The New Zealand Fringe Festival 2017: The Second Week
Week two of the New Zealand Fringe Festival has spies, sloppy parties and lots and lots of cats (at least 27, by our count). Our Fringe review team - Adam Goodall, Shannon Friday, Matt Loveranes, Mia Gaudin and Fiona McNamara - gets amongst it.
New Zealand Fringe Festival, Week Two (Friday 17 to Thursday 23 February): The Shows
Two Girls One Shop
Tomás Ford’s CHASE!
Rapanui: The Song of Stone
26 Cats Destroy the Patriarchy
the internet is where innocence goes to die and you can come too
May Contain Sex Scenes
Two Girls One Shop is an addictive combo of SupréTM electronica, teens talking shit and ‘filosophy’ on blowjobs, veganism and backpacking. The show is full of obscene jokes, to the point that you should consider the title a deliberate warning.
Simone and Sophia are best frenemies and employees of the country’s ‘highest-performing’ Glassons in Christchurch. The characters provide a light hearted (and concerning) insight into the vacuous lives of two young women: Simone’s self-obsession (she only eats half a low fat rice cracker for lunch) is balanced against Sophia’s misguided political and environmental activism (she follows human rights bloggers on Instagram and doesn’t drink water, because that’s where fish live, and fish need homes).
While we’re flooded with specific jokes about the Christchurch teen social scene (the city’s infamous obsession with class stratified by high schools is skewered over and over) the translation to a wider audience is effective given the global internet age from which these girls are spawned - they could be shit talking teens in Auckland, LA or London. The script is as tight as a pair of jeggings, full of snappy one liners and sketches; if it sags, it’s when when the jokes move too far into trite obscenity or the narrative gets too comfortable leaning on obvious cliches (a friend betrayed; a promotion undercut).
Two Girls One Shop is most satisfying when it reaches peak camp – Simone’s direct-address breakaways wrap us around her shellacked little finger, only to dump us into a hot mess of a slow-mo fight scene. Like a girl crushing hard, you’ll want to follow Sophia and Simone - even if they are too cool to accept your friend request. -- MG
BATS Theatre, Thursday 23 to Tuesday 28 February
For more information on Two Girls One Shop, go here.
It’s late (9:45pm, exactly). Before we can celebrate Jacob’s After Party at the local Fringe Bar, though, Jacob Brown needs to get sober. What better way to sober up than a promenade tour of Jacob’s favourite spots around town?
A simple and charming series of interactions with some eclectic characters around Wellington’s party centre, Jacob’s After Party works because Brown and the ensemble understand that the key to a good party is good company. Brown is an incredibly winning host, tackling each new obstacle with wide-eyed optimism and just the right amount of sass. Whether he’s avoiding his precocious sister or going on a twerk-off against a dance rival, each of his foils is absurd yet oddly endearing. All of them eventually fall for his good nature, too, despite some cheek from a couple. His genuine desire to make and keep friends always wins out, even if it takes some work.
Jacob’s Party, Apple Box Brand’s prequel to this show, tries so hard to make us like Brown that his efforts work against him. There are stretches of After Party that still feel raw and patched together, but the loose structure and attentive ensemble make this a much more natural playground for Brown’s excitable, awkward persona. This is the party I’d rather have, and this is the Jacob Brown I’d rather party with. -- ML
Courtenay Place, Thursday 23 to Saturday 25 February
For more information on Jacob's After Party, go here.
In the pre-show for Tomás Ford’s CHASE!, Ford banters with the audience and monochrome CCTV clips of Disney spy-hamster movie G-Force play on screens mounted upstage. It’s friendly and loose and irreverent and does nothing to prepare you for the show itself.
Ford’s cabaret-adjacent one-man musical follows Tomás, an abrasive, rule-breaking Aussie spy on the trail of a global drug ring. When his wife of six years leaves without so much as a goodbye, he goes into a depressive spiral of drinking and globetrotting, convinced there’s something more to her disappearance. It’s the perfect vehicle for Ford, an aggressively weird, absolutely hypnotic performer better known for his cabaret work and his sweaty, hyper-energetic Crap Music Rave Party. He bellows at audience members and caterwauls his way through rock ballads that all sound like riffs on Duran Duran’s theme for A View to a Kill. He’s a funhouse mirror reflection of the ugly possessive masculinity of so much spy cinema, True Lies on a ten-gin bender.
Ford’s a hurricane of a presence, one that CHASE! sometimes struggles to match. The languorously-edited noir visuals that play on the screens make the show feel scuzzier than Ford’s performance suggests and while all of the ballads are strong, a few of them rely too heavily on Ford’s asides for their comedy. CHASE! is a taste that can be difficult to acquire, but if you can acquire it, it's consistently surprising and bizarrely rewarding. -- AG
Gryphon Theatre, 22 Guhznee Street, Thursday 23 to Saturday 25 February
For more information on Tomás Ford’s CHASE!, go here.
Flo’s DNA is spliced from British children’s television of old: shows like The Wombles and Thomas the Tank Engine, shows that weren’t bust-a-gut funny or particularly subversive but were humble and pleasant and all about being good to the people you share the world with. Angry and arrogant people charge into Flo the florist’s store, demanding her time and refusing to tolerate anything that distracts from them, but it’s the charming and warm-hearted things that stick: the joy of discovering a bee suit has glittery wings on it, or the goofy swooning of two lovers as they accidentally touch.
A mask show about a day in Flo’s store, Knead Theatre’s Flo (performed by Will Harris, Amanda Baker, Gina Moss and Richard Chapman) has a cute story, lovely basel mask design and a clutch of classic clowning setpieces driven by discovery and misunderstanding. The cast’s physicality is inconsistent, though: items that should have weight don’t, and Flo herself waves her magnifying glass about like a wand, never convincingly using it to look. Chapman’s sparse live music hurts, too, amplifying the silence whenever he’s not playing and leaving a lot of quiet, unshowy physical gags to unsuccessfully punctuate themselves. Flo’s positive and sweet, but that positivity and sweetness is about all that carries it through its rocky patches. -- AG
BATS Theatre, Tuesday 21 to Saturday 25 February
For more information on Flo, go here.
Lisa Allan, performer and writer of Rapanui, is on an emotional and spiritual search for her turangawaewae. Allan fervently believes she was a Waitaha navigator in a past life, a member of a pre-Maori community who journeyed from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to Rapanui (Shag Rock), Aotearoa. She greets us in korowai and flowing skirt; beside her is a kete of stones that she presses into each of our palms. She draws us in close and warmly whispers questions that echo through the play: who are you? Where do you come from? Why are you here?
We keep the stones with us through Rapanui, hot reminders of the changing world in our hands. Allan’s performance is like an ocean. Her energy creates eddies of playful intimacy when she addresses the audience directly, then soars like a storm as she tells the story she wrote after spending five weeks on Rapa Nui last year.
Allan is a generous, beautiful and engaging presence, but she never addresses the source of her version of the Waitaha navigation to New Zealand. Allan’s story draws on Barry Brailsford’s highly controversial revisionist history of the Waitaha people, a misappropriation of indigenous knowledge in service of new-age spiritual enlightenment that’s been criticised by Māori and academics as a manipulation of Waitaha’s oral histories. Allan is due to tour the show through the South Island in the coming months; without any critical acknowledgement of her source material, Rapanui serves to perpetuate an exploitative revisionist history. -- MG
BATS Theatre, Saturday 18 to Tuesday 21 February
For more information on Rapanui: The Song of Stone, go here.
Despite its outlandish title, 26 Cats Destroy the Patriarchy is a modest family drama that follows three generations of women at crucial moments in their lives. Emma (Celia McDonald) is in Year 13, and her newly-found feminism is driving a wedge between her and her mum Kate (Shirley Domb), a frustratingly apolitical MP. Grandma Joan (Jan Bolwell) does her best to bridge the gap but knows she doesn’t have long left to do it.
Henrietta Bollinger’s script is stirringly perceptive about the microaggressions these women face in a male-dominated society, and she finds a quiet power in their attempts to overcome their generational and ideological divides. The script’s promise, however, is undercut by Zoe Higgins’ comatose direction.
In translation to the stage, 26 Cats plods along without any shade or variation. The set is drab and realistic to a fault, often getting in the way of the actors as they move, and there’s barely any sound design to create a rhythm or any other kind of momentum. The performances feel under-rehearsed, struggling to be heard and never settling into a natural, lived-in chemistry; only Bolwell, playing Joan with a much-needed bite, feels alive in the way the play needs.
There are already so few shows created, produced and performed almost exclusively by women that it’s incredibly disheartening that this production of 26 Cats Destroy the Patriarchy doesn’t engage its audience in any meaningful or exciting level. Its subtle rebellion deserves better. Actual cats would be a bonus. -- ML
BATS Theatre, Sunday 19 to Thursday 23 February
For more information on 26 Cats Destroy the Patriarchy, go here.
Two desks. Two mics. Two projected screens. Two stylish Australian millennials on two Macbooks. Name-searching: bringing up articles about their success at Melbourne Fringe, snorting at a bad photo.
One of the Australians (Roslyn Harper) posts a Facebook status: Like this and we’ll add you to a group chat. I get in. Someone nicknames me Butta? I don’t know it at the time, but it’s an omen.
The other Australian (Harriet Gillies) orders Dominoes and takes requests. Chatroom allegiances form and fall apart around music and memes. Carly Rae Jepsen, the 1988 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championships, many, many images of Sonic the Hedgehog kissing his best friend Tails. The Australians keep taking screenshots, building a collage of swearing nuns and Bunnings Sausage pics.
They ask Google open-ended questions and read out the autocomplete offers. They meet in some weird places: “What if the Purge was real?” “When will I die?” “When will Queensgate reopen?” They play a minigun demo over Swan Lake. Then the Black Swan make-out. They search for “Natalie Portman hot sex” and “Jesus xx”. Then, a true blasphemy, “Carly Rae xx”.
They take our performative public irony (and genuine public love) and flip it on its head, gleefully mining the rich, ugly subcultural seams running through our personal symbols and online relationships. Tonight, though, it gets a bit too personal. After all the porn, someone shares a photo of me. Then someone else shares another. They get screenshotted, repeated. It should feel harmless, but the context - our irony, our shared laughter at how the internet twists the weird and innocuous alike - makes it tough to stomach. Another seam.
Even so, it’s hilarious. It’s a shot of adrenaline, a frenetic and intoxicating remix of our echo-chambers and shitposting shorthand. It’s a DJ set for the new Willennium. I'm in love. -- AG
BATS Theatre, Sunday 19 to Thursday 23 February
For more information on the internet is where innocence goes to die and you can come too, go here.
One-person shows live or die on the performer’s ability to grab attention through charisma and craft. By either measure, Gerard Harris’ Attention Seeker is masterful storytelling.
Harris doesn't seek attention; he compels it. He is a tightly wound ball of energy: bundled forward in his chair, arm flinging themselves from his centre when he makes a point, stories bursting forth as if compelled by their own momentum. Words spill forth at what feels like a hundred miles an hour, broken only briefly when Harris gets up from his chair and gets behind a lone mic, reliving snippets of his personal life and his stunted professional life as a comedian.
Those stories are sliced and diced, slamming from a fragment to fragment as they climax. It's like those little toy cars from the 70s that go around and around the track until they fly off, but this car has the ability to jump from track to track. It’s a dizzying, exhilarating, headlong rush. -- SF
BATS Theatre, Friday 17 to Monday 20 February
For more information on Attention Seeker, go here.
Dark Matter, a light, sound and body installation led by Martyn Roberts, is set in the pitch black void of Te Whaea’s basement space. A series of seven haiku emerge out of nothingness. All are exquisitely crafted, shaping light and the dancer’s bodies into incredible, dynamic images, often conjured out of total darkness. The first haiku is the most striking: from a complete blackout, something unidentifiable appears far off in the distance. Squinting, I begin to make out a nude body, twisting and turning gracefully and disappearing before we are sure of what we have seen. Each haiku is punctuated by a bright light, which starkly contrasts with the subtlety of each image, shocking us awake and preparing us for the next.
Dark Matter teases us with only glimpses of what is there; it creates a sense that the dark cavernous space is filled with much more than the eye can see. While the individual stage pictures are beautiful, I still want more build or a thread to draw me from one haiku into the next - something to give clarity to the overall direction. -- FM
Te Whaea, 11 Hutchison Street, Thursday 16 to Monday 20 February
For more information on Dark Matter, go here.
I enter Sabrina Martin’s hotel room blindfolded. Her voice is soft, her touch softer. People are giggling. Are they still blindfolded? Are they laughing at me? How far do I have to go? I’m feeling extremely vulnerable, but Martin’s approach is so tender and assured. It’s easy to give her my trust.
What follows is Pat-a-Cake's May Contain Sex Scenes, a sensuously-choreographed conversation piece about sex and sexual fantasies – the pleasures, the hang-ups, the dangers and the fears. Martin is the seductress; the audience, her lover. She’s beguiling – a limber physical performer and achingly vulnerable as she shares her personal experiences. She puts us in potentially risky scenarios like sharing a bed with her before cleverly highlighting their silliness and illuminating their underlying truth. She succeeds in her conquest for the most part, skilfully walking a very fine tightrope. Which is why it’s such a shame when she trips.
We’re asked to share a date with someone else in the audience and Martin turns into provocateur, asking us to imagine our dates’ likes and dislikes. In this role, though, she is less in control; the intimacy she’s spent all this time cultivating falls away and never really comes back. From here, May Contain Sex Scenes rushes to its climax with clumsy transitions and situations that feel less crafted. When we share the danger with Martin, the show is alive; by the time it ends, with that danger put squarely at our feet, we’re lost. -- ML
Ohtel, 66 Oriental Parade, Friday 17 to Sunday 19 February, Friday 24 to Sunday 26 February and Friday 3 to Saturday 4 March
For more information on May Contain Sex Scenes, go here.
Header image: Dark Matter, afterburner creative