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

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.

Unwrapping Christmas in the BIG little City

Unwrapping Christmas

Calling all Aucklanders!  If you’re looking for some jolly festivities to get you in to the spirit of the silly season, Aotea Square is the place to be.

This year, The EDGE team up with BIG little City to bring us a fun and unique Christmas experience Auckland-style.  With an eclectic line up of street theatre, live music, art, dance and more there is something for everybody.  Here’s the best news: it’s all FREE.

Back again for the fourth year running is the fantastic Random Acts programme which continues its tradition of taking theatre to the people.  I checked out the acts over the weekend and was thoroughly entertained!

Pacific Me CityPacific Me City 2

I thought Pacific Me City was a very clever spin on a dance routine.  Presented by Ura Tabu Pacific Dance, the performance is essentially a mobile interweaving dance mob which takes the living statue mime act to a whole new level.  The performance is almost entirely interactive – it’s “success” is heavily dependent on audience participation.  Four performers strike a pose in front of four posts which read “…stand here for dance instructions”.  It does take a few rather awkward minutes of staring at these frozen performers before the crowd get what is going on but soon there were quite a number of people who were game to get an impromptu dance lesson.  I loved the Pacific twist to it as well as those bright and colorful costumes!

Twas the Night before ChristmasMy personal favorite was the charming and magical ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by The People Who Play With Theatre.  If you love fairy tales and appreciate performance which incorporate beautiful imagery and puppetry, this one’s for you.  Imagined and constructed by Auckland playwright, puppet-maker and performer Ben Anderson, this famous poem is quite literally brought to life with the set and performance space being a giant book!  With each turn of the page, the world unfolds in a pop-up fashion – this innovative storytelling technique is truly a visual spectacle and engaging experience.

Comic Interludes

I was drawn to the re-styled truck which doubles as a mobile stage at the edge of the Square so I had high expectations for Comic Interludes, a masked street theatre show inspired by Renaissance European acting troupes and circus.  While I enjoyed the energy and comedic antics of the LAB Theatre performers, the actual story left me a little cold.  The story was easy enough to follow, it just didn’t have a “hook”.  Judging by the dwindling audience, I think the over-the-top mayhem became a little off-putting to some.  It’s a mighty shame because they are a talented ensemble and they effortlessly drew the crowd in at the start, they just weren’t able to capture the people’s attention for the entirety of the show.

Unsung Heroes

If you’re not just popping by on a flying visit and plan to spend the afternoon enjoying everything Unwrapping Christmas has to offer (highly recommended!), you will no doubt come across the mischievous trio known as the White Face Crew interacting with passers-by as part of their Unsung Heroes act.  From entertaining short skits to spontaneous gags to coming at you with sunblock inviting you to “slip, slop, slap”, this cheeky characters will have you hooked with their silly antics, clowning and physical theatre.

Tango de Construct

Tango de Construct 2

Geoff Gilson of Beautiful Sake Productions and tango partner Victoria Szerdi will transport you to the vibrant streets of Buenos Aires with their sensuous Tango De Construct pop up dance performance.  Once they hit the dance floor, I couldn’t take my eyes off them – they glide across the “stage” so effortlessly and with such grace and skill.  For those keen to have a go, you’re in luck!  This year there is a new offering called Bandstand Under the Stars which gives you the opportunity to not only watch different styles of dance but to learn firsthand from the performers themselves.

Moving Canvas, a dynamic and colorful display of live body art is the last act in the Random Acts programme but which I have yet to see as unfortunately they weren’t performing on the day I was there.  It does sound very intriguing though so I am planning on popping down this Sunday to check them out.

Unwrapping Christmas - Aotea Square

Overall it was an extremely fun and fabulous day out in the BIG little City and one I would recommend to anyone – young, old, theatre lover or not – there is a whole array of activities on offer to keep everyone entertained.  And if somehow nothing tickles your fancy, pop down anyway for a drink and bite to eat, or a sunbake on the deck chairs – better than staying cooped up at home, at any rate!  We may not have a White Christmas but this wonderful Unwrapping Christmas programme proves that a Southern Hemisphere Christmas can be magical too!

Unwrapping Christmas is running until the 21st December at Aotea Square.  Below is when the Random Acts are on but for the full programme which includes Bandstand Under the Stars, Christmas Markets and an excellent Live at Lunch line up, click here.

Unwrapping Christmas - Random Acts programme

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.

BREL: The Words & Music of Jacques Brel

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

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

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

Thank you to Jackson Perry for the photo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Whimsical Banana rates BREL: 5/5 bananas

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

Review: The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Musical

Last weekend, I was transported back to my childhood in a flurry of colorful costumes, energetic song and dance, and a wonderfully dynamic set.  After an incredibly successful season of Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins was easily the next most anticipated musical event of the year and I’m not at all surprised to say it doesn’t disappoint and exceeded my every expectation!

Whether you’re a fan of the 1964 Walt Disney film or the original canon penned by P.L. Travers, this stage musical co-created by Cameron Mackintosh and directed masterfully by Richard Eyre is a whole new magical experience.  Aside from a fabulous top notch cast and fantastic support from a live orchestra, this production makes full use of the stage boasting an array of delightful props as well as visual and special effects that will amaze and enthrall you from start to finish.

According to Mary Poppins herself, you will look like a codfish doing so but I just couldn’t help myself – for most of it, my mouth was hanging open in awe at the magic of it all.  With an impressive constantly changing, ever moving set and featuring both the old classics as well as catchy new songs, this timeless well-loved story is visually breathtakingly beautiful and an absolute joy to hear.

Rachel Wallace is perfectly cast as the titular character, portraying the magical nanny skillfully with an air of grace, unwavering dignity and great finesse.  She really was “practically perfect in every way”!  For many – myself included – Julie Andrews is the visual representation of Mary Poppins but fair warning, this may change after you see Rachel work her magic!  I thought she embodied the physicality and spirit of the character so effortlessly and convincingly.

Just like the Banks’ children who soon become enamored by Mary Poppins’ unconventional but effective nanny style, you can’t help but get spellbound by Rachel’s performance.  She commands your attention with ease and has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand in no time.

The rest of the cast were absolutely stellar too, from the supporting characters to the ensemble.  I thought Simon Burke was great as George Banks, brilliantly depicting the exasperating yet almost comical stuffiness and inflexibility that the character is known for.  Precision and Order, one of the new numbers shines a spotlight on this idiosyncrasy and is a great addition to the song list.

I was also really impressed by the two children that played Jane and Michael.  It’s incredibly inspiring to see such young talent involved in such a major production and giving the adult performers a run for their money!  I especially enjoyed the comedy (with a little hint of mischief!) that the actor who played Michael that evening put in to the character.

Aside from Mary Poppins, the character that I enjoyed the most and who shone the brightest in my opinion was Mary Poppins’ cheery sidekick, Bert.  Matt Lee is simply outstanding as the multi-talented sometimes chalk artist, sometimes chimney sweep.  From opening the show with the recurrent Chim Chim Cher-ee, to being Mary’s trusty best friend and fun companion to the kids, to an astounding gravity-defying stunt, Matt does it all.  He plays Bert with such conviction and his stage presence is second to none; the charisma and energy he brought to his performance was just so enjoyable and captivating to watch.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of all the musical numbers.  Every song was beautifully sung and excellently choreographed – a vocal and visual spectacle.  One of the standout numbers for me was Step In Time which featured Bert and his fellow chimney sweeps in an enthusiastic and energetic tap dance routine – it was exciting, dynamic and just so much fun to watch!  Out of all the songs, perhaps the most known and loved one is the catchy mouthful Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  It certainly would have been the most anticipated number and boy was it a goodie – I especially liked the addition of the hand gestures to mimic the letters.

The thing that had the biggest “wow factor” for me which completely blew me away was that stunning and amazing set.  Pretty much every prop and backdrop is movable and can be interacted with which made each set or scene change become more than just a necessity to indicate a change in location or progression in the narrative; for me it was something I started to look forward to seeing happen.

Every time the scene changed or the set moved, it happened so seamlessly and sometimes with a surprise or two that makes you scratch your head and wonder, “how did they do that?”.  It reminded me a lot of those old school “pop up books”.  The scene where the children are introduced to Mary Poppins’ magical bottomless carpet bag is one of my favorites from the film and how it was translated to the stage was just so remarkable to watch; it really was one of those “you have to see it to believe it” moments.

I do feel like my words will not be able to give full justice to just how exhilarating and truly spectacular this production it is.  I also don’t want to give too much away as a big part of the magic is seeing it unfold for yourself!  All I will leave you with is it is a must-see that is well worth the money and the trip – this renown children’s tale turned stage musical is simply flawless and an absolute theatrical triumph.

So don’t miss out – have a generous spoonful of sugar and let Mary Poppins take you and your imagination on a magical, extraordinary adventure.  Your eyes, ears and inner child will thank you for it.

The Whimsical Banana rates Mary Poppins: 6/5 bananas!

Beautifully crafted, exceptionally staged and superbly performed – a massive well done to the cast and creative team!

Mary Poppins is playing at the magnificent Civic Theatre in Auckland for a strictly limited season.  For more information, dates and to buy tickets, click here.  You can also learn more about the cast and crew, and catch snippets of the music by visiting the official Mary Poppins website.

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 Listies Do Compooters: A Mad Take on that Interweb Thingo

It was my first foray in to attending and reviewing a kid’s show but I was excited and really keen to see this award-winning smash hit duo from across the ditch in action.  Described as “deliberately raucous, rude and very, very funny”, it already indicates that it is not a kid-exclusive show but one that can be easily enjoyed by adults as well.

Meet Rich and Matt.  Rich is the serious and responsible one while Matt is mischievous, playful and likes dreaming of LOLCats.  They have created a show all about “compooters” which was meant to be performed inside a brand new computer but Matt broke it when he put cheese inside the DVD drive because he thought the mouse was hungry.  This is the brand of humor that you can expect to be dished out along with accompanying colorful props, a host of pop culture references and gags aplenty in this manic and hysterical show.

The stage, which houses a giant computer monitor, USB drive (“Uninteresting Stuff & Bits”) and a strategically placed recycle bin, is the duo’s playground for comedic lists as well as fun adventures.  Letting your imagination run wild is a necessity and audience interaction and participation is an integral part of the show.  It truly was a delight to see the kids just jump right in, eager to be involved.

Highlights of the show for me: an onstage game of Pong (the world’s oldest computer game, and smell) followed by a more modern 3D version which involved the entire audience.  I also really liked the concept behind the castle quest World of Woolcraft (which is “like World of Warcraft but with more ram”) where the audience are instrumental in how the adventure plays out with regular “decision time” sections.  There is even an elaborate fight scene “rated S for Stupid” featuring stunt doubles.

What impressed me the most is how effortlessly Rich and Matt had the kids eating out of the palm of their hands for the entirety of the show.  They knew exactly which buttons to push to get the best reactions from the kids.  The show is incredibly boisterous, beyond entertaining and will hopefully make you ROFLSHABOWLO (Roll On The Floor Laughing So Hard A Little Bit Of Wee Comes Out).

It is the duo’s first time ever to our shores but I certainly hope it won’t be their last!  I would pick these veterans at children’s theatre any day over the likes of The Wiggles and Barney.  The Listies Do Compooters is perfect for children and adults alike, or as they like to call it, “kidults” (kids and their adults).  This is a good starting point for kids who have not experienced the theatre before and great for adults who want to embrace their inner child for an hour.

The Whimsical Banana rates The Listies Do Compooters: 5/5 bananas!

Exceedingly fun, endlessly funny and just totes brilliant!

The Listies Do Compooters is presented by TIME OUT Theatre and part of the October School Holidays Program.  Tickets are only $15 and their last show is on the 9th October – this is a fantastic show for the whole family so you don’t want to miss out!  For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

To find out more about The Listies, check out their website.

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.