Presented by Le Petit Workshop, Refiner’s Fire,
and Nikki Bennett and Company
Basement Theatre, Auckland | October 15-20
Red Leap Theatre Company is one of those names that has only been spoken of in high regard. I’ve been trying to get to one of their shows for ages, only to have been led astray by conflicting schedules and work. The Feast is not a Red Leap show—rather, it’s three pieces that have been picked and developed by the company through their Incubator Programme—but all three pieces, and the show as a whole, deserve to be spoken of just as highly.
The first show, La Petit Workshop’s The Soldier Heart and the Feathered Girl, functions as both a children’s fable and a darker, Grimm-like fairytale. It is a masterclass in storytelling. Switching between puppets and actors like quicksilver and without jarring, while also keeping the audience entirely engrossed, is no small feat, but the performers in this show pull it off with ease. All four performers—Ash Jones, Alisha Lawrie-Paul, Katrina Wessling, and Ella Becroft—lend considerable charm to their already commendable puppetry skills, as well as the voices they bring to each character. Whether it be a larger-than-life owl or a horse commander, they ground this fantastical play in real emotions. It’s a strong opener to The Feast, and luckily the other shows follow suit.
Halfatasi, performed by Refiner’s Fire, is an entirely different experience, and is as much a dance piece as it is a physical theatre piece. Antonia Stelhin, Mele Taeiloa, Lavinia Uhila, and Seidah Tuaoi perform the role of Leilani, who is struggling with being born into two cultures: Samoan and European. All four are gifted and charismatic performers and allow the piece to blossom from a curio into something that feels angry, important, and necessary. Dance is a medium that remains more than a little bit foreign to me, but the stories and struggles of Leilani grabbed me immediately and stayed deep in my thoughts after the show finished.
Finally, we have the utterly delightful The Clown That Ran Away From the Circus, performed by Nikki Bennett and Company. Bennett is flat-out brilliant here, giving the standout performance of all three shows as a clown who is not very good at what she does, but means well. Not only is she hilarious, but she projects an innocence and goodwill that comes off like Giuletta Masina at her best. She is ably supported by Katie Burson and Eli Matthewson as her fellow clowns; both are fiercely committed to the roles and prove to be lovely foils for the flawless Bennett to work her magic, so to speak. It’s unfair to call it the highlight of the evening, but it’s definitely a fitting and appropriate end to it.
In between each of the plays, treats were served, providing the titular feast. It’s a nice touch that makes it seem like the festival of work that The Feast is. It’s a credit to The Basement for programming this season, which showcases three pieces that are pushing local theatre into exciting directions, and makes me wish that the season was even longer. All three pieces have more than enough charm to get by as individual works, with the performers having the skill and commitment to pull it off. But as it is now, they are three excellent slices of theatre that make up for one brave, exciting night of broadening your horizons. Go see them.