NZICF 2013: Dr Brown, Brown, Brown, Brown, Brown & His Singing Tiger – Comedy For Kids

Dr Brown & His Singing Tiger

Dr Brown, Brown, Brown, Brown, Brown and his Singing Tiger is a madcap physical comedy tailored especially for kids but can quite easily be enjoyed by adults too.  This almost-hour long show is narrated by a ukulele-playing dancing tiger who takes us in to the silly and absurd world of Dr Brown.

After making his appearance on stage in the most comical way possible, it quickly becomes apparent that the goggle-wearing Dr Brown does not speak and so it is up to the Singing Tiger (played wonderfully by Stuart Bowden) to steer Dr Brown – and the audience – in the right direction.  The task at hand?  Get Dr Brown from breakfast to bedtime.

This highly interactive and action-packed show is full of funny gags, silly antics and good old slapstick.  It has everything kids enjoy and love to laugh at like flying spoons, funny faces and eating “poo”.  Phil Burgers, the man behind Dr Brown easily forges a connection with the kids; he knows exactly what buttons to push to spark a positive reaction and response from them.

Dr Brown, Brown, Brown, Brown, Brown and his Singing Tiger is a fun adventure and delightful treat for the whole family.  This comedic duo are accomplished entertainers so parents don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing along too but more importantly, be prepared to let your kids partake in the fun! (Someone’s got to help Dr Brown put on his boots.)

The Whimsical Banana rates Dr Brown and his Singing Tiger: 4/5 bananas!

Dr Brown, Brown, Brown, Brown, Brown and his Singing Tiger is at the Herald Theatre at 9:30am and 11:30am  until Sunday May 5th.  Click here for tickets.

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: An Awkward Family Christmas

We all have annoying and embarrassing relatives that do things at family gatherings which make us cringe.  After watching the crazy and rambunctious mayhem that unfolds in An Awkward Family Christmas, I will never again complain about having to endure my family reunions!

Meet the extended Potts-Chambers family: a brain damaged supermodel, over-competitive, inappropriately close Aryan twins, a lesbian life partner who makes obscene pottery and a perpetually unloved stoner son who the family keeps calling Britney.  And these are just some of the colorful characters!  Add in a festive meal of vegemite and broccoli with a bottle cap thrown in for good measure and you have yourself one very ridiculous and extremely awkward family shindig.

Drawing inspiration from the thousands of awkward family Christmas photographs available online, An Awkward Family Christmas is an utterly insane and over-the-top slapstick comedy which presents every single awkward social and familial situation you can think of, and then some.  The Outfit Theatre Company have yet again lived up to their reputation of being “New Zealand’s rowdiest theatre company” with another production that is cheeky, boisterous and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

This really is a character-centric story and the madcap dysfunctional family which we get acquainted to is portrayed superbly by a talented ensemble of performers.  Jacqui Nauman is incredibly endearing as the childlike and dazed Polly while Andrew Ford’s exaggerated and comical performance of Percy’s faux disability garnered plenty of laughs.

I thought Chris Tempest brought great comedic value to the role of Winston, the lonely neighbor who desperately wants to get past the door so as not to spend Christmas alone.  My favorites of the night though were Joel Herbert and Kate Vox who are perfectly cast as Keith and Keitha; the antics the two get up to individually and as a duo were so entertaining to watch.

With so much chaos and activity going on, it really was up to the actors to sell the story and they did so with great energy and charisma which is a credit to not only their acting prowess but also Ben Henson’s skilled direction.  The sense of camaraderie amongst the cast is evident on stage and I thought their comedic intuition was impeccable.  An unexpected heckler in the crowd ever so slightly threw them off at first but they quickly recovered and handled the ongoing extra “sound effects” like true professionals.

As the story progresses, things begin to unravel and become increasingly more ludicrous and outrageous.  The many interweaving storylines start to become a little far-fetched but yet still somewhat believable within the context of this group of nutty personalities.  Cutting out a storyline or two would have helped the narrative flow a little better as towards the end it did start to feel like there was a little too much going on.  Overall though the script, written by award-winning playwright Thomas Sainsbury, is well crafted; it doesn’t miss a beat and is highly entertaining.

The silly season is pretty much upon us and while this may not necessarily get you in to the festive spirit, it will certainly convince you that your family is quite normal!  Be prepared for a night of many cringe-worthy moments and laughs aplenty – leave your serious side at the door and go with your sense of humor in check.

The Whimsical Banana rates An Awkward Family Christmas: 4/5 bananas!

Ridiculously silly, loads of fun, and just utterly absurd!

An Awkward Family Christmas is playing at the Herald Theatre until 1st December.  For tickets, click here.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Gala Final

Nineteen days, five heats and forty-five plays later, Short + Sweet Theatre has come to a close and what a fantastic theatre-filled few weeks it has been!  It’s going to feel a bit weird not having to make my twice weekly trips down to the Herald Theatre (it was starting to become quite a welcome routine for me!) and “Eye of the Tiger” will be stuck in my head for the next wee while!

Each week at the end of each round, anonymous judges, reviewers such as myself and audience members vote for their favorite ten-minute play.  With a variety of genres on offer, featuring all sorts of characters, including non-human ones like robots, vegetables and even amoeba, being only allowed to tick just one box was definitely a challenge.

On Sunday it all came to an end and the top twelve favorite plays – eight judges’ choices and four peoples’ choices – performed again in the Gala Final.  I was incredibly satisfied with the plays that had made the cut as most of them had been my personal favorites too.

The Lighthouse Keeper, all the way back from Week 1, was as delightful as I remembered it to be and thanks to some tweaks and additions to the script, managed to inject more comedy in to the story.  The most significant change was the director and playwright Nic Sampson stepping in to play Earl.  He did well but I thought his performance lacked the charm and personality that Barnaby Frederic had when he was the robot. (P.S. get well soon, Barnaby!)  The Smell of Rain also had a cast change with Kevin Keys substituting Preston Arthur O’Brien as Mike.  I thought Kevin brought a different energy to the character but one that still fit and worked.  I do think the chemistry was better with the original cast though; Preston’s more anxious and straight-laced portrayal of Mike complemented the jovial and carefree Serenity much better, in my opinion.

Judging by the applause, On The Shelf and Imperfectly Frank were the crowd favorites of the afternoon.  Celeriac, played by Lauren Porteous, had the crowd in stitches again and I thought it was the right move changing how she gets caught; her sprawled like a starfish on the ground before being dragged away was definitely more comedic and less cumbersome than being carried out.  The Bollywood ending to the Indian slice-of-life tale with a contemporary spin met with the same positive response albeit it was slightly ruined from excited murmurs in the crowd who obviously knew it was coming.

I actually really enjoyed Mother’s Milk and Nine Types Of Ice, the only two dramas of the bunch, much more the second time round.   I thought the storytelling by Dad and even moreso by the Son, played by Kelson Henderson, felt more earnest and compelling.  And with the latter play, I’m so glad the ending was changed so that Susan faced the audience when she realizes it is her daughter that didn’t make it.  That, coupled with the slow fade to black had a much more effective and heartbreaking impact in terms of evoking an emotional response from the audience.

Pëhanga, which won the overall People’s Choice out of both Wildcard rounds, was also more enjoyable on second viewing.  Their performances were great the first time but this time it had a more polished feel to it.  Similarly with two hander Riding The Red, which was the only play representing the first Wildcard heat, the actors had better chemistry and seemed more in tune with their characters this time round; their performance felt more convincing and resonated more with the audience.  The addition of the spotlights which shift between the two as they performed their monologue was definitely a clever move and change for the better as it helped really lure the audience in to what was being said.

I was so happy I got to experience the magic of the fantastical The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl again.  It really is such a feel-good play with a hauntingly good accompanying score.  Out of everyone else, and not just the finals but the entire festival, I really feel they stood out the most because of the creative way they conveyed their story.  One woman show The South Afreakins was probably the least changed out of the others but was still as solid as ever.  The Break Up remained unchanged as well (from memory) but I did think the story seemed to flow a bit better this time round.  Supercide took up the closing slot again and was another crowd pleaser.  Personally it was my favorite piece in terms of the genre; I love a good dark comedy and the twist to this one was brilliant.  Nice touch adding the “puppets” at the end – a great way to end the show.

I must say the lack of any opening and closing words made the close of the festival feel rather unceremonious and left me feeling a bit cold.  Seeing as it was the matinee show, I know the “official” finale was still to come, but all the same it would have been nice to still have someone say something, if not at the beginning then definitely at the end.

My tiny gripe aside, I’ve had an absolute blast!  A massive well done to those who made it into the Final and to ALL plays involved in this year’s Short + Sweet festival – I was genuinely very impressed by the caliber of plays and blown away by the talent that graced the stage week after week.  I also must mention what a top notch job the crew and especially the backstage hands did throughout the festival – know that your hard work made all the difference!

Also huge congrats to those who walked away with awards at the end!  (Check out who won what here)

And if you haven’t already, here are the links to my reviews of the different heats:
Top 30 Week 1
Wildcards Week 1
Top 30 Week 2
Wildcards Week 2
Top 30 Week 3

Short+Sweet Theatre was presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP.  To find out more about this year’s cast and plays and to be in the know for next year’s festival, subscribe to the Short + Sweet blog.

Already can’t wait for next year!

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Top 30 Week 3

I think out of all the heats, this group served up the most diverse selection of plays.  Covering a range of styles and genres from interpretative dance to musicals to good ol’ comedy, this third and final group of the Top 30 really was a nice eclectic spread – just the way I like it!

The evening starts off with A Small War, A Very Long Way Away by Angus Algie, a cheeky little piece that pokes fun at the British government.  Michael Morris is back (you may remember him as the excitable younger brother of Tchaikovsky in wildcard entry, How About Cannons?), this time as the overly easygoing and incompetent Prime Minister who has to address the nation in the wake of a recent nuclear attack.  He is disconcertingly calm and unaffected by the news much to the chagrin of his two advisers.  While political satire is nothing new and I thought the story traveled a bit flat in the first half, the actors had great stage presence and there were some really good bursts of comedy peppered throughout the narrative.

Northland Youth Theatre may be the young ‘uns in the competition but they certainly proved that they can play with the big boys!  Through interpretative dance and a touch of humor, Youandamoebababy‘s creative take on evolution hit the nail on the head on all accounts – it was well choreographed, well written and well performed.  The cast of four made full use of the stage and I was very impressed by how well they all moved, both individually and together.  Transbury’s Starving, Carving, Darling in the second half also put a creative spin on a commonly debated on topic – the beauty myth.  I thought it was an interesting concept, I loved the dark twist and the musical element but unfortunately there were issues with the execution.  I think it was a mistake to have the main actors perform with a mic as the constant echos and feedback were distracting and just disrupted the flow and enjoyment of the story.

Speed Dating by Tara Calaby and Mother’s Milk by Funny Thing Productions slowed things down a notch and were definitely more script heavy than action heavy.  Having said that, I thought these two plays were both excellently written and their characters brought to life from really polished performances by the actors.  Speed Dating sees two actors alternating between different characters in a speed dating scenario.  Their “pitch” to their prospective partners is mostly of a cynical, pessimistic and sometimes even self-deprecating nature but at the close you find yourself unexpectedly feeling none of those things.  Also a two hander, Mother’s Milk had quite a mammoth task of getting us to connect with two characters within the mere ten-minute time frame and I think they were nearly there.  The father and son are well cast and performed their monologues in a way that is candid and personable which I liked.

Checkmate Productions’ STAGE FRIGHT had an interesting premise – a barbershop quartet are split in half when two have stage fright and are unable to perform until the other two run through a process called “systematic desensitization” which involve some rather odd non-scary steps that help with phobias.  I liked the quasi audience interaction element to it (very similar to A Cultural Hierarchy from the first group of Wildcards) and the script was engaging and flowed fairly well with some great one-liners but I did think it fell short slightly with the overly exaggerated performance by the cast.

Also featuring a cast of four ladies was the closing play Sauna penned by Lee Smith-Gibbons.  When three friends (plus a stranger) are trapped in a sauna, girly gossip soon turns into a shocking confession which then leads to one of them wanting answers to the ambiguity that (she feels) exists in their friendship.  As the heat rises, their friendship further unravels.  I thought the story arc was a bit weak; it started off slow, picked up a little in the middle but then fizzled out at the end.  What saved it though was Bron who was the star of the story, hands down.  Played by Kura Forrester, she brought great charisma and comedy to the character.

In contrast I thought Spit For Tat by American playwright Alex Dremann had an excellent story arc and great pacing which worked perfectly as a ten-minute piece.  Greg and Bernadette are a temperamental couple who use arguing and insulting each other as a form of foreplay.  The narrative is a vicious cycle of getting mad to getting turned on and then back again but thanks to the clever writing and brilliant acting, it doesn’t feel repetitive at all but incredibly entertaining.  I was particularly impressed by Jess Holly Bates’ performance; there were a lot of subtle non-verbal things she did that were just really effective and apt to the situation.

One of my top favorites of the night was Imperfectly Frank by Seth Freeman, a charming slice-of-life comedy about an Indian family and the age old tradition of arranged marriage – but with a twist.  This story takes the common preconceived notion that Indians are conservative and throws it out the window.  Franklin is being pushed in to not only an arranged marriage but in to a relationship with another man; his insistence to his parents that he is straight only falls on death ears.  Wonderful feel-good story with the perfect ending and performed by a great cast.

As much as I really enjoyed Spit For Tat and Imperfectly Frank, no other play had me completely hooked and laughing as much as Michelle Wallace’s On The Shelf.  This was possibly the easiest vote for favorite play out of all the heats.  The story is set in the supermarket, specifically in the vegetable section, where Carrot is making a sales pitch to passing shoppers in the hopes of getting picked.  She is soon joined by a foxy Scottish Marilyn Monroe-esque Cauliflower and together they fantasize about being chopped, sautéed and made into a delicious dish.  Their hopes and dreams are shattered by a sardonic and bitter French Celeriac who gives them an unwelcome wake up call.  Great storyline, absolutely hilarious (the Celeriac had the best lines!) and very entertaining.

A huge WELL DONE to the Top 30 and the Wildcards!  It has been a fun couple of weeks but all good things must come to an end, sadly.  Looking forward to seeing the Judges’ Choices and People’s Choices perform again at the Gala Final this Sunday!

The Whimsical Banana rates Top 30 Week 3:
A Small War, A Very Long Way Away: 3/5 bananas
Youandamoebaby: 4/5 bananas
Speed Dating: 3/5 bananas
STAGE FRIGHT: 3/5 bananas
On The Shelf: 5/5 bananas
Starving, Carving, Darling: 2/5 bananas
Imperfectly Frank: 5/5 bananas
Spit For Tat: 5/5 bananas
Mother’s Milk: 3/5 bananas
Sauna: 3/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP.  For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Wildcard Week 2

Just like the first group of Wildcards, this second group thoroughly impressed and entertained.  Their message was clear: they may not have made it in to the top 30 but they can still give them a run for their money!

Replay by Angie Farrow set the bar high, kicking things off on a great note.  A lover’s spat between Bethany and Jeremiah becomes a twisted cycle of voluntary “do overs” when repeated attempts at manslaughter keeps getting thwarted.  I thoroughly enjoyed the humor as well as the comical humping on stage…albeit it felt a tad awkward with kids in the crowd!  I liked the clever play and inventive spin on Groundhog Day and also the way the other characters made their entrance into the story.

Matapihi’s Pëhanga (Pressure) showcases another couple in a domestic dispute but in a more serious light.  I thought Rangi Rangitukunoa and Roimata Fox’s performances were really excellent – moving, heartfelt and passionate.  While it is definitely more melodrama than comedy, I appreciated the humor that was peppered throughout the dialogue; kept things from getting too intense.

I thought Theatre of Love’s Moaner was clever, witty and an original way of telling a story that has been told before.  (As many would already know, the idea of talking paintings has already been explored by one infamous series about a certain boy wizard…)  Posing as paintings, there wasn’t much in terms of movement but how the story came to life was through the conversations between the works of art.  The script was very well-crafted and the actors did a brilliant job executing it, delivering their lines full of attitude and personality.  I especially liked James Wenley’s portrayal of the iconic sculpture of David by Michelangelo.

Part monologue, part comedy of errors with a dark twist is probably the best way I can think of to describe Coma Sutra by Kate Toon.  We meet Matt who introduces himself to the audience directly, breaking the Fourth Wall, before proceeding to tell us his woeful story of how he came to be where he is today.  Tim McPoland is perfectly cast as Matt and I don’t know if his disturbingly gaunt physique was intentional or not but it did actually enhance the performance.  Personally I didn’t think Suze needed to be there; it worked perfectly fine as a one man show.

The two plays that left me a bit cold and confused were MigHT-i Theatre’s Mirage and Just Desserts by Kelley Baker in the second half.  With Mirage, I did like the irony of the migrated family being more faithful to the Indian culture and traditions than the family who are actually living in India.  The concept was definitely there and had great potential, it was just not executed as well as it could have been.  The performance itself was a bit rough around the edges with some obvious mistakes and continuity issues which was most unfortunate.

Similarly I liked the premise of the importance of the last meal for men on death row in Just Desserts; fairly heavy subject matter to cover within ten minutes but one which I thought overall was done admirably. The cast were great and gave convincing performances but for me at times I found myself struggling to follow what was going on.  I felt the additional actors only served to cloud and clutter the narrative; I think it would have been much “cleaner” to leave it as just a heated conversation between the prison cook and his new employer.

It was a tight race for favorite play between Sexy Bird’s The Psychologist, The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl by Le Petit Workshop and the closing play, Slick Dame by Kay Poiro.  The Psychologist was great fun – Kate Vox was incredible as the unconventional and inappropriate psychologist with the only one diagnosis and one way to “cure” it.  I also enjoyed James Crompton’s performance as the nerdy and awkward George Phibbs; his facial expressions and body language brought a great element of comedy to the story.  The whimsical sitar-like music was incredibly apt and complemented the narrative perfectly.

Slick Dame had me sold from the moment I saw fedoras, heard the music and picked out the shadowy patterns projected on the wall to be the silhouette of buildings – I am a big fan of the 40s era and film noir!  “Private Dick” and the Femme Fatale were very “cookie-cutter” noir characters and performed authentically by the two actors.  I thought the  use of the coat rack to play additional characters was a creative touch and that twist at the end was absolutely genius.

I was very tempted to place a very biased vote for Slick Dame just based on my love for the genre alone.  However there was one thing that did let it down unfortunately – in my opinion, the story would have worked a bit better if it were a couple of minutes shorter.  Even though the pay-off was beyond superb, I felt that at times it dragged a little in the journey to get there.

In the end, my favorite play was a no brainer, really.  The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl got my vote simply because out of all the other plays, I felt it did the most within the allotted time.  This fairytale love story had a very Disney-esque quality to it which I loved but what gave it that extra bit of magic was the creative way in which they conveyed the story.  Incorporating puppets, a spot of shadow play as well as using scarves was a brilliant move and brought the play to a whole new level.

A massive well done to all the Wildcards across both weeks.  It truly has been a pleasure; in my eyes you all are part of the “top 50” rather than the Wildcards because in all honesty for many of the plays, there really wasn’t much difference in quality or standard between the two categories!

The Whimsical Banana rates Week 2 of the Wildcards:
Replay: 4/5 bananas
The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl: 5/5 bananas
Coma Sutra: 3/5 bananas
Mirage: 2/5 bananas
Moaner: 4/5 bananas
Pëhanga (Pressure): 3/5 bananas
Just Desserts: 2/5 bananas
The Psychologist: 5/5 bananas
Slick Dame: 5/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP. For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Top 30 Week 2

This week at Short + Sweet Theatre, it was yet another eclectic selection of quickfire plays for me to sink my teeth in to.  With each round, I’ve found the decision on which play to vote as my favorite becoming increasingly harder; I definitely don’t envy the judges’ position!

The evening starts off with a deceptively light-hearted play, The Gospel According to Bowser penned by Dan Borengasser.  As the title indicates, the play starts off as a Gospel-esque monologue by an unlikely prophet – the family dog, Bowser.  A loyal disciple to the “Omnipotent Master”, his beliefs are called into question and challenged on arrival of a new feline addition to the family.  They debate over their owners and the “futility of existence” before a pesky rodent shows up to settle the matter.  The play is refreshing, very cleverly written and I thought the two actors who played the family pets did a fantastic job, especially with nailing the mannerisms of the animals.

I found Monetum Productions’ The Gift to be a very uncomfortable experience – but not in a bad way!  It appears to be an ordinary day but when a man accepts a package from a courier, the situation quickly turns into a terrifying hostage situation.  The boundaries for on-stage torture is pushed to the limit and I thought the build up of dread and unease was very well executed.  The Wedding by Nocturne Theatre was also a somewhat uncomfortable experience but unfortunately not in a good way.  A couple are in a motel room after getting hitched though the ceremony was “more a stag do than a wedding”.  We watch on as their relationship unravels and while the actors played their characters well where it comes undone is the time shifts that occur.  I found it to be confusing and just didn’t work within the ten-minute format.

Two more plays that tackle relationships and romance are The Break Up by Glen Pickering and Renée Boyer-Willisson’s serendipitous tale The Smell of Rain.  James and his friends are at what I assume is some costume party (it is never explained why the characters are dressed the way they are) and the entirety of the plot raises the question: how much would you do for an extremely reasonably priced super king sized bed?  The Break Up is absolutely hysterical with excellent pacing and great comedic storytelling made all the more ridiculous with a furry elephant costume.  The Smell of Rain also raises a question – several actually – when Serenity meets “Mikey” by chance at a cafe on a rainy day and she conveniently decides it’s “share your problems with a stranger day”.  A rather quirky would-be/could-be love story very cleverly constructed and brilliantly executed.   I loved that Gingerbread man skit!

The best performance of the night for me was The South Afreakins by the Stampy Theatre Company.  The story kicks off backstage – we hear a couple with very distinctive South African accents conversing.  Only when Robyn Paterson comes to the stage and takes a seat do we quickly realize that she is both husband and wife.  The narrative had a well-paced arc with a good dose of humor while also having a strong message of home and identity embedded into it.  It is very much a one-woman show with Paterson wearing all hats in this production – playwright, director and actor.  I was incredibly impressed by how she embodied both Gordon and Helene; the way she swiftly alternated between both characters, skillfully changing voices and posture – it was just a flawless performance.

Boys’ Outing by Winter’s Collective was another well acted performance, in my opinion.  The entire plot takes place at a bus stop and centers on a conversation between two schoolmates as they wait for the bus.  Where the story lacks in action and movement, it more than makes up for it in performance.  Graham Candy and Ryan Dulieu do a commendable job playing Ben and Rich.  The chemistry and camaraderie between these two boys is evident which made the banter between them incredibly candid, all the more believable and enjoyable to watch.  A story with bucket loads of humor but also one with bite.  It tackles an issue that some would find uncomfortable to discuss but I thought whoever wrote it did an exceptional job at broaching the topic in a more accessible and “user friendly” way.

My vote for favorite play came down to Josh Hartwell’s A Different Client and the closing play, The Guilt Sniffer by Team M&M Productions.  Darren Taniue as the flamboyant “brown and down” call boy was a delight to watch and I absolutely loved the way the story unfolded and built up to the twist at the end.  That climax where everything was revealed and that chilling ending is something that I will not soon forget as it was just so unexpected and so incredibly moving.  I cannot resist a good detective story though and I thought The Guilt Sniffer had an interesting storyline, well-timed comedic moments and overall was just incredibly entertaining.  The narrative was well-constructed and made the most of the ten-minute time frame.  A great spoof and a creative take on the classic whodunit story.

So that’s two groups done, one more to go!  Looking forward to what the final groups in the top 30 have to offer.

The Whimsical Banana rates Top 30 Week 2:
The Gospel According to Bowser: 4/5 bananas
The Gift: 3/5 bananas
The South Afreakins: 5/5 bananas
Boys’ Outing: 4/5 bananas
The Break Up: 3/5 bananas
The Wedding: 2/5 bananas
A Different Client: 5/5 bananas
The Smell of Rain: 3/5 bananas
The Guilt Sniffer: 5/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP. For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Wildcard Week 1

After watching the first group of Wildcards perform, I don’t envy the people that had to decide who made the top 30 and who didn’t as from what I’ve seen so far, the talent pool this year really is just incredible.  While there were only a few plays that really stood out for me in the first top 30 group, I found this Wildcard group to be a much closer race.

The show kicks off on a sombre note with Softly as in a Morning Sunrise by Robert Barr.  With no props, the pressure was on the cast to fill the empty space with their performance, sell the story and keep the audience engaged.  I thought it was almost there; the two political prisoners were performed well by the two actors and the end was quite clever, I just think the story arc did not quite work within the ten-minute time frame.  Similarly I felt Henrietta Bollinger’s Bedtime Monsters had pacing issues too.  I liked the fly-on-the-wall feel the story had but for me, the pay-off at the end did not quite match the build up.  Coincidentally these two plays were the only ones in the bunch to not have a director on board which is perhaps the missing link that was needed.

A Cultural Hierarchy by Curious Theatre was my favorite play in the first half.  It begins in the darkness before we meet “best friend beings” Seb and Angie who are there to take us on a tour of Pastiche gallery.  After informing us of a few housekeeping rules notably the “no touching policy” (demonstration included), the tour very quickly becomes one of escalating inappropriate behavior before complete mayhem is unleashed.  The level of panache and comedy was well balanced and executed and I absolutely loved the way the story breaks the Fourth Wall through their faux interaction with the audience.

I really enjoyed David Vazdauskas’ How About Cannons? which took us back in time in a supposed moment in history where we see that even the greats suffer from writer’s block.  While clearly meant to be taken with a grain of salt, the two actors did bring a level of authenticity to their performance.  Suddenly it didn’t seem all that far-fetched and perfectly plausible that Tchaikovsky would have argued with his brother about whether the 1812 Overture should be a celebration or cattle call.  I thought Michael Morris brought great energy to the stage as the excitable younger brother.

Simple in concept but creative in execution, Riding the Red by Grace de Morgan tackled the thing that everyone can identify with on some level – love.  Like the first play, there were no props, but the story is brought to life through a spot of mime and an entertaining and animated monologue where two individuals ponder their past failed conquests.  The ending epitomizes the very theme of this festival – short and sweet – and Queen’s Somebody to Love could not have been a more perfect song to follow after!  In contrast Michelle Macwhirter’s For Our Kind transports us to the year 2032 after a virus outbreak and explores love but what it becomes when the human race is in survival mode.  I liked the twist on the “first date” in the wake of a global disaster but the ending left me a bit cold.

I was pretty much decided that A Cultural Hierarchy was going to be my vote for favorite play and then A Criminal Mind by Paula Armstrong came along.  “Black comedy with a twist” really is the perfect way to describe it.  I thought the premise was clever, paced and structured perfectly to unfold in the ten-minute run time and well cast.  The best, however, was really saved for the last – Skux Capacitor’s Mechanics won me over with the “no frills” way in which the story of Joseph and “bad joke Eli” was told.  I loved their use of mime, homemade sound effects and makeshift quicksand as well as the clever use of  “Radio Bloke” to play the story’s narrator.  It was silly but loads of fun and a good laugh – the perfect end to another great selection of  bite-sized theatre!

The Whimsical Banana rates Week 1 of the Wildcards:
Softly as in a Morning Sunrise: 2/5 bananas
A Cultural Hierarchy: 5/5 bananas
Bedtime Monsters: 2/5 bananas
How About Cannons?: 4/5 bananas
Riding the Red: 4/5 bananas
A Criminal Mind: 5/5 bananas
For Our Kind: 3/5 bananas
Mechanics: 5/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP. For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

Review: Short + Sweet Theatre – Top 30 Week 1

For those who have an interest in live performance but have a short attention span, Short + Sweet Theatre is the perfect theatre fix for you.

The first round of this quickfire theatre festival began earlier this week and over the next three weeks will feature 50 plays that have a mere 10 minutes to reel you in and impress you.  From comedy to slice-of-life to melodrama, there is a little something for everybody.  And if something doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, you need only wait a few minutes before the next short story comes along.

There was a lot to like in the first group that took the stage in the Herald Theatre on Tuesday.  Kerrie Ann Spicer’s Stiff Justice set the bar high with a dark comedy about a newbie cop who shares a secret with a ghostly John Doe.  I thought it was brilliantly conceptualized and perfectly timed considering the short time frame.  Do Not Pull by Sally Sutton took a while to “rev up” but the colorful personalities and natural chemistry between the four traveling girl friends is what held my interest.  I particularly liked the ditzy but lovable Chardonnay (how can you not, with a name like that!).  And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good Britney tribute?

Comedy seamlessly moves into drama with the help of smooth set changes and cleverly selected accompanying songs.  I thought Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang following 50 Guns was particularly apt.  Hope, by the Indigenous Theatre Group, Alex Broun’s 50 Guns and Nine Types of Ice by Michael Ripley in the second half all attempt to put some weight in their plays by tackling more serious, real life issues.

I could not take my eyes off Emma Fenton; her gripping “murder is easy” monologue in which she puts a name to every gunshot victim was both disturbing and riveting.  I have to say it was rather daring to bring something like this to the stage, especially in the wake of the recent theatre shooting in America.  The message behind the play is a powerful one but I’m not ashamed to admit I felt a tad uneasy!

Out of all the plays I think Hope, which put a face to abortion was the most confronting and the one that is likely to spark the most controversy.  While I bought in to the actors’ emotionally-charged performances, I do think the subject matter may unfortunately be a little too taboo to be fully appreciated.  The top actors of the night for me were Amelia Reynolds and Xavier Black who went from playing young and excitable friends in Do Not Pull to two anguished mothers in Nine Types of Ice waiting for the fates of their children who were involved in a tragic accident to be revealed – absolutely gut-wrenching.

It was a close race for favorite play of the night for me.  In the end it was between the laughs aplenty medieval-themed Wisdom of Solomon by Tristram Baumber and Nic Sampson’s The Lighthouse Keeper.  Ultimately it was Barnaby Fredric’s charming performance of Earl, the paddles-for-hands “French robot that talks” that sealed my vote.

I did thoroughly enjoy the flamboyant and camp antics of King Solomon (who believes all problems can be solved by literally cutting them in half) but I felt at times the intended chaos and mayhem of the scene was at its detriment as it caused some dialogue to get lost which made it a bit confusing to follow.  In contrast the simplistic nature of the struggling writer who has been replaced by a curious robot who just wants to be friends is devoid of much action but yet is witty, entertaining and just a delight to watch.

Had The Flowers by Festival Director Jonathan Hodge been eligible, my vote would have quite easily gone to it instead.  The second monologue in the bunch, Sheena Irving is perfectly cast as the Nintendo-raised Sam, the “town death magnet”.  The storytelling in this is just superb and again, considering the ten-minute constraint, I thought the story arc was exceptionally paced and very well executed.  The closing play, Supercide, sees the evening finish as it started – with another dark comedy, this time about Aeroman, superhero of Jaffatown, who is uncharacteristically feeling suicidal.  I thought this twist on the superhero tale was very clever and I enjoyed the meta-humour immensely.

If this first round is anything to go by, I am extremely excited for the coming rounds!  I would thoroughly recommend Short + Sweet Theatre to any theatre lover who wants to kill many birds with one stone as these bite-sized plays are the perfect “tasting plate”.  It is also a fantastic opportunity to check out not only the local emerging talent in the theatre world but also from around the globe too.

The Whimsical Banana rates Week 1 of the Top 30:
Stiff Justice: 3/5 bananas
Do Not Pull: 3/5 bananas
50 Guns: 4/5 bananas
Hope: 2/5 bananas
The Lighthouse Keeper: 5/5 bananas
Wisdom of Solomon: 4/5 bananas
Nine Types of Ice: 3/5 bananas
The Flowers: 5/5 bananas
Supercide: 4/5 bananas

Short+Sweet Theatre is playing at The Herald Theatre and is presented by The EDGE in association with STAMP. For more information, dates and tickets click here.

For the full programme, cast and play information, check out the Short + Sweet blog.

It’s all about The Pride

On leaving the Herald Theatre last night, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of great pride (no pun intended!) at the fantastic theatre scene we have here in Auckland.  Makes me very proud to be a part of this big little city!

Silo Theatre’s The Pride hits the nail on the head on all accounts – outstanding cast, exceptionally written, simple but innovative set design and perhaps most importantly, a play that succeeds in being both entertaining and thought-provoking.  The play is performed by a mere cast of four under the superb direction of Sophie Roberts and depicts two different worlds that are fifty years apart.  In 1958 we witness the shame and anguish from a forbidden love between two men whereas in 2008 the two men are openly together but their love is riddled with betrayal and lust.

The characters may have the same name but they are not the same person.  They are, however, intrinsically linked; their actions indirectly affecting the other, and the “bigger picture” through time.  Through the clever moving of the glass panel backdrop and simple relocating of the set, the narrative transitions between the different times seamlessly and the actors swap between their two characters effortlessly too.

I was thoroughly impressed by Simon London’s portrayal of both the darker and troubled 1950’s Phillip and the more carefree and evolved Phillip fifty years later.  The subtleties in his performance – the nervous twitches, the inflections in his voice, differing postures and body language – are remarkable and really showcase his skills as an actor.

I felt there was not too much of a leap between the two Olivers but still a solid performance from Kip Chapman.  His excellent facial expressions and animated delivery of his lines (particularly as the 2008 Oliver) were what stood out for me.  I had last seen Kip in Black Confetti (my review for that can be found here) where he played quite a dark character so it was quite refreshing to see him tackle something completely different.

Sylvia takes up the third spot in the complicated love triangle that unfolds in this story and she is played brilliantly by Dena Kennedy. Through her expressive and highly emotive performance you can’t help but just root for her in both worlds.  The chemistry that the three share when together on stage is just amazing, especially the awkward social exchanges in the beginning.

Sam Snedden is the fourth and final cast member and although he is what you would call a “supporting act” his skillful performance of three very different characters demands your attention and is absolutely top notch.  And while he may not be a part of the central trio, the characters he plays are integral to the story because they represent the views of society on homosexuality and how they’ve changed.

The play tackles a whole lot; love, desperation, oppression, freedom and loneliness so I left The Pride feeling pretty emotionally spent – but in a good way!  It is an extraordinary play with bite and a lot of depth because it is also a thinly veiled social commentary about the changing attitudes towards homosexuality over the span of fifty years.  Every character embarks on an emotional journey and we are right there not only to see it all happen but we are swept away with them too.

Thank you, Alexi Kaye Campbell for writing this superb and important theatre piece and thank you, Silo Theatre for bringing us this simply incredible production!

The Whimsical Banana rates The Pride: 5/5 Bananas!

At times intense and confronting, but also incredibly engaging and uplifting with an extremely talented cast.

The Pride plays at the Herald Theatre until September 1st .  For more information and tickets, click HERE.