TITUS: Shakespeare On Acid

Titus CupcakeRevenge is a dish best served cold.  Unless it is sixteenth century Rome, to which it would be best served freshly baked.

New theatre company Fractious Tash presents a new take on Shakespeare’s most violent work and it is both a gripping and terrifying experience.  Dark and gritty with a generous serving of bloodshed, mutilation and even cannibalism, this intense adaptation is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Titus tells the story of Roman army general Titus Andronicus and how he finds himself in a twisted, vicious cycle of revenge and murder with Tamora, the Queen of the Goths.  Under the masterful direction of Benjamin Henson, this five hundred year old macabre tragedy gets a contemporary makeover with brilliant use of pop culture, tongue-in-cheek creative choices and a hauntingly superb atmospheric set.

In contrast the dialogue is still delivered in the authentic Shakespearean style which does take a while to get used to initially but the story is easy enough to sink your teeth in to which is a credit to the well crafted script and also the exceptional performances by the all-male cast.  All recent graduates from Unitec, these actors are skilled performers, each embodying their characters effortlessly with raw authenticity and great conviction.

Titus

Paul Lewis is well cast as the titular character, brilliantly conveying Titus’ unraveling insanity whilst the villainous Tamora is performed with staggering credibility by Cole Jenkins.  I also found Eli Mathewson’s portrayal of the ill-fated Lavinia particularly stirring.  The actors as a collective are a well-oiled machine, perfectly complementing one another and feeding off each others’ energy.

Stylistically, this play is a visual treat – kudos to the creative team for an outstanding effort.  The lighting and chilling sound design work well in further enhancing the spooky-looking set and these elements all come together as one to create a genuinely scary and unsettling atmosphere.

Titus is a slick and impressive production with a stellar cast and is really Shakespeare as you have never seen before.  It is brutal and shocking, visually arresting and emotionally charged – a truly immersive and visceral theatrical experience.

The Whimsical Banana rates Titus: 5/5 bananas! 

Titus is at the Loft at Q until June 8th – click here for tickets.

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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.

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: Nuclear Family

With the world becoming increasingly more mobile, immigration has become a significant part of life for many individuals and families.  New Zealand has definitely become more of a multicultural hub as a result of this.

Penned by Desiree Gezentsvey, Nuclear Family offers a fresh perspective on the “joys of immigration” through the eyes of a group of Venezuelan and Soviet Jewish immigrants the day before the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.  It explores the emotional journey experienced by immigrants as they acclimatize to life in a new country – adapting to cultural differences, learning the local slang, struggling with identity issues and establishing a new career path.

Zina moved to Aotearoa seven years ago and while she has become quite settled in her new home she still has ties to her home country, Ukraine, where her children still reside.  Abi, a friend, has recently immigrated but already longs to return to Venezuela which doesn’t sit well with Alec, her husband.

At the center of it all is Zina’s shrewd and charming Babushka who doesn’t approve of her granddaughter’s manipulative ways and who’s sole concern is the promise she made to Zina’s late parents.  Collectively they all question the existence of freedom, choice and control in their lives as immigrants.

The most remarkable thing about this production is it is performed solely by one person.  Yael Gezentsvey skillfully and effortlessly portrays a dozen characters throughout the hour – each completely fleshed out with their own distinct accent, voice and mannerisms.  Apart from the core characters, some of the other personalities we get to meet are a friendly Maori neighbor, a playful child, a typical Kiwi bloke and sleazy Mr Potts.

Yael seamlessly switches between them all and although you may initially struggle to work out who’s who, you will quickly notice clear points of difference with each character.  This is truly a credit to and joined product of Yael’s impressive acting prowess and James Hadley’s vision and superb direction.

For me, I felt the underlying message that this story ultimately delivers is that everyone has an innate desire to belong somewhere.  It tackles the feeling of alienation and being torn in between two worlds that is often faced by immigrants, particularly if the family is divided.  This is also represented in the cleverly conceived set of two contrasting picket fences on opposing ends of the stage.

Nuclear Family is funny and gut-wrenching, riveting and moving, earnest and heartfelt.  It will speak to those who are immigrants themselves and will provide an eye-opening window into that life for those who aren’t.  It is a thought-provoking and exceptionally written piece performed flawlessly – a wonderful mother-daughter collaboration not to be missed.

The Whimsical Banana rates Nuclear Family:  5/5 bananas

Nuclear Family is playing at the intimate Loft at Q until 10 November.  It’s only a short season so get in quick!  For more information visit the Nuclear Family website and to buy tickets, click here.

This review is also featured on Keeping Up With NZ.

This review also appears on the Q website.

Into the Woods: “More Grimm Than Disney”

Have you ever wondered what happens after happily ever after?  What if fairy tale characters all lived and co-existed in the same world?  How would these characters fare in a real life setting where all actions have consequences?  This critically acclaimed Broadway musical explores just that and more.

A collaboration between award-winning writer James Lapine and renowned composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods is inspired by several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, most notably Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Rapunzel.  It takes everything you know about these much loved childhood stories and puts a dark and comical spin to it.  Jack and the Beanstalk also makes an appearance as well as an original tale involving a baker and his wife.

The premise revolves mostly around three characters – Cinderella, Jack and the Baker.  They each have a wish for something: Cinderella wants to go to the King’s festival, Jack wishes his cow Milky-White would give him milk, and the Baker and his wife long for a child.  In the first act they go on a quest into the woods and we see the lengths they go through to get what their hearts desire.  The second act – “Once upon a time…later” – sees the three content but yet again wishing for more.  They venture into the woods again where they soon discover that their actions (from the first act) have triggered some unwanted consequences.

This musical has been reproduced around the world and has earned many accolades over the years.  With an extensive song list of thirty-one numbers and a complex plot that consists of many disparate, interweaving storylines, this was definitely one mammoth of a production to undertake.  But with Aaron Tindell at the directing helm – whose recent production of The Red Chair* was musical theatre at its finest – I knew it was in good hands.

The Pumphouse is certainly the perfect venue and match for this adventure in the woods. From the picturesque views overlooking Lake Pupuke on arrival to the performance space being inside a quaint and cozy cottage with a wooden interior, not to mention the addition of accompanying “forest sounds”, the surroundings and atmosphere alone (whether intentional or not) set the mood even before the play starts.

As soon as you take your seats, your eyes are immediately drawn to the stage.  There are three rotating platforms – which we soon learn represent the three main story arcs of the narrative – and two raised balconies with the orchestra just visible behind one of them.  In a story that takes place over and jumps between multiple locations, I thought these five additional stages were a very clever way to expand and create additional performance spaces.  Considering the amount of movement on the stage every scene and location change transitions smoothly into the next with minimal distractions which is a huge credit to the lighting and staging crew.

A multi-layered story calls for a large ensemble cast and I was really impressed by the caliber of performers in this production.  Everyone gave a superb and polished performance and it was great that they all got their moment to shine.  The youngest performer, Cole Johnston, was engaging and personable as the Narrator and even though most of the time he is just a spectator to the action that unfolds, he didn’t get lost in it and remained in character.  The Little Red Riding Hood in this story is less helpless and more rebellious and I thought the attitude and “bite” Heather Wilcock brought to the role was great.  Standout performance for me was easily Jane Horder’s portrayal of the Witch; I felt she perfectly embodied the physicality and spirit of the character.

In terms of the music and vocals, the show is a treat to the ears.  The orchestra, under the skilled direction of Andrew Christie, came together beautifully as one sound – flowing seamlessly with the vocals and also complementing what was happening on stage.  What I appreciated about the vocal performances was that the songs never lost its storytelling quality.  The performers struck a great balance between demonstrating vocal prowess and (more importantly) delivering the story compellingly; not just with their voice but with their heart and through their facial expressions and body language too.

There were a few audio issues stemmed from the wireless headset microphones but other than that, this is an impressive, excellently staged and well-rounded production.  Do not be intimidated by the complexity of the narrative  – the story is rich, captivating and an enjoyable watch.  If you want to see what a more cynical and sinister side of a fairy tale looks like, let the North Shore Music Theatre take you on this fantastical adventure.

The Whimsical Banana rates Into The Woods: 4/5 bananas

A dark twist on a fairy tale – definitely more Grimm than Disney!

Into The Woods is playing at The Pumphouse Theatre by Killarney Park in Takapuna until 17 November.  For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

Thanks to Passion PR!

*To read my review of The Red Chair, click here.

Little Shop of Horrors: “Unusual Story, Fascinating Plant”

This is probably a strange choice for a family favorite but that was what the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors film was for me growing up.  Needless to say I was extremely excited when I found out that Auckland Theatre Company were bringing this comedy horror musical to the stage.  I have been looking forward to this production for months and I am thrilled to say that it did not disappoint!

Based on the original 1960 film by Roger Corman and inspired by the 1982 Off-Broadway production, this Auckland interpretation directed superbly by Simon Coleman, brings to life everything I remembered enjoying about this quirky musical and more.  The story is set in 1960s Skid Row and begins in the failing Mushnik’s Flower Shop.  Seymour is the clumsy, geeky florist assistant who becomes an “experimental botanist” overnight when he discovers a strange-looking plant after an unexpected eclipse of the sun.

Business begins to boom as this mysterious plant becomes a popular local attraction while Audrey, the co-worker he is secretly in love with, is starting to take interest in him. There’s only one problem – the plant, aptly named Audrey II, has an insatiable appetite for human flesh and blood.  As the story unfolds, we see Seymour battle with his conscience and faced with a moral dilemma.  He has his dream life and love but can he live with himself knowing it came at the price of catering to the plant’s carnivorous needs?

What I was most curious about was how the plant was going to transfer from what I have seen on screen to the stage.  Apart from looking slightly obscene, I felt the creative team did an excellent job at bringing the titular plant to the stage.  Kyle Chuen, the man behind the plant and Rima Te Wiata, the voice of the plant, worked together harmoniously to breathe life and personality to this demanding and menacing creature.

Audrey II aside, the other characters are realized by a talented ensemble of performers with impressive vocal chops.  Tim Carlsen was definitely the perfect choice to play Seymour; I thought he embodied everything about the character brilliantly and vocally he was flawless.  Similarly Colleen Davis was fantastic as the sweet but naive Audrey and Paul Barrett was excellent as the cranky, money-minded Mr. Mushnik.

I also really enjoyed Andrew Grainger’s portrayal of Orin Scrivello, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend and Seymour’s nemesis; he brought great comedy to an otherwise dark and unlikeable character.  Rounding up the cast is the fabulous trio behind Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon, the resident street urchins who comment (mostly through song) on actions that take place throughout the story.  I thought they brought great sass and attitude to the stage, enhanced all the more by their many striking costume changes!

The set is stylistically quite simple and there is minimal use of props.  What really made the stage more dynamic and visually exciting was the perfect mix of creative lighting design (including a laser light show), well-timed theatrical smoke and fog, and clever use of visual projections.  The projections were used to not only indicate changes in location and time, but also to mirror street art and graffiti to give Skid Row an edgier, more dangerous feel to it.

Being a musical, naturally the music is an integral part of the story.  Led by musical director Jason Te Mete, the songs are performed impeccably by a four-piece band tucked away backstage.  These numbers are a fantastic collaboration of Howard Ashman’s wonderful lyrics and Alan Menken’s gift of music and are inspired by 60s doo-wop with a dash of Motown and rock and roll.  The melodies are distinct and catchy and you can expect to have any or all of the more well-loved tunes – Somewhere That’s Green, Downtown, Suddenly Seymour and Feed Me – resonate in your head for days after.

Little Shop of Horrors is a slick and colorful production that is visually and vocally stunning, delightfully hilarious and a whole lot of fun.  It succeeds in being both an utterly ridiculous farce and a deliciously hysterical and entertaining musical at the same time.  I don’t necessarily agree that it is best suited to children 12 years plus, but it can certainly be a fun experience for the whole family and it is a definite must-see for all musical lovers.

The Whimsical Banana rates Little Shop of Horrors: 5/5 bananas!

Little Shop of Horrors is playing at the fabulous Rangatira at Q until 2nd December.  For show details and to book tickets, click here.

Full synopsis and cast information can be found here.

This review is also featured on Keeping up with NZ.

This review also appears on the Q website.

Review: Death of a Salesman

This iconic play by Arthur Miller may have been written back in 1949 but the message remains as relevant as ever.  We all have aspirations – some come to fruition while many unfortunately surmount to nothing more than pipe dreams – and the American dream in particular is still something many people chase and desire to this day.

Death of a Salesman was penned in a post-war world of emerging hope and rising opportunities, but yet takes on the pessimistic perspective that not everyone is meant for success, fame and fortune – that sometimes all we are destined to be in this lifetime is ordinary.  We follow Willy Loman, a sixty-year-old burned out, world weary salesman who is fast losing his grip on reality.  He is prone to talking to himself and often relives past events through vivid flashbacks.  This naturally causes great concern among his family – his doting wife, Linda and middle-aged sons, Biff and Happy.

Presented by Peach Theatre Company, this production is masterfully crafted with the structure mirroring a stream of consciousness.  The narrative shifts seamlessly between present time and the past through effective lighting cues and subtle changes in score.  The lines between reality and hallucination increasingly blur as the story develops; whether intentional or not, I thought this fit perfectly with Willy’s progressively deteriorating state of mind.  As Willy delves deeper in to his subconscious, his mistakes, failures and frustrations bubble to the surface and eventually everything in his life unravels.  What unfolds is riveting, heartbreaking and incredibly thought-provoking.

I love a good story with depth and this one is certainly one of them.  Almost everything is symbolic of something or has an underlying meaning.  This story tackles a lot of things which we can all relate to on some level.  Annie Whittle’s haunting laugh from the shadows is a particularly chilling symbol and constant reminder of an infidelity from Willy’s past.  Uncle Ben, his older brother, represents the man he wishes he was and the American dream that has eluded him.  Then there’s his ruthless boss, Howard Wagner, played credibly by Dwayne Cameron, who is the epitome of the cut-throat nature of the corporate world – one that disregards loyalty and is devoid of sentiment.

 

This complex play is brought to life by a stellar cast, many of which are veterans in the industry.  Jesse Peach is clearly a skilled actor’s director as he has really succeeded in bringing out the best in this talented ensemble.  George Henare portrays Willy with great heart and conviction, once again proving what a chameleon and exceptional stage actor he is.  Catherine Wilkin also put on a solid performance as the loving matriarch of the family.

I was really impressed with Ian Hughes’ heartfelt and earnest performance as Biff and I thought Richard Knowles was a great choice as the younger brother; his more jovial energy complemented Ian’s perfectly and the chemistry between them really translated in the many brotherly moments they shared.  Outside the Loman family, the supporting actors do an excellent job depicting their characters too.  I felt the entire ensemble instinctively knew how to play off each other and everything just came together brilliantly, forming an overall superb stage performance.

Death of a Salesman is intense and a sombre piece so is not for everyone, particularly if you enjoy your theatre on the light-hearted side.  But if you want a gripping and compelling story you can really sink your teeth into, this one packs an emotional punch and delivers a powerful message of life and the death of a dream that will resonate with you.

The Whimsical Banana rates Death of a Salesman: 4/5 bananas

Death of a Salesman is playing at the Maidment Theatre until 27th October.  There are only six more shows so get in quick!  Click here for tickets.

Thank you to Elephant Publicity!

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!

The Sex Show: A Cheeky Peek Under The Sheets

With a suggestive show title like that, The Outfit Theatre Company have left themselves nowhere to hide.  There really isn’t any ambiguity behind what the show is about and I was expecting nothing less than one hell of a raunchy show that was both confronting and entertaining.

Following a successful run during the 2011 Auckland Fringe, The Outfit, who have been touted as “one of Auckland’s slickest young companies” have redeveloped and reworked this award-winning, provocative show and are back with a return season.  Drawing on the personal experiences and sexual secrets from not only the cast and crew but over 114 brave participants of an anonymous online poll, The Sex Show follows an array of different colorful characters and couples on an erotic whirlwind of sexual encounters, struggles and fantasies.  Joel Herbert, the director, sums it up best: it is a “snapshot of New Zealand’s sexual psyche”.

With brief flashes of full-frontal nudity, plenty of simulated sex, weird fetishes and a few hand jobs thrown in for good measure, this show is definitely not for the conservative!  It tackles possibly the most taboo subject in society but thanks to the excellent direction, some fine writing by dramaturg Gary Henderson and polished performances by the cast, the show is actually not uncomfortable to watch with plenty of great one-liners, comedic moments and interesting insights about the sexual appetites of this country.

Featuring a massive ensemble cast of nineteen actors, there are a lot of characters to get acquainted to and I often found it hard to keep up with who’s who and the intersecting, episodic storylines.  The overall narrative arc is rather fast-paced so you don’t get much time to connect with any of the characters, which is a shame.  But each actor does get their time to shine and I thought they all performed brilliantly.  I especially enjoyed the mischievous antics of the Sex Panda and his two cheeky sidekicks, Fellatio Fox and Cunnilingus Cat – how can you not with names like that?

The set is minimalistic with just boxes that light up but they are seamlessly and strategically moved around with each scene change to create different spaces.  Coupled with the gorgeous chandeliers and appropriate mood lighting, the stage is visually scintillating which helps complement the actors’ performance and bring the story to life.

Unfortunately what dampened the experience for me was the sound issues which is largely due to the poor acoustics of the auditorium.  While the size of the stage and performance space is an ideal fit with the story, I do think the Concert Chamber is probably not the most appropriate venue for this production.  There is a lot of movement to and from the stage which is distracting at the best of times but unfortunately was made all the worse with the hardwood floors.  My attention kept getting diverted every time the female actors strutted up and down in their heels.

Furthermore unless you are sitting at the sidelines, the stage is a bit of a distance from the audience so in the scenes where music was present, some of the dialogue does get drowned out.  I also think the structure of the story should have catered for an interval; ironically it was more uncomfortable sitting down for almost two straight hours than it was watching couples getting it on!

These are of course things that can easily be rectified and I hope if future seasons are planned, that an alternative venue definitely be considered.  The production itself is absolutely top notch with great levels of authenticity and honesty to both the story and the performance.  Putting up something like this that pushes the boundaries is definitely an audacious move, and flaws aside, I do think they have done a remarkable job.  It takes a great deal of bravery to tackle such a controversial topic and even moreso for the actors to engage in such an intimate act on stage for all to see so I have the utmost respect for everyone involved.

The Sex Show is sexy, seductive and incredibly risqué but a whole lot of fun!  It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you have a great sense of humor and like your theatre on the naughty side, this is the show for you.

The Whimsical Banana rates The Sex Show: 3/5 sexy bananas!

The Sex Show is presented in association with STAMP and is playing at the Town Hall’s Concert Chamber until the 13th October.  For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

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.