Ten Plays We Loved in 2014: Auckland Edition

Rosabel Tan and Joseph Harper on the plays that shaped Auckland in 2014.

It’s been a year of marathons and debuts; of clowning, of song, and of transformative political theatre. Joseph Harper and Rosabel Tan look back on the year and pick their highlights.

360: A Theatre of Recollections: We kicked off the year with Carl Bland and Peta Rutter’s uniquely magical 360: A Theatre of Recollections, where guests were guided through a warren of winding corridors before finding themselves on the stage of the Civic, on one of 80 swivel chairs in the centre of a doughnut-shaped stage. Spectacular scenes of the circus (human cannons! Knife throwing!) formed the backdrop to this surreal bildungsroman in which a young man abandons and rediscovers his family. More than anything, 360 was a play about memory and how slippery and deceptive it can be, and the masterful writing, stunning production elements (a swan that circles the stage, sparklers tracing the fuse for the cannon) and exceptional performances by Gareth Reeves and Liv Tennet made this show mesmerising, haunting and profound. – RT

Daffodils: From out of nowhere came Bullet Heart Theatre and their debut show Daffodils. Written by Rochelle Bright and directed by Dena Kennedy, the show was based on the story of Bright's parents' relationship from beginning to end, and was heartbreaking, vulnerable and bittersweet. Todd Emerson and Colleen Davis were mesmerising and this modern-day cabaret breathed new life into the tired cannon of IRD hold music. Unmissable (and returning in April next year). – RT

Earnest: An impeccably-realised spectacle of pride and panache. Director Ben Henson, Musical Director Robin Kelly and their uniformly excellent cast shifted Wilde’s masterwork to a smoky, emerald-tinted gay cabaret club, and through exquisitely delivered witticisms and more than a bit of Cher, made it sing. It was an excellent piece of work and Cole Jenkins belting out the brilliantly appropriated civil rights anthem, Many Rivers To Cross, while his fellow cast members danced cheek-to-cheek, loving and solemn, bought the first and last honest-to-god lump in my throat and tear to my eye of the year. Hilarious and beautiful. A wondrous thing. – JH

Belleville: With Amy Herzog’s Belleville, Silo and Director Oliver Driver presented us with a shadowy and sophisticated piece of work that pitched high tension through technical excellence and jittery, Lynchian performances from Sophie Henderson and Matt Whelan. Henderson in particular embodied her character’s fracturing psychological state with a bloodshot anxiety, remarkable in its nakedness. Special mention to the brilliantly orchestrated sequence in which she went from slicing into her own toe, to collapsing into a pool of her freshly ejected vomit. Primitive, disturbing, and hilarious all at once. A definite highlight of the theatrical year. – JH

Angels in America: Heralding the end of Shane Bosher’s time at Silo Theatre, Part One and Part Two of Tony Kushner’s Angels was a fiercely ambitious swan song that showcased the vision and talent the company has built over the past decade and a half. Flawlessly evolving from Tolstoyan world-building to political drama to absurd screwball comedy, the show wove together vastly disparate lives to paint a damning portrait of Reagan’s America and the socio-political fallout of the AIDS epidemic. Stephen Lovatt’s Cohn commanded the stage with terrifying authority and was easily one of the best performances of the year, and this eight-hour long two-parter was a magnificent parting gift. – RT

GOD/BELLY: Bluntly vacillating between athletic spectacle and manic enquiries into syrupy mysticism, Rosie Tapsell and Andrew Gunn’s GOD/BELLY was an abstract dissertation of the flesh. The show’s three hour plus run time made for an endurance event for both cast and audience, but those willing to endure were treated to a rich exhibition that rewarded critically and viscerally. The pair’s willingness to push their physicality made for an at times punishing experience that drove self-reflexivity to the point of breaking and exploited the limits they discovered through and uneasy combination of surreal theological imagery and heartbreakingly domestic drama. – JH

Verbatim touring prisons and schools: Tracing the path of its original staging with Miranda Harcourt, Last Tapes took Verbatim to schools and prisons throughout New Zealand this year. Performed with wrenching intensity by Renee Lyons, the show played to the head of the Mongrel Mob in Hastings. They played in rundown rooms to people the play was based on. They took a powerful and harrowing piece of New Zealand theatre – a docudrama based on interviews with violent offenders and their families and the families of their victims – to the communities it affected the most (including performing Portraits to the actual mother of the victim portrayed in that play). Without question the most important tour of 2014. – RT

Last Chance Café and One Day Moko: Staged in short succession, Hobson Street Theatre Company’s Last Chance Café and Tim Carlsen’s One Day Moko dealt with homelessness in ways that complemented each other with unexpected grace. While Last Chance Café wasn’t explicitly about this, it was devised and performed by a troupe that formed at the City Mission and was followed by a candid Q&A session that debunked common and not-so-common myths (a decent chunk of people living at the Mission actually work full-time jobs, for instance). There were audience members who were indignant about the lack of origin stories - about how the group became homeless – and this resistance to what would essentially be disaster porn was admirable and important and carried through to One Day Moko. Following a day in the life of the titular character and performed with charm by Tim Carlsen, the most striking aspect of the show was its heavy involvement of the audience members, which recreated the same sense of unease you might experience on Queen St, and illuminated more about yourself as an audience member than anything else. Confronting and thought-provoking theatre. – RT

Kraken: It’s been a great year for clown, and it doesn’t get much better than Trygvie Wakenshaw’s Fred Award-winning voyage through absurdity, Kraken. Wakenshaw wrung every ounce of comedic possibility out of his ungainly frame (right down to his private workings) as he pranced, stabbed, slunk, shot, stripped, and boxed his way through a series of brilliantly constructed games and sketches. Charismatic, naughty and constantly hilarious, Wakenshaw gave us a masterclass in presence and mindfulness as he sought out and discovered comedy in every passing moment. – JH

Ollie is a Martian: A little charmer that was a definite surprise highlight of the year. Ollie Cox’s solo clown show was lo-fi and messy and felt about as honest and open as theatre gets. Ollie’s series of abstractions may have been difficult to dissect critically, but to attempt to do so would be missing the point. It was baffling and beautiful. It was purest, wide-eyed wonder without a glimmer of pretension delivered by Cox whose unique perspective and gift for eliciting connection made for a delightful show that was both sensual and hysterical. It was all heart. – JH

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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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