Favourite plays and performances, plus thoughts and observations on theatre in 2015 and beyond.
All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever (Playground Collective)
The Playground Collective’s play-within-a-play is the most theatrically exciting show I saw all year, putting most of the work by other professional theatre companies to shame. Smart, funny, and just plain cool.
Shepherd (The Court Theatre)
This wasn’t actually in Auckland, but The Court Theatre’s intelligent production of Gary Henderson’s latest play deserves to be mentioned, combining old-fashioned domestic drama with science-fiction parable. A well-made play for the 21st century.
The Book of Everything (Silo Theatre)
This is a show with the most potential to endear new audiences to theatre. This is a show that can make you weep and laugh and dance for joy. This is a show for everyone. Family-friendly without being dumbed-down.
The Pianist (Thomas Monckton)
Magical is a word that tends to be overused when describing theatre, but The Pianist rightfully deserves to be called that. This is theatre for even the most cynical audience members. A wordless wonder of the imagination that rightfully earns Monckton the comparisons to Charlie Chaplain.
The Events (Silo Theatre)
Strong, poetic, visceral writing from a world-class playwright. The production didn’t always hit the emotional high notes in the script, but the show was impossible not to respect. A painstaking look at when the political and personal collide in times of tragedy.
Respite (Eamonn Marra)
Sometimes a show just hits you at right perfect time, perfectly encapsulating all your current thoughts and feelings. Marra’s understated monologue was that show for me. A reminder that theatre, at its best, is just storytelling.
If There’s Not Dancing at the Revolution, I’m Not Coming (Julia Croft)
Less performance and more performance art, Julia Croft presents cinema’s problematic portrayals of women (from Titanic to Blue Velvet) through a glass darkly. A sometimes disturbing and often hilarious assault on the silver screen’s sexist tendencies.
A Fine Balance (Prayas Theatre)
While it never manages to escape its origins as a novel, the result is nevertheless ambitious and epic, supported by clear direction and strong ensemble work. A rare look at a turbulent time in India that refuses to be reduced to a mere history lesson.
Not Psycho (Fractious Tash)
A glorious mess of a show that left most audiences scratching their heads. But, for all its problems, this Hitchcockian fever dream could never be accused of being lazy or boring.
Hudson & Halls Live! (Silo Theatre)
An ingenious script serviced by a flawless production. The only thing preventing it from being one of my absolute favourite shows of the year is that it wraps up a little too nicely, sweeping the uncomfortable truths under the rug.
The Next Big Thing Festival 2015 (Auckland Theatre Company)
The collective experience of watching three shows back-to-back (Bed/Inky Pinky Ponky/Sit On It), fueled by young talent, was one of my 2015 highlights. The shows weren’t perfect, but they all complemented each other perfectly.
Beulah Koale, The Events
Watching him prowl across the stage, shifting from role to role, you can’t help but be impressed by an actor pushing himself to the limits both mentally and physically. Acting not as art, but as athleticism.
Anthea Hill, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
A reminder that Shakespeare’s text and characters are timeless. Not the biggest performance of the show, but the one that earned the most genuine surprises, seamlessly combining the classical with the contemporary.
The cast of Hudson & Halls Live!
Todd Emerson, Chris Parker and Jackie van Beek are the perfect dream, brilliantly blurring the line between scripted and improvised.
Patrick Carroll, The Book of Everything
Carroll conveys the excitement and fears of childhood innocence with utter simplicity. There’s really nothing more you could ask for from an actor playing a (nearly) ten year old.
Natasha Daniel, The Lesson
A scalpel-sharp and exacting performance that really brings out the terror in Ionesco’s absurdist writing. A porcelain doll waiting to be broken.
Trygve Wakenshaw, Nautilus
Like nothing I’ve seen before. Wakenshaw is a performer without compare, both in his skill and in his originality. His lip-synch of Aretha Franklin’s backup chorus is one of the most unexpected surprises this year.
The cast of Live Live Cinema: Little Shop of Horrors
A gloriously messy marriage between stage and screen that rests solely in the hands of the multi-talented performers. Musicianship, vocally-driven acting and physical comedy are demanded of them, and they deliver.
Jacob Rajan, Krishnan’s Dairy
Jacob Rajan is Krishnan’s Dairy, evoking a romance of both epic and everyday proportions. It’s impossible to imagine the show with anyone else. A welcome revival of a world-class performance.
Jordan Mooney, Enlightenment
A problematic play filled with some very interesting performances and moments. Most memorable was Mooney’s scenery-chewing stranger, flitting from naturalism to slasher movie psycho. A fascinatingly fractured performance for a flawed play.
Thoughts and Observations
2015 has been a notable year of post-modern theatre, perhaps in attempt to stay one step ahead of savvy audience members. In particular, Fractious Tash’s Not Psycho, Julia Croft’s If There’s Not Dancing at the Revolution, I’m Not Coming, and Playground Collective’s All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever all embraced self-awareness of narrative and form to notable effect. Conversely, the well-made play seems to be a rare breed. Gary Henderson’s Shepherd and Silo’s Hudson and Halls Live! were the best examples of this antiquated style, adhering closely to classical dramatic structure.
In terms of our two major theatre companies, this year the sense of change and transition seemed to play a large part in both their programming and success. With the opening of their new waterfront theatre on the horizon, Auckland Theatre Company’s main-bill programme seemed to lean towards revitalising classics. The most successful in this regard were the local reinterpretations, Emily Perkins’s A Doll’s House and Michael Hurst’s Lysistrata. While not without their flaws, they avoided falling into the trap of feeling like museum pieces—the former being an interesting and admirable experiment; the latter being surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the original. On the other hand, despite being modern adaptations/translations by established UK writers, The Ladykillers and Heroes felt outdated and inessential.
With Silo Theatre, the theme running through the programming was to engage the audience and community. While not always apparent, it resulted in a strong selection of shows. Despite the controversy surrounding the nudity (or lack thereof) in Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography (probably the biggest theatre faux-paus of the year), Sophie Roberts’s first year as new artistic director of Silo showed the company is in good hands.
On the smaller scale of things, two Kiwi playwrights I was mostly unfamiliar with made strong impressions this year. The first was Finnius Teppet with his absurdist tendencies and fondness for digressions in The Non-Surgeon’s Guide to the Appendectomy and Ushers. The second was Uther Dean with his idiosyncratic and obsessive-compulsive characters in The First 7500 Days of My Life and Tiny Deaths.
So what’s next in 2016?
- Highlights of Auckland Theatre Company’s upcoming programme include: Polo, Dean Parker’s scathing satire of Auckland’s ruling class; That Bloody Woman, the Kate Sheppard rock musical that premiered earlier this year in Christchurch; and Venus in Fur directed by Shane Bosher, previous artistic director of Silo. The strong presence of contemporary New Zealand work in the programme also deserves special mention.
- Silo will be bringing The Book of Everything back next year for those who missed it, but most exciting looks to be a contemporary take on Medea by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, retelling the Greek tragedy from the perspective of Medea’s children.
- The much hyped Pop-Up Globe Theatre will be hosting productions of five Shakespearean classics in February: Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, Henry V, and Antony and Cleopatra. To state the obvious, that’s a lot of Shakespeare. It’ll be interesting to see how Auckland audiences take to this reproduction of the famous experience.
- And the Auckland Arts Festival also returns next year, surely to the dismay of many people’s wallets. The Scottish trilogy of The James Plays and The Chorus; Oedipus, a South Korean adaptation of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex, look like especially world-class theatrical productions.