By Eli Kent; Directed by Andrew Foster
Auckland Theatre Company
Herald Theatre, Auckland | June 28-July 28
Walking into the Herald Theatre, I was certain I was in for a visual feast. The stage almost a complete square (at least to my fairly bad eyesight), a tree-ladder-type-thing constructed entirely of metal pipes, lots of pretty shadows and shapes projected on the floor and back wall—it was the one thing I was certain of going in. I also anticipated that it would be an intelligent, incisive play, given it was by Wellington wunderkind Eli Kent (The Intricate Art of Actually Caring). I’m delighted to say that Black Confetti exceeded my expectations on both counts.
Black Confetti is about perpetual student, drug dealer, epileptic, and general screw-up Siggy (Kip Chapman). He sold some drugs to a boy with a bad heart, Billy, who then died. His dad is missing and presumed dead and his life is generally falling apart. Afterwards, he goes to a party, has an awkward encounter with Billy’s twin sister, Flo (Julia Croft), and then has an epileptic fit, during which he meets Baron Saturday (Keith Adams), a mysterious creature who tells Siggy his dad isn’t dead. Throw in hapless best friend Elvis (Nic Sampson), creepy uncle-type Ray (Edwin Wright), and potential love-interest Katie (Virginia Frankovich) and, ladies and gentlemen, we’re in for a fun ride. And that’s only the first thirty minutes.
What’s most impressive about Kent’s script isn’t the dialogue, which is so faithful to these types of New Zealanders that it’s hard to pin them down in a few words, or the characters, who are so vivid they almost reach out from the stage and grab you—it’s the confidence and assurance with which he writes. Each visual concept, each narrative twist, and the wide array of characters are deployed with certainty, and they all have an important reason to be there, no matter how outlandish or ridiculous they seem. It’s an ironclad script, giving the play a solid foundation for the visuals, actors, and sounds to build from, and is the basis for what is an astounding production.
It’s difficult to describe the visuals without spoiling them or rendering them less than they are, but needless to say, they’re fantastic. Robert Larsen, doing double (and probably more than double) duty as lighting and projection design, creates visual spectacles that are not only, well, spectacles, but are emotionally affecting and serve to tie the show together, such as a moment with stars flying across the stage that almost had me shaking. John Parker’s set and costumes are also superb, from the aforementioned tree-ladder to Siggy’s costume, a marvel of simplicity and defining a character instantaneously.
However, one of the most effective and affecting parts of the play is Eden Mulholland’s sound design, replete with electronic beats and clubby doof-doofs (I might not be a musician). It’s constant without being overbearing, and seems to propel the play along at its relatively quick pace. There’s also a sense of life being just on the outside of the stage, outside of Siggy’s reach—if only he could just reach out and grab it.
Black Confetti is fortunate enough to possess an ensemble that is able to stand out from the appropriately ostentatious style. All the characters are well defined by the individual cast members; each handle Kent’s vernacular with aplomb, as if it comes naturally to them. Chapman is charismatic and winning as Siggy, and we totally get how this guy has friends, while at the same time understanding why he might not have more friends. The highlights for me, however, were the three twenty-somethings who orbit Siggy: Nic Sampson owns the role as Elvis, stomping on stage with a teenage petulance and self-deprecation, while Julia Croft’s Flo oscillates between going wild with her grief and going very much into herself. As the childhood friend of Siggy and Elvis, Virginia Frankovich is truly stunning—a monologue late in the play runs the gamut of pretty much every emotion I felt when I was a teenager—and she plays it so well, and so raw, that it felt as if the character was staring right into my face and screaming at me.
Huge credit must go to director Andrew Foster for bringing together all these elements: the script, cast, visuals, sounds, and set contributing to a rich tapestry. When I left Black Confetti, I was conscious that I had witnessed something that probably wouldn’t hit me emotionally until days after. As it is now though, I’m confident in saying that it’s a brilliant play, at once emotionally gripping and comforting, with a final message that it’s okay if we’re a screw-up because we can make a decision now not to be.