A Comedy Festival Dispatch: Squidboy, Kraken

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts
At the New Zealand International Comedy Festival 2014: Trygve Wakenshaw’s genius double act.

*   *   *

img_squidboySquidboy + Kraken
Herald Theatre, Auckland | May 13-17

It feels inappropriate to review Squidboy and Kraken separately, although they are two very different shows. It also feels inappropriate to review these shows at all. So much of the delight from seeing these shows is being surprised by what goes on. These shows defy description or synopsis, and further defy any kind of critical thought on them.

What is appropriate to write about is the creator and performer of these shows, Trygve Wakenshaw. I’ve seen a lot of attempts at clowning, and some very good clowns have made their way through this country, but I don’t think anybody I’ve seen has mastered the art of clowning quite like this man. He is flat-out genius. The way Wakenshaw transitions from character to character, situation to situation, and engages the audience is unparalleled. He had the audience of the Herald eating out of his hand, almost literally. There is a reason why both these shows have won awards throughout the country and the world: they are beyond brilliant, they are genius. If you are even slightly inclined to see them, wherever you are, stop reading this and go and see them.

Squidboy is the show that I had seen before, in last year’s Fringe festival. It is about a boy who thinks he is a squid, or a squid who thinks he is a boy. It doesn’t matter what it’s about. It’s funny, side-splittingly so. It seems a disservice to describe any part of it, but a bit with a dog driving to China is a particular highlight. Wakenshaw has such control over his body, his voice, and his audience that it’s a feat on that level. That it is funny beyond that is remarkable. The pleasure dimmed a little bit on this second viewing, largely because I feel the pleasures inherent in Squidboy—and indeed in Wakenshaw’s style of theatre—are so reliant on the surprise of what he’s doing that the anticipation of what I loved last time made the event harder to invest in. This is not to say that it doesn’t hold up, but if you’ve already seen Squidboy, be warned.

Kraken is the show that was new to my eyes. Even though it is stylistically different from Squidboy, there is no narrative—we simply watch Wakenshaw engage in play with himself and his audience for an hour. Which in itself does not sound particularly great, but again, so much of the pleasure in Kraken is in seeing it rather than talking about it. There is something profound about the ease in which he gets an entire audience on his side and willing to engage in the show, often physically. Squidboy is great, but Kraken is the piece of work that will stay with me for a long time. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen onstage, possibly ever.

Put simply: Wakenshaw is a genius. See this. See everything he does. There are no excuses.

The New Zealand International Comedy Festival runs from April 24-May 18 in Auckland, Wellington, and selected nationwide venues.