Created by Thomas Sainsbury & Lara Fischel-Chisolm
Presented by Dynamotion
Basement Theatre, Auckland | August 5-9
I came to the Dynamotion party upsettingly late. Having missed the boat on the first two parts of their Terror trilogy, Terror Island and Terror Planet, I managed to catch their show during this year’s Pride Festival, Purple Rainbow. An outrageously hilarious combination of dancing, acting, and pop songs both obscure and overplayed, it remains a highlight of my theatrical year, along with their latest outing, Terror Highway.
Dynamotion, a company created and led by playwright Thomas Sainsbury and choreographer Lara Fischel-Chisholm, mixes dance, acting, and comedy with a keen knowledge of genre for their shows. Terror Highway is their take on the grindhouse B-movie genre, gleefully taking from mainstays like Caged Heat, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and most of Pam Grier’s filmography. But more important than their pop cultural knowledge is the company’s sense of fun.
The plot, such as it is, is told entirely through dance, song, and ridiculous Southern accented voiceover. It follows LaRonda (Fischel-Chisholm), a waitress at a dive bar somewhere in ’70s America. When she and her two fellow waitresses (Kate Simmonds and Karamia Muller) are framed for the murder, they end up going on the lam, a run that takes them through the gates of Hell and back. It’s as much a parody of this genre as it is a loving embrace of what makes this kind of B-movie so much fun; you don’t suspend your disbelief so much as you never knew it to begin with and you’re along for the ride.
The choice of songs is unexpectedly on point, running the spectrum from recent pop mega-hits like Jason DeRulo’s ‘Talk Dirty’ and Lil’ John’s ‘Turn Down For What’ to some fairly obscure MIA and a deep—and I mean deep—Paul Oakenfold cut featuring Brittany Murphy. It’s eclectic without ever diverting from the drama or the genre, and when a song I recognised came up I was tickled and excited to see what dance the show would throw at me to accompany the song.
The cast are uniformly excellent and scarily committed. All the actors have their highlights, but it’s hard to get past the brilliance of the lead trio, Kate Simmonds, Karamia Muller, and Lara Fischel-Chisholm. Fischel-Chisholm is flat-out stunning in the lead role and is clearly a very capable dancer. It’s a surprisingly full-bodied performance in a role that would have been easy to step outside and make fun of. She’s onstage for almost all of the show, and for very good reason. Other highlights include a Siamese twin courtesy of Perlina Lau and Elizabeth McMenamin, Chris Parker’s anachronistically fashionable and feminine boyfriend character, and Dan Veint’s glitter-thrusting Satan.
It’s very easy to forget to have fun when you’re seeing drama after drama, play after play, serious show after serious show, but Terror Highway is all about the fun. It’s all about laughing at the genre, laughing at the actors, and laughing with the actors. The glee of watching this, as was also the case with Purple Rainbow, is knowing that the cast, committed and physically exhausted, is having just as much fun as the audience. Dynamotion is a reminder that theatre doesn’t have to make you think or make you leave the theatre feeling bad about life or existence in general, it can just stir up that primal feeling of fun in you.
Terror Highway is fun and Dynamotion is fantastic. After seeing both this and Purple Rainbow, I’m going to be the first to line up to see their next show.