Fringe 2009, Performing Arts Centre
February 6-9 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

THE FRINGE FESTIVAL sees the welcome return season of both Colony! And GRIMM – two short pieces devised by the Long Cloud Youth Theatre group under the capable direction of Willem Wassenaar. Both showcase excellent young talent, although they are far from mere vehicles for exhibiting acting skill. Both shows are entirely entertaining in their own right, and surpass some of the professional (and more generously funded) work seen on Wellington stages in recent times for sheer originality and energy.

Colony! features a group of washed up circus performers shipwrecked on a shore which they are told are New Zealand. Of a large and unusual sounding troupe only the bearded lady, Siamese twins, mute mime, fortune teller and ring master survive. The musical is begun by the angry ranting of the Irish mute mime, Bozo. Only the audience can hear him, and his venomous soliloquies punctuate the play. Hayden Frost as Bozo is excellent, snapping between barely restrained hostility and blank faced docility with precision. I found Tai Berdinner-Blades amusing as the pessimistic and cynical fortune teller, Bella (much is made of this rhyme in a song), although she needs to boost the volume of her voice at some points. Ally Garret and Sophie Hambleton are manic and disturbing as the dangerously erotic Siamese twins Lolita and Lola. Jack Buchanan plays the ring-master Percy well, carrying most of the musical numbers on his guitar. He starts off encouraging the disparate bunch to ‘percy-vere’ in their unfamiliar surroundings, but his lies catch up to him and he is one of the first to break down and give in to despair. Imogen Zino rounds out the cast as the dreamily romantic and hirsute Martha.

Although the play’s themes are clear enough to begin with, they break down and lose their way somewhat in favour of cliché. However, Colony! Is still a highly imaginative and enjoyable romp with a wicked sense of humour.

GRIMM is a shorter piece about fairy tale characters who have been trapped in repetitive roles and tied to tedious morality for centuries. Inspired by the disappearance of Cinderella they organize into unions and demand their freedom from ‘rigid morality and dark lifestyles’. However, in the ‘real’ world they are forced into new roles as consumerist, racist, road kill and rejected victim. The fairytale revolution does not herald freedom – they cannot escape the narratives and morals of their stories – they simply have been adorned with different details. This approach to fairytales is not wholly original (most recently we saw the same approach taken to jokes in Eli Kent’s brilliant Rubber Turkey) but the cast (Bea Joblin as Little Red Riding Hood, Ben Crawford as Prince Charming, Stella Reid as Rapunzal, Emerald Naulder as Evil Queen, Zac Kerr as Dwarf, Jack Buchanan as Wolf and Ali Lai-Carlyle as Sleeping Beauty) all acquit their roles well, even if they could all have been directed to shout a little less. Joblin in particular does a good job of capturing a mix of defiance and fear in her character.

GRIMM is far more typical ‘youth theatre’ fare, but still a decent offering and at just over half an hour doesn’t drag the idea out. Wassenaar and his cast should once again be commended for producing theatre that challenges and develops their burgeoning skills whilst remaining enjoyable for the audience. Look out for their next productions.