Magnolia Street

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

By Dave Armstrong; Directed by Frank Newman
Presented by Capital E
Downstage Theatre | July 21-28

A quick fire history lesson of a fictional street, an epic tragic-romance story, a rebel youth’s relationship with an elderly neighbor, and a delusional woman’s decline into dementia fuses with quick character changes, cartoonish music, physical comedy, and groundbreaking live projections in Capital E’s Magnolia Street. It could be a plethora of both form and content that overwhelms and bewilders, but these elements fuse together to create a really lovely, cohesive, humorous piece of theatre.

I am constantly impressed at the maturity and sophistication with which Capital E treat their young audiences. Yes, there are fart and bum jokes and people fall over (still funny for me…), but they never cut corners in crafting complex, often flawed characters, and honest, affecting stories.

In Magnolia Street, writer Dave Armstrong gives us two such dramatic personas. Our rebellious Jake (Robin Kerr) seems like a bit of a bully, tagging projected spray paint on the fence of number 18 Magnolia Street. He is skating down Magnolia Street when he bowls over eccentric octogenarian, Beryl Booth (Erin Banks), the all-swearing, all-batty old lady. Of course, it takes her no-nonsense attitude towards neighbours to bring the cool kid down to earth.

The eponymous street is home to more than just magnolia trees. Beryl becomes a tour guide, leading Jack through the streets history. She is ably supported by Byron Coll, who fills in the street’s eccentric characters with flare and enthusiasm. Beryl is not just narrating, however; with the help of projections, the stage becomes an interactive mind map, allowing her to take the audience from location to location and time period to time period. And best of all, it’s done with a sense of fun and a wink to the audience.

The projections are really something special. Billed as an investigation into ‘tracking’ on stage, the filmic devices create some wonderful stage magic. Projections are often filmed live onstage and projected straight up onto the screen; a revolving street scene, for instance, is spun by an actor while Jake skates centre stage. These imaginative, often hilarious, projections help unlock the real heart of the show, the shared playfulness between young and old.

For dates of Magnolia Street’s nationwide tour schedule, see captiale.org.nz.
Filed under: ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

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Samuel Phillips is the Wellington theatre editor for The Lumière Reader. When he isn’t reviewing theatre he can be found making theatre with Wellington-based company, Bright Orange Walls, or studying at Victoria University of Wellington.