Ten Moments in Auckland Theatre 2015

There were the plays we loved, and then there were specific moments. Sam Brooks and Rosabel Tan share their highlights from 2015

There were the plays we loved, but there were also the ones warranting special mentions, moments that made life interesting, and exceptional people who made Auckland theatre what it was this year. Here are ten of those.

- Rosabel Tan and Sam Brooks

Laughton Kora in Little Shop of Horrors

One of the stand-out performances of 2015, Leighton Kora in Little Shop of Horrors was a total revelation: not only could he sing and play guitar, but he could act - and he did all three with masterful glee in Live Live Cinema’s re-creation of that little-known 1960s low-budget black comedy. Featuring a reimagined score, live dialogue and outrageous, chaotic foley, it’ll most likely return at some point and Kora’s performance alone makes it worth hunting down. - RT

The Shittiest Theatre You'll Ever See

Everybody who is making theatre needs to see this show, whether they’re just starting out or they’ve been making it for thirty years, just to remind them of what not to do. It’s not a great show and the biggest inside joke I’ve ever had the pleasure of being on the inside of, but it’s a great reminder of the silliness of the theatre and how we probably shouldn’t take it, or more importantly ourselves, that seriously when we make it. - SB

Rose Matafeo

This was the Year of Rose Matafeo. During the Comedy Festival, she staged her own neon-lit, energy-drink-sponsored funeral with delightful, awkward intimacy. It was spectacular. Under the direction of Madeleine Sami, her performance was smart, magnetic and bold, and the sheer scale of her ambition could barely be contained within the theatre.

This year also saw her front the tremendously funny TV3 sketch show Funny Girls - and while it’s not technically theatre, it has provided another vehicle for the immensely talented cast of late-night improv show, Snort. - RT

Christine Urquhart

If you happened to find yourself noticing a particularly striking set this year, chances are it was a Christine Urquhart work. From minimal concrete facades to moveable acrylic swings to that clinical central shower in Not Psycho, her designs have been refreshingly inventive and always in service of the play. Seeming to arrive out of nowhere, her body of work alone this year has silently raised the overall production value of Auckland theatre. - RT

The set of A Doll's House

Pandas! No set this year was more talked about than the pit of pandas for A Doll’s House. As Nora drowns in her own self-induced debt, she wallows around in pandas, and the rest of the cast wallows around with her. Sometimes more an obstacle for performance than an effective literalising of the script’s concepts, it’s nonetheless one of the hugest risks taken by a mainstage company this year. - SB

Kura Forrester in Nga Pou Wahine

Every now and then you see a performance that draws on something deeper and reaching for something higher, beyond emotional reality into something that’s almost divine. Forrester’s performance in Nga Pou Wahine was one of these performances, bringing a deep-seated pain and resentment to all her characters without ever losing the humanity or humour in them. For me, the performance of the year. - SB

Nic Sampson's Ernest Rutherford

Having established himself as one of the country's top comedians and a worthy contender of this year's Billy T, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that Nic Sampson is also a brilliant actor, delivering consistently understated, nuanced performances (Eli Kent'sBlack Confettiand Sam Brooks' Wine Lips spring to mind). This year, he brought back his 2013 solo show, Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science!, a cheeky revisionist portrayal featuring a loveless marriage, a trivial feud with Einstein and a charming, clammy desire to prove his worth. - RT

That note from Declan Greene

One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in a theatre this year was sitting down in Q Loft to watch Eight Gigabytes of Hardcore Pornography and reading a diplomatic and classy note on a little A5 piece of paper from Silo Theatre explaining playwright Declan Greene’s note on the reverse, where he apologised to the audience for the ending of the play as it was going to be performed that night; the actors would not be nude in the ending as is dictated by the stage directions. Turning around to see the rest of the theatre doing the same and discussing in hushed tones, while the actors stood behind a screen right in front of us was truly bizarre and uncomfortable.

The note became a topic of discussion for weeks afterwards, more so than the play. How much right does a director have to change a playwright’s ending, as he interprets it? What does a playwright hope to gain from shooting discussion of his play in the foot like that? Complicating any questions was the nudity issue; did the actors need to be nude for the ending to work? If the nudity was a key part of the play, why did the actors take on the roles? Why did it have to be changed? The fact that there were no definitive answers to any of these questions, just endless, and fascinating, discussion made this a landmark moment in theatre this year. - SB

The score of All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever

As a play that is by its very design a structuralist exercise, a deconstruction of the hero’s journey and our investment in it, Gareth Hobbs’ score brings the heart. It comes at the moment where the piece needs it the most, and is so close to being the soundtrack to your ex’s favourite Sundance movie that it hurts, but it’s the darkness and existential loneliness that makes this such an excellent piece of music, and an essential piece of this production. (You can buy it on Bandcamp here, if you’re so inclined.)

Julia Croft in The Black

With pitch-perfect equine physicality, clarity and sense of play, Julia Croft brings to life that most elusive of mental illnesses: depression. Whenever she was onstage in The Black, the very real threat and relationship that the protagonist had to her illness made sense and became so very present. To physicalise a concept is a commendable, to give it a real presence, threat and life is ovation-worthy. - SB

Read our ten favourite plays in theatre this year

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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