The rain certainly helped make things feel all the more ominous!

Once inside the safe house, true to the horror genre, that sense of security is predictably short-lived as a new threat arises in our midst.  As things begin to unravel, the tension and sense of impending danger consequently increasingly escalates. I thought the video wall which revealed CCTV footage of within the outpost and the surrounding grounds was a clever touch.  That combined with some brilliantly timed and executed theatrical effects was very effective in keeping the audience on edge.

Between the polished script by Simon London and David Van Horn, excellent direction and set design by Andrew Foster and superb, authentic performances by the cast, this is one slick theatrical production.  I did feel the boundaries could have been pushed a little bit more though and there could have been potential to make it a lot more terrifying – but that’s just the seasoned horror fan inside me speaking!  Having said that, overall the show is genuinely quite scary and the action and drama that unfolds will get your heart racing.

I do not want to give too much away as the “magic” of the experience is in the fear of the unknown and not knowing what to expect.  It is definitely not for the faint of heart but if you are looking to experience a fresh, thrilling new take on theatre with a bit of bite – pun intended! – and you want to see how you would react in a zombie apocalypse, this is not to be missed!

The Whimsical Banana rates Apocalypse Z: 4/5 flesh-eating bananas!

Well done to Beth Allen, Charlie McDermott, the cast and the rest of the “ZomCrew” – bring on the sequel!

Apocalypze Z is on until 27th April and is brought to you by Royale Productions in association with STAMP at The EDGE.

Ensure your survival and get your ticket to safety now!  Tickets are available here.  I would also recommend checking out whatwillyoudotosurvive.com

Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical by Jane Austen

Promise And PromiscuityPromise and Promiscuity – the title itself immediately peaked my interest.  Directed by Ben Crowder, this fast paced Jane Austen parody provides a refreshing, revamped take on the well-known period drama Pride and Prejudice.

Touted as a new musical, I must preface that this production is so much more than just an hour of song and dance.  The well-crafted script is decidedly cheeky and dripping with irony – the witty double entendres and cleverly tweaked names (my favorite: “Fifty Shades of Argh”) bring this 19th century story to modern day, making it more easily accessible.

I was thoroughly impressed by Penny Ashton who was the woman of the hour.  She skillfully plays the entire cast, switching between each character seamlessly.  There are very minimal costume changes however this is not an issue as each character she portrays has a very distinct voice and set of mannerisms that there is never any ambiguity who she is depicting and when.

The stage feels quite cavernous with sparse props but Ashton makes full use of the performance space, moving between different locations in the story with ease and at one point she even breaks the Fourth Wall by inviting an unsuspecting audience member for an impromptu dance.  The music and sound effects provided by “Musical Maestro Par Excellence” Robbie Ellis further bring the story to life.

As with all other shows featured in the Auckland Fringe, Promise and Promiscuity is only on a very short season.  The final performance is this evening at 6pm so if you are looking for some laughs to finish your weekend, head on over to TAPAC in Western Springs!

For tickets and more information, click here.

The Whimsical Banana rates Promise and Promiscuity: 4/5 bananas!

Promise and Promiscuity is a Hot Pink production and is presented as part of the Auckland Fringe.

Auckland Fringe

One By One: A Love Story Without Words

One By OneThey say actions speak louder than words.  This is exercised to the fullest effect in One By One, a quirky and charming silent show directed by Pedro Ilgenfritz that takes place in a world where words do not yet exist.  Bonnie and Marty’s paths cross in a fortuitous encounter at a park and from that moment on their lives are changed forever.

Katie Burson and Cole Jenkins draw us in and take us along on this adventure of tragi-comic proportions where in the absence of words, exaggeration is key.  Expect lots of comical wide-eyed facial expressions, melodramatic jaunty marches up and down the stage and madcap shenanigans of the slapstick kind.  Burson and Jenkins do all of this effortlessly and with a childlike innocence that perfectly complements and serves the narrative brilliantly.

The other integral element of the show which I thought was executed extremely well was the use of live music to set the pace and tone of each scene.  Jews Brothers band musicians John Ellis and Nigel Gavin are a well-oiled machine – they fittingly employ an eclectic mix of score and sounds throughout this silent love story which I felt really added a great rhythmic pulse to the performance.  Sometimes they don’t get it quite right though and consequently they are directed by the two characters themselves which I thought was a nice touch.

Bonnie and Marty’s breaking of the Fourth Wall doesn’t stop there.  Just as they have invited us in to this playful and musical world of gestures and mime similarly they just as readily jump into ours.  Personal space may be invaded and if you’re lucky enough, you may even get to participate too.

The stage appears stark and bare with only three pieces of furniture and a set of vertical “ribbons” that cross each other to form a skeletal wall.  This inconspicuous minimalist set created by Rachel Walker and though modest is the perfect “blank canvas” for the action that unfolds.

Unfortunately One By One is only running for a very short season – there are only two more opportunities to catch this fun and whimsical homage to silent film and I strongly recommend that you do!  You will be thoroughly entertained and more importantly you will be convinced that a world could exist without spoken word.

For tickets and more information, click here.

The Whimsical Banana rates One By One: 4/5 bananas!

One By One is a production funded by LAB Theatre and is presented as part of the Auckland Fringe.

Auckland Fringe

This review is also featured on Keeping Up With NZ.

Review: Drowning in Veronica Lake

There’s just something about Hollywood in the 1940s that just oozes glamor.  Even though there was undeniably a dark side too, the 40s is still one of my favorite eras in American history.

If you are nodding in agreement, then you are going to absolutely adore Drowning in Veronica Lake, the fourth and latest production by Flaxworks.  A one (wo)man “tell all” show delivered as a monologue, Veronica Lake has come back to life to tell us about her steady rise to stardom which was then followed by her equally steady fall from grace.  She shares everything from the time she dined with the President to how she was sued by her own mother.  I thought the moments when she broke the Fourth Wall and addressed the audience directly was a great touch.

Alex Ellis portrays the sexy screen siren to perfection.  Her Old Hollywood drawl is true to the period and I felt she embodied the spirit of Veronica not just physically but emotionally as well.  While she is most definitely the star of the show, coming in at a very close second has got to be that stunning dress!  Sara Taylor and Elizabeth Whiting  really have to be commended for putting together such a gorgeous garment.

The dress plays a prominent role in the show, not just physically but metaphorically as well.  When you take your seat in the lovely-as-always Loft at Q, Veronica is already on the stage waiting and your eyes are immediately drawn to the dress which covers the entire stage.  As the narrative progresses and we start to see Veronica’s steady decline into drunken obscurity, we see the dress start to lose its shape and form too.  The symbolism of this is all the more powerful and effective due to the exceptionally paced narrative.

Criticized and stifled by her over-bearing mother before being treated the same way by the controlling Paramount Studios, we even see Veronica start to wrestle with the dress itself before eventually “drowning” in it.  I thought the dress being used as a metaphor of her being trapped in an industry where she struggled to be recognized for her talent and not just her “peek-a-boo bangs” was very clever.

Alex also momentarily goes off-character throughout the story to play other people in Veronica’s life, most notably her mother.  She does this seamlessly, switching between voices, accents, demeanor and even posture with lightning speed.  She performs essentially rooted in place for the entirety of the play but the well-timed use of light, sound and music to indicate a change in set and scene helped provide depth and “movement” to the show.

What makes this play extra special is the fact that it cannot really be considered a tribute to Veronica Lake, though it could easily be mistaken as one.  It does celebrate her legacy but the stories that are told are actually what was generated by the studio, the media and even Veronica herself during her time in the spotlight.  Many of these were suspicious and conflicting and we are reminded of this through the tongue-in-cheek nature of the script.

Drowning in Veronica Lake is dark, haunting, incredibly nostalgic and a must see, especially if you are a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  The story of her life is both intriguing and tragic but sadly not unique.  This play provides a fascinating, “firsthand” insight into what happens on the other side of the fame and bright lights of Tinseltown.

The Whimsical Banana rates Drowning in Veronica Lake: 4/5 glamorous bananas!

Brilliantly written by Phil Ormsby and under the masterful direction of Simon Coleman, Drowning in Veronica Lake is playing at the fantastic Q Theatre until 1st September.  For more details and to book tickets, click here.  For a taste of Veronica, check out this video.