Theatre at the Auckland Arts Festival

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts
At the Auckland Arts Festival: Nancy Brunning’s Hikoi, Danish sensation Blam!, and Verdi’s Macbeth in modern day Africa.

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Written and Directed by Nancy Brunning
Q Theatre | March 4-8

Set in the 1970s and 1980s New Zealand, Hikoi focuses on the lives of the Miller whanau torn apart by the clash between apathy and protest, family duties and desire for change. Written and directed by Nancy Brunning, the play delves into how wider political movements and social change can affect one single family.

There are two parallel stories running through the play. The first one starts off with a rowdy group of teenagers on their way to meet with their estranged mother. As the story develops, it turns out that the main reason they set off was to find answers about their past and why they ended up being neglected by their parents and now have to pick up the pieces.

The other story focuses on the parents themselves. We get to see Nellie and Charlie Miller, wonderfully played by Kali Kopae and Jamie McCaskill, meet, fall in love, have five children, and then grow distant because of extremely different views on important matters. They struggle to reconcile their opinions on their roots, politics, and, as a result, their family’s future. Charlie wants to forget past issues and only look forward. Nellie, however, believes that in order to ensure a better future for her children, she needs to be involved in the Maori rights movement.

Thanks to great writing and performances the characters—especially the children—come across as thoroughly developed human beings with unique motivations and outlooks on the surrounding world and their identity. Another highlight of the play is Nellie’s amazing journey from a shy woman to a Maori rights activist who has to leave her family in order to fight for what she believes in.

Hikoi is a powerful play and, though it deals with serious themes, does not lack a sense humour. Its moving story addresses the issues that are still prominent today, such as how to reconcile a troubled past with a hopeful future, and how to keep your identity and connection to your roots in an ever changing world.

Created by Kristjan Ingimarsson
Presented by Neander and Glynis Henderson Productions
The Civic | March 6-10

In this invigorating piece of physical theatre, the plot is dead simple: we encounter a group of bored office workers who try to get through the drudgery of the day by playing out various scenarios inspired by action movies and computer games. It all begins slowly with paper ball throwing and cheeky stationary stealing while the boss is not watching. However, after some time, games begin to escalate to a whole new level.

The performers in the show are almost completely silent. Instead Blam! creates comic and sometimes dramatic effects through the use of dance, slapstick comedy, mime, martial arts, and acrobatics. Cleverly choreographed and staged, the show brings hilarious rivalries among the workers and boyish super hero fantasies to life. We get to witness deadly weapons created out of stationary, a water-cooler love interest, and the office transforming into jungle, wrestling ring, and other terrains that are waiting to be explored by the quirky characters.

The show, created by Denmark-based Kristján Ingimarsson and his physical theatre company Neander, showcases impeccable physical skills and exuberant energy. Also, despite all the acrobatics, the characters still remain office workers and that can sometimes be a bit clumsy and awkward. Including this dimension in the performance is a clever choice that underlines the technical prowess of the performers, as does the appropriation of everyday objects as props for the characters’ adventures.

Although getting off to slow to start, with limited action and an early focus on the monotony of office work—scenes no doubt too painfully close to life for some theatregoers—the show’s mixture of physical skill and laughter ultimately wins through. All in all, Blam! is delightful entertainment and very funny. It reminds us that there are so many wild dreams hiding beneath neat office clothing that are waiting to break free. Afterwards, you may never look at the water-cooler and stationary in the same way again.

Directed by Brett Bailey
ASB Theatre | March 11-15

The Third World Bunfight company delivers an original rendition of Verdi’s Macbeth that combines classic operatic score and delivery with modern Africa and its rhythms, visceral energy, and dark humour.

Directed by Brett Bailey, an iconic South African theatre maker, Macbeth explores the issues of a troubled region of sub-Saharan Africa. The story is set in today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo where Macbeth is a war lord hungry for power and wealth and is ready to do whatever it takes to get to the top. His lust for his idea of glory, encouraged by his wife who is, in her own way, no less ambitious than him, results in catastrophic consequences for the country, its people and ultimately himself.

The stars of the show are, of course, Macbeth and his first Lady beautifully played by Owen Metsileng and Nobulumko Mngxekeza. Nobulumko, in particular, is the life force of the production with her beautiful soprano and magnificent performance filling the iconic character of Lady Macbeth with wild ambitiousness, strong presence, feisty personality, and confidence. It is also worth noting that Macbeth is stripped of elaborate costumes and staging that are often associated with the art form, and this simplicity allows these outstanding performances to shine even more.

Minor characters are played by seven members of the chorus who skilfully make transitions between the different groups of people affected in the power play of those at the top such as the brutal militia and refugees. The witches who are the staple characters in Shakespeare’s play, become ruthless double-dealing businessmen solely interested in financial gain. They have mastered not only magic but also modern technology and asset selling. It’s a shame we did not get to see more of their magic. Macduff, Macbeth’s competitor, did not receive much time in the limelight but some elements of the opera had to be cut out in order to create a fast-pace energetic performance.

Despite what some cynics may say, Macbeth proves that traditional art forms such as opera can still be relevant today. Africa, though a continent rich in resources and potential, has been long suffering the effects of colonialism and opportunis,m and through pieces like Macbeth people of this region have a chance to tell their stories, in their own voices, to the wider world. It is definitely a pleasure to witness such a powerful and engaging production that showcases the classics in a new and unexpected way.

The Auckland Arts Festival 2015 runs from March 4-22.