Stepping Up

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Reviewed by Judene Edgar

In a space of just four years, Ben ‘Tito’ Caldwell ‘stepped up’ from a late-twenties slacker to a father of five.

Stepping Up provides a brutally honest retelling of Tito’s journey from single jack-the-lad to depressed husband, father, and step-father to three children with high-level special needs.

It was nearly uncomfortably honest at times.  I possibly know more about his sex life and mental health than I know about most of my friends, but he always managed to inject some much-needed humour and lightness in just before it went too far or too deep.

Equally, there were highly relatable times when I was close to tears, but again, he managed to throw out a comedic lifeline just before it got too dark.

Tito admits that in telling his sometimes painful, but always humorous journey to where he is today, both in terms of his circumstances and his mental well-being, was a form of therapy.  While there were some downs, there were equal doses of ups. The emotional rollercoaster included such gems as the joy of teaching his eldest to pee standing up, his views on religion, his wife’s vacuuming obsession and his version of ‘dirty talk’.

There is an incredible balancing act required to expose yourself that much to the audience without over-stepping.  There may have been times when some of the honesty could perhaps be regarded as ‘TMI’, however he never rested for too long on any one point so as to disengage the audience or make them feel uncomfortable.

While we learned his deepest, darkest secrets, we also learned that humour can indeed be the best medicine, and that in all things, we’re generally never going through it alone.

Despite the brutal honesty, he was funny, warm and engaging throughout.

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The Man Who Was Thursday

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Reviewed by Judene Edgar

‘A masterclass in theatrical excellence’.

One of my lifelong idols is Geoffrey Robertson QC.  For those who haven’t heard of him, he’s a war criminal prosecutor, has been defence council in high profile cases such as Salman Rushdie and Julian Assange, and led a class action by Tasmanian Aboriginals to retrieve stolen ancestral remains from London’s Natural History Museum.

In the 1980’s he hosted ‘Hypotheticals’, a panel show where notable people from every spectrum of an argument would discuss controversial issues by being thrust into hypothetical situations by Roberson, that would challenge their ideologies and their very being.  Robertson was absolutely masterful in his knowledge and command of the situation despite never knowing where it might go.

This is how I felt watching Giles Burton’s adaptation of The Man Who Was Thursday.  It was an absolute masterclass in theatrical excellence. It had a brilliant simplicity about it that connected with the audience on every level and at every turn, and yet there was nothing simple about it.

There was a total of 19 different characters, 12 main and 7 supporting, and an elephant. Peter Coates played all 19, and I think he could have believably played the elephant too if he wanted.  Watching him have three-way conversations with himself was brilliant and hilarious, but importantly, never farcical.

Subtle changes in tone and pace of speech, facial expressions, and even eye expressions were used along with a range of more obvious and humorous gait, posture and accent changes giving each of his 19 characters a life of their own – from timid poets to grotesque tyrants, with the occasional waiter or taxi driver thrown in for good measure.

Protagonist Gabriel Syme has been recruited into a secret police anti-anarchist unit. His mission: to infiltrate a secret Anarchist Council dedicated to overthrowing the state. Syme manages to get himself invited to a meeting by an anarchist poet, Lucian Gregory who has disguised himself as an anarchist because “an anarchist who isn’t good at disguise dresses as an anarchist so no one will guess that he’s an anarchist.”

At the meeting Gregory tries to get himself elected to the seven-member board, but Syme beats him to the post and takes his place under the pseudonym Thursday.  As the story continues, Thursday gradually discovers that five of the remaining board members are also secret police infiltrating the group, leaving only the mysterious and terrifying Sunday as a real anarchist who has been bombing cities. In the final moments Sunday is challenged and forced to reveal the true nature of his campaign of terror.

The audience was mesmerised throughout the entire performance, hanging on his every word, our eyes following his every move.  With a chair, a sword and a sword stand as your only props, there is no where to hide. But the audience didn’t want for more props and Peter Coates certainly didn’t need anything else to help him along the complex journey.  Lighting changes and occasionally being thrust into complete darkness was all we needed, and this was done to masterful effect.

Even the programme carried the same clever mix of intellect and humour.  The show was adapted by Rob Suteling, Sound design by Gilbert Soun and Lighting by Burt Nigoles … these were all simply anagrams of Director Giles Burton.

I am hoping for the sake of my family who weren’t with me and for anyone else who didn’t see this, that Giles Burton will find another opportunity to bring this masterclass to a Nelson stage as it’s absolutely and undoubtedly a must-see.

 

The Man Who Was Thursday is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Hands

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Reviewed by Jess D’Ath

It was a nice surprise to walk into a fringe show and see a set. A whole set with a backdrop and everything! I must admit to getting quite excited upon seeing it, and also quite excited to see that this play featured original music and songs, which I must be honest, is totally my thing! Hands featured two people on stage and one off stage, and each of these three people, were part of the one person, our protagonist “the girl”, who was also referred to as Aimee. At least I think they were, I have to admit that at times I was a little lost as to what was happening, and even more often, why  it was happening, and wondered if perhaps I was just uneducated, or perhaps to into mainstream theatre to really grasp the subtleties of what was happening.

The girl had eczema on her hands, which got progressively worse during the show. She went to work sometimes, and visited people at other times, but I wasn’t sure why. There was a haunted lamp which ventured out at night times and just wanted to see outside, a plant which required looking after, and what I can only imagine was a nightmare sequence which seemed to suggest that perhaps the eczema was in fact stigmata….but again, I never quite figured out why.

That said, despite me having little clue about much of the point if the show, I really loved the music. The onstage pianist, Matty, absolutely nailed it; providing not only the whole soundtrack to the show while being very funny in his own quirky way and playing a masked demon with much melodrama at intervals throughout. I do think this show struggled a bit in knowing exactly what it was. Was it a musical? It almost was, and perhaps it should be. It certainly could be with the addition of a few more songs in the second half. Was it a horror? No, but again, it could be. Was it a physical comedy? At times it definitely was, and it was in this (and the music) that the strength of the piece really lay. A little more fine tuning, and maybe a revisit to the overall vision and purpose of the show is needed, for what, at this point, is a very promising, and exciting piece.

 

Hands is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Penguins, Critters, and Humanity

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A showcase of 10-minute plays by Australian playwright’s David Bulmer and Alex Broun, and Nelsonian Nikkie Karki.

Reviewed by Jess D’Ath

DOING IT FOR THE PENGUINS

Cyclists and cars. Cars and cyclists. Politics and global warming. Penguins and…agendas?

The first play in the hour long short play line up was a fun foray into the world of rush hour cycling. Featuring a ten minute stream of consciousness as erratic as the traffic flow around Wellington. Unfortunately a few jokes were lost on Nelson audiences, but on the whole, this play was well scripted and convincing in its delivery.

 

LIVING WITH THE ENEMY

Cockroaches, madness and OCD. This one woman play was simple and relatively effective, with a fun script about an absurd descent into all consuming madness. At times ludicrous, at others poignant, it was an interesting look into the psyche of someone who may not have he life as together as others might think.

 

IVY

The final two shows in the line up, were far darker than their predecessors. So much so, that many in the audience were left wishing the order had been reversed. The first, a heartbreaking yet beautiful vignette of an elderly war widow’s loneliness as she remembers the love of her life through moments recalled and letters re-read. It was incredibly simple, and so intimately portrayed, that I felt like a fly on the wall of her quaint living room, gaining a snapshot of what her days must be like, and it just made me feel sad.

 

AN ANGEL BUT IN THE DARK

The last show however, was darker still. A three hander with split lines, and a true story about a murdered child. The actors delivered a convincing performance which left the audience rattled and deeply uncomfortable. There isn’t much more to say about this play, except that I applaud the director for keeping the staging so simple, as the script was so tight, and so well delivered and articulate in its design, that anything else would just have distracted the audience from the unfolding horror.

 

Ideally, these shows would have been ordered in reverse, so that the audience could have recovered from this final show. As it was, we all walked out feeling slightly dazed, and more than a little disturbed. A sign of a very effective series of plays, no doubt all with this exact intention.

 

 

Penguins, Critters, and Humanity is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Is Suicide and Option? by Nathan Hedley

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Reviewed by Gareth Edwards

Mental Health is no laughing matter – until you meet Nathan Hedley.

He opened his Nelson Fringe Festival show by opening a box of tissues and handing them out into the audience. But they are more likely to be used for tears of joy than tears of sadness.

Because Nathan Hedley is funny.

Not ‘funny considering what he’s talking about’, but straight up, down right funny. Deeply deadpan jokes delivered with a typically bewildered kiwi understatement. Like the love child of Jack Dee and Bret McKenzie.

He just happens to be funny and no stranger to anxiety, depression and suicide. But this is no maudlin, self-indulgent, tears of a clown show. It is classic observational comedy mirroring back the humour of our age of mental illness.

The show takes us on Hedley’s journey starting with his first trip to the doctor where he achieved his highest score on a test ever. Just a shame it was the depression test. From there it’s a short step to counselling and the realities of anti-depressants.

It’s all told with a gentle matter of fact-ness that recognises how common these experiences are becoming. And the audience howled and cheered in a knowing way. This was shining a light on darkness we all encounter, and Hedley gave us an hour to enjoy every bit of it.

The show’s strongest moments were when Hedley telegraphed the tough stuff. Not in a ‘warning, this next bit contains material some people may find traumatic’ kind of way. But more like turning the page on a new chapter and feeling invited in.

The audience seemed to inhale as one body with lines like ‘Just a quick word of advice if you do have to ring Lifeline…” and everyone shifted to the edge of their chairs in angsty anticipation. Fearing the worst, some universal awfulness of the human experience that could spoil the giggly atmosphere, Hedley would hold the pause like a pro before delivering his punch line. (You’ll need to see his show to find out that advice).

And we all laughed and laughed, because we know it’s serious stuff. We laughed because it’s serious stuff. So serious that laughter is one of the two options, and perhaps we’ve all cried enough already. But never once did I feel we were laughing at Hedley and his windy path through life’s ups and downs. We were laughing with him. And, because of his warmth and openness, we had a chance to laugh at our own path.

Which I think was his point. He ended the show with a familiar rally cry of ‘we need to talk more about mental health’. It’s something we’re used to hearing now after years of mental health TV ads and sensationalised suicide headlines. But no one ever really tells us how to talk about this thing we call mental illness.

By being honest and humorous about his life, I think Nathan Hedley might have just gifted us all a joyful way to navigate our own.

 

Is Suicide an Option? is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Home Invasion

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Reviewed by Jess D’Ath

Home Invasion, by local playwright Justin Eade, is a study in a human relationships and kiwi social issues, all played out with the not so subtle metaphor of home DIY.

A young man from the wrong side of the tracks, is caught breaking into the home of an army veteran who decides to take the kid under his wing and employ him to help with the renovations, rather than turning him into the police.

This story attempts to connect with audience through relatable themes of hardship and redemption, but unfortunately moves so slowly, that it was hard to stay engaged. Endless sequences of painting and sanding, and overly wordy conversations, made what could have been a heartwarming story of two men forming an unlikely friendship, drag to the point of boredom. Granted, the conversations were very real, but editing would be useful, in order to keep the pace on stage.

Some strong performances from the actors were a pleasure to watch, but even they appeared to struggle with the lack of significant emotional range provided for them to play with.

This script holds so much promise, and could (and should) certainly become a staple of kiwi one act play festivals in the future, provided the writer finds the courage to ‘kill some darlings’ and tighten the pace.

 

Home Invasion is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Double Georgie Pie: A Ballet

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Reviewed by Sue Beesley

Delightful –  sustained deadpan delivery, fabulous faces, edgy yet tenuously in control.
Funny – physically and verbally well paced – the shark faces were memorable, the ball pit scene wonderfully daft.
Fresh – Georgie Pie with sharks as a theme? Left field.
Absurd – Georgie Pie as a theme? Surreal – the tomato sauce opening was unexpected and will be a gem when mastered.
Warm – glitches were handled with humour, ease and confidence – the audience felt in good hands.
Involving – the ball pit idea was a gem, and the tenuous link to the audience becoming a shoal of fish by throwing balls was inspired.
Using the only Maori guy in the room – a set up – to comment on the use of Native American Indian images for Georgie Pie advertising was irony at its subtle best.
I can’t remember now what the connections in the story threads were, but it doesn’t matter – it was a wild ride and the whole audience was on board for every minute of it.

 

Double Georgie Pie: A Ballet is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Assignment Bonbon

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Reviewed by Eleanor Strathern

Everyone loves a good spy spoof. It is a genre rich with cheese, tricks, and darn tootin’, thigh slapping, silly-as-a-sultana-scone quips. Assignment Bonbon leans into this with enviable 1930s-40s costume (where can I get those outfits please?) and set design, cheeky asides, and a wonderfully ridiculous premise. Ultimately, though, the charming show falls short of total spoofery and, in this, cracks begin to show.

Marmalade the cat has eaten the jellymeat bonbon and it turns out that there was something in said bonbon that is crucial to someone… But who? And why? I still don’t think I can tell you who actually needed the contents of the bonbon in Assignment Bonbon’s convoluted web of double, triple, and quadruple agents, but I was definitely on board with Marmalade and his owner, Jean, for the ride. Ngaire Warner as Jean is a delight to watch, portraying a wonderful mix of innocent and badass; the world of spies unravels before our brassiere boffin protagonist and she finds herself surprisingly capable. Meanwhile, Nikki Karki as both the doomed Julia and alluring French entertainer Eve has the audience cracking up at her character comedy and quips, playing to the crowd well.

Moments of physical comedy, including the intentionally frivolous use of a picture frame as a window and a classic walking in place gag, were standout moments that everyone adored. Director Susanne Smith has dropped several golden gags into the show with awareness of Warner and Karki’s strengths and knowledge of the genre, but the bits in between lull. At one point, Warner and Karki drop character completely and discuss between themselves exactly the idea behind breaking character; Marie needs to get changed, you see, and the Director thought it would be a good idea if they broke character for a wee bit just to bide the time. Yes! That is a great idea! However, this technique is only used once, and thus feels a bit odd and doesn’t drive the joke home quite to the door. In between scenes, too, are blackouts and the all-too-familiar sound of scraping chairs, taking me back to some of some more questionable am dram of years gone by. With all of the tricks that could be done with such a fun genre and a large team, dead space on the stage could and should have been avoided.
All of the good bits are there; cast, theme, genre, jokes, costume, and set are all good. But the EU has enforced a progressive ban on a dead stage and the British Government is calling for more gags in the wake of Monty Python’s disbandment. Plot holes need to be addressed and the audience must stay loyal to the administration play. I must insist that these issues be handled in the only way fit and with the genuinely talented resources on hand. Assignment Bonbon has a new mission: More spoofery.

 

Assignment Bonbon is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Rhian-vested

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Reviewed by Catherine Hart

Rhian-vested is stand up in true raw and honest form. Comedian Rhian Wood-Hill draws on his real-life experiences to take us on a journey of story telling, with the odd mathematical graph thrown in.

Wood-Hill seems nervous and hesitant, sometimes mumbling words to the point that it can be hard to hear. His confidence visibly grows throughout his performance, and this certainly assists the story telling. It also encouraged the audience to be on Wood-Hill’s side as we warmed towards him. If only Wood-Hill was able to believe in himself as much as we do.

I am not positive that the performance requires the use of projection. At times it is useful to play a video, but I feel like for it to really earn its place in the show it needs to be utilised more. At the moment it seems like an addition for Wood-Hill to remember where he is in the set, and therefore seems unnecessary.

It’s always refreshing to see someone talk honestly and openly about hard times in their personal lives. I hear myself and other audience members resonating with many of the more emotional jokes, especially those concerning financial strain. I encourage Wood-Hill to delve even deeper into the darker, more emotive part of his journey as this can only improve the show further.

Framed with gambling and call-backs, Rhian-vested has been well written. It needs a little bit of tightening to make it punchier, but for a first showing it’s definitely a commendable performance. Over time and as Wood-Hill’s comfort with the material increases, this will be a standout show.

 

Rhian-vested is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Deep South Caesar

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Reviewed by Catherine Hart

Deep South Caesar is so aptly named I almost can’t believe it. Greg (played by Aimee Smith) is our stereotypical Kiwi bloke who truly believes that the sun shines out his own butt-hole for the world to enjoy. Despite his confidence, he is not actually a ruler of the people, but an emotionally stunted man struggling to make his mark on the world.

Isaac Thomas joins Smith onstage with a guitar and masks to represent the different characters. Thomas offers musical accompaniment as well as a voice to contradict Greg when necessary.

The music throughout the performance is put together well, with lyrics relating directly to the action. Smith has written these songs with care and attention, and without knowing the exact input from Thomas, it is clear that the pair have a strong working relationship.

A favourite moment of mine is when Greg becomes a landlord, building houses on his ladder to success. The references to monopoly make me giggle, while Greg’s satirical acts as a landlord almost break my heart in their realness.

The audience loves Greg. For a complete dickhead he is incredibly endearing. He encapsulates the ridiculousness of hyper masculinity while making us laugh, and that is a commendable feat in itself. Plus, we love Thomas’ characters too. When Thomas rebels against Greg we are in full support, cheering as he exits.

Underneath the humour and ridiculousness of Greg, Smith does a fantastic job of calling out the hypocrisy and sadness of toxic masculinity. She has created a character that uses the patriarchy in complete satire, something that many performers attempt and fail to do.

Deep South Caesar is an enjoyable show from start to finish with important messages to be found throughout. Greg deserves more stories and more stage time, and I’m excited to see whether he will develop a life further than this particular show.

 

Deep South Caesar is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.