Auckland Fringe 2013:
Elevator, Wild Beasts, Velcro City

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

By Jess Sayer
Directed by Cameron Rhodes
Junket Theatre | February 20-23

Elevator is the first in a shamefully unpacked Auckland Fringe Festival dance card for me, but if I’m only going to see a few shows, I’m lucky to see one that is as thoroughly entertaining as this.

Jess Sayer’s Elevator is a compelling three-hander which revolves around three women stuck in an elevator: Sam (Lauren Gibson), her mother Bridget (Michelle Hine), and her estranged best friend Harper (Jess Sayer). All three women are hiding secrets. All three women have unresolved issues with each other.

It’s a relatively basic set-up, but Sayer uses the elevator setting well. It creates opportunities for both humour and tension, and she oscillates between the two so that the audience is never really comfortable. Sayer has a talent for a witty one-liner and some very on-point banter, but her sense of structure is also admirable. Every revelation and twist builds the play believably and in a way that keeps these characters and their situation intriguing.

Sayer has also crafted three fun characters for her actors, including herself. As Sam, Lauren Gibson gets most of the snarky one-liners and she bats every single one home. She also layers her character with enough edge that later developments are wholly plausible without being entirely expected. Michelle Hine’s Bridget is consummately the lawyer that Sam continually labels her as, while also showing us the sides of Bridget that are definitively not, like her own capacity for snark and an endearingly frazzled side when things inevitably turn south. Finally, as Harper, Sayer ably provides most of her own play’s comic relief, particularly in some early-hour statistic rants, but she’s most effective when the story gets into more serious territory and she plays Harper’s vulnerabilities affectingly. All three performers work well with each other and there’s an ease to both their movement and voice that is pleasurable to watch.

With its minimal lighting and zero set, it would be easy to dismiss Elevator as a performance showcase, and while it is very much that, it’s also a pretty damn fine play. You could do a whole lot worse with an hour than see three fine actresses digging their teeth into material this fun. But you shouldn’t—you should see this instead.

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Written and directed by Lucinda Bennett
Lucy & Luke Create/Kitsch Bitches | February 25-March 1

The Basement Studio is a space that I’ve seen transformed into a few things, but never seen covered quite like it was for Wild Beasts. The debut production of Luke & Lucy Create throws a massive tent up in the space, covering the roof and walls, with the audience seated inside. It draws us into the fairytale immediately, and is the perfect setting for this story of children growing up and growing out.

Written and directed by Lucinda Bennett, Wild Beasts follows two young girls, Sam (Katrina Wesseling) and Jelly (Sez Niederer), as they run away from home into the woods. They first encounter a disillusioned boy (Luke Wilson) who sets the tone of this foreboding fairytale, and then encounter all manner of beasts (Kelly Gilbride, Andrew Parker, and Sian van Asbeck) who harangue them on their trips through the forest. It is without a doubt a fairytale, and the play goes through fantastical flights of imagination.

The selling point of the play is obviously the tent. It is a gorgeous piece of set that I could spend this entire review on, but I won’t, because the rest of the play generally lives up to what this tent promises. Wesseling and Niederer are strong as the leads, are totally believable as children, and have an engaging chemistry with each other that really makes the play spark. Wilson is also fun as the very bitchy though defiantly-not-mean boy, and his petulance brings the tone of the play into something dark and fascinating. Gilbride and Parker make an impression with their initial beasts, one I won’t spoil, but one that was definitely a highlight of the play for me; vibrant, exciting, and ferocious. Asbeck is flat-out brilliant as the first beast we encounter; she’s legitimately scary and alarming. The play is largely episodic so we don’t see many of these actors together, but they all play off each other well and are definitely in synch with a tone that isn’t easy to capture at all.

Wild Beasts is, to make an easy analogy, a rare beast. It’s a play that is very much about the process of growing up, and how it’s as much about finding your new self as it is about losing your old self. Bennett’s writing is not always subtle, which is not necessarily a bad thin, as there are moments where we see these girls literally losing parts of themselves they thought they always had, and it makes the ending that much more poignant and deeply felt. Bennett’s direction also keeps the play visually interesting; even though a few scenes are slightly underlit, the play is visually expressive, especially with some shadow play early on.

I feel like I’m overusing this term a lot in regards to Fringe, but Wild Beasts is a fun time. You’re transported to another, largely allegorical, world for an hour and asked to believe in all these flights of fancy and ridiculous concepts. And Wild Beasts is good enough that you do. See it!

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By Eli Matthewson and Hamish Parkinson
Directed by Dan Bain
R.A.D Productions | February 28-March 3

Fringe has been really fun so far for me. Starting off with Elevator, and continuing with An Unfortunate Willingness to Agree (unreviewed but very good), the shows have been infectious, creative, and a pleasure to sit through. After a successful Edinburgh Fringe Festival season with their show, Square Eyed Pair, Eli Matthewson and Hamish Parkinson have returned to the Auckland Fringe with another sweet-hearted and hilarious comedy, Velcro City.

For this show, the pair perform a range of characters who live in New Zealand small-town ‘Velcro City’. To do this they stick pieces of cardboard to them using Velcro, obviously. These pieces of cardboard also form the set, and are the source of some awesome punch lines. The drawings on the cardboard are reminiscent of a kid’s drawings (not an insult!), and they’re vibrant and colourful enough to keep the show visually interesting. The pair swap between pieces of cardboard to portray each character, ranging from a butch café lesbian, to a wannabe mayor news anchor, to a man who just wants to stop the lavender fields spreading pollen to New Zealand popstar Kimbra. So it’s a pretty ridiculous show.

The show harpoons some New Zealand stereotypes and clichés, while also kind of embracing them. Mostly though, it’s a fun romp through the lives of these mostly inappropriate characters, like Parkinson’s depressed father more or less telling his babysitter that love is dead, and Matthewson’s believably terrible bus driver being a general dick to an old man who doesn’t understand what Snapper is. Even as the stakes get higher, it never takes anything too seriously, and wraps up sweetly in the end for everybody, including Kimbra.

Eli Matthewson and Hamish Parkinson are performers who you can definitely watch for an hour, and probably well past that. They’re both charismatic, have a kinetic energy propelling them around the stage, and have a loose, easy chemistry that is such a damn joy to watch. All of this serves them well as they go through increasingly ridiculous characters in Velcro City, and they both have a wide array of voices and physicalities to portray all these characters with. Occasionally they’re even quite affecting, especially Matthewson’s lovelorn teenager and Parkinson’s innocent café lesbian; it’s genuinely just nice to be in the hands of performers this confident and gifted for an hour. Kathleen Burns also provides a Suzy Cato-esque voiceover in between character changes that gets quite vindictive as the show goes on, for some massive laughs.

Along with a hilarious musical interlude of a song that haunts the brain of every ’90s Kiwi kid, Velcro City has pretty much everything that a comedy needs. It’s got laughs, it’s got heart, and it’s got two guys that you just want to watch do their thing onstage. Another slam dunk comedy from Matthewson and Parkinson.

Auckland Fringe 2013 runs from February 15-March 10.