Don’t Push the Button

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Reviewed by Jess D’Ath

Two guys. In a room. A button to push at intervals. No one knows why they are there, and as it transpires, neither do they. This paves the way for a story of friendship in strange and apparently unavoidable circumstances, philosophical wanderings, reminiscent of the classic “Waiting for Godot”. Why are they here? Are they ever going to leave? Do they even want to leave? And why do they have to press the button? Surely, if we are to take any clues from the title, the whole point of the show is not press it. Yet, press it they do. Repeatedly. At the end of the show, I was left wondering what the point of the show even was? I was caught up in the story, and felt for the characters and had grown to love them just a little bit, but all I could think as I left the theatre was, “Well that got dark real quick.” Sure enough, after asking a few audience members what they thought it was about, I realised I was far from alone. So I set out to find the shows creators, determined not to be confused for the rest of the night.

Luckily, creators and actors Isaac Thomas and Dylan Hutton were more than happy to oblige me, and so the truth unfolded. As I thought, they had wanted to create a show with as little tech and set as possible. Done. They had also wanted to create a show in which the audience were as clueless as they were. Done! Interestingly, this even went as far as Thomas admitting that both actors had completely different ideas about what was going on. Interesting indeed! And then came the answer I’d been waiting for, what was in the void? “Well”, said Thomas, “can I be completely honest with you?” “Sure!” I answered enthusiastically, picking my pencil back up in anticipation. “We improvised the whole second half of the show.” Taken aback, I pushed on, and the truth came tumbling out. Long story short – and to ensure I don’t give away spoilers for those of you who will get to see this in the future – it turns out that in their rush to get set up, Thomas had failed to give the stage hand the single most crucial instruction of ‘don’t send this back’. Which, once this did come back, completely turned the script on its head. So, for those of you who were lucky enough to see this show on Sunday night, you actually saw two actors who suddenly had to think on the spot, pull their best improv skills out of nowhere and find a way to finish the show in a cohesive way. If that isn’t fringe then I don’t know what is! What I do know, is that if I get a chance to see this again, I sure will. I would love to see ending 1.0. Perhaps this is the start of a whole new show – which ending will we see?

Don’t Push the Button is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

An Evening with Lord Nelson

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Reviewed by Aimee Smith

Daniel Allen is onto something here – no doubt Lord Nelson would be most disappointed if he were to realise just how little Nelson folks knew about their towns namesake. For instance, his first name is Horatio. I, for one, am glad they named the city after the surname.

The premise of the show is simple. Lord Nelson is here to give Nelson audiences a bit of a lecture on his personal history, so they can better understand why Trafalgar Street is called Trafalgar Street, why Vanguard Street is called Vanguard Street, and why Collingwood Street is called Collingwood Street. And so on and so forth.

The show, however, actually plays out in a far more complex fashion, which helps to build Lord Nelson as a character and creates a more lively theatrical experience than your University style lecture. Roger, the stage manager, pipes in every now and then, pushing Lord Nelson to tell us some of the sticker bits of his personal history. In particular, he’s wanting Lord Nelson to get to the sexy and violent bits – which is a bit off-kilter to the tales of grand accolades and sailing achievements Lord Nelson wants to brag about.

Roger has it right though – we all know the audience is really sitting in eager anticipation to hear the story of how Lord Nelson lost his right arm. Lord Nelson is, understandably, reluctant to go into some of these stories – and surprisingly, it does pull your heartstrings somewhat to hear him go into the darker details. I wasn’t walking into the theatre expecting to empathise with a British Naval hero from the 1700s.

The show hits its most charming moments when Lord Nelson is thrust into 2018. Contemporary music is woven throughout the show, and nothing can quite top watching Lord Nelson demonstrate a Georgian era dance to a top 20 radio banger. Similarly, Lord Nelson’s costume is particularly impressive. He’s decked out in the full admirals hat, breeches, and coat decorated with military honours we commonly associate him with. Of course, as he is here in 2018, we find out it was all purchased at Hallensteins. The pumped up kicks should have been a bit of a give-away.

I was particularly impressed with the clear voice created for Lord Nelson by writer and performer Daniel Allen. Lord Nelson speaks as if he really were an 18th century bloke transplanted onto a modern stage. Nelson natters on about ‘mummery’ in a perfectly plummy accent, demonstrating Allen’s skills as both a writer and a performer.

I look forward to seeing the character develop further and begin to truly ‘captain’ the stage in more performances.

An Evening with Lord Nelson is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

 

My Dad’s Deaths

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A Poetic Response to ‘My Dad’s Deaths’ in the Style of Jon Bennet

By Aimee Smith

 

I think Jon Bennet might be a liar

No one dies more than once

Especially not someone’s Dad

Especially not someone’s very normal looking Dad

(Maybe it would be different if his Dad looked like a Mafia-Boss,

Or like Gandalf, but he doesn’t look like those things.

He looks like a pig farmer in an orange turtleneck. Which he is).

I think Jon Bennet is a liar from the very start

From the very start of his shows very title

I think Jon Bennet is a performer not to be trusted.

 

Jon Bennet had a hard time at school –

Maybe this is why he lies so much about his Dad dying.

Jon Bennet was teased because his name doesn’t have an ‘H’

And the kids told him he was too poor to afford an ‘H’

My name is ‘Aimee’ and my name has too many letters

I guess my parents could afford an ‘I’ and two ‘E’s’ –

But I am not the subject of this poem, Jon Bennet is.

 

Jon Bennet’s Dad wanted Jon Bennet to be a poet

Like the famous Australian poet Banjo Paterson

He can’t be that famous because I’ve never heard of him

But I guess the real test

Is whether or not Jon Bennet’s Dad has heard of James K. Baxter –

That would put the reach of our respective National Poets in perspective.

 

Jon Bennet is kind of a poet

And kind of a stand-up comedian

But mostly he is a story-teller

Which is a really useful job title because then you get to do things

Like read poems and tell jokes at the same time
And audiences really, really like it when you do both of these things at once.

 

I thought I could ask Jon Bennet’s Dad

Whether or not he had heard of James K. Baxter

Because Jon Bennet told us he was in the audience –

Jon Bennet lied.

 

Jon Bennet may be a liar

But he is a liar who speaks truths

A few truths, a few truths blanketed beneath an overarching lie

Like the fact that wearing a hat to keep out flies with corks on it is counter-productive

And that it sucks to shoot a pig

And that it’s unhealthy to hold in your swears

And that winning a talent quest to make your peers love you is a better idea in your head than in practise
And that everyone can afford to be a bit more careful when they’re climbing a ladder

And that your parents are people.

 

I listened to a Banjo Paterson poem

And I stopped because it was boring.

I didn’t leave a Jon Bennet show

Because it wasn’t boring.

Well done, Jon Bennet –

And also Jon Bennet’s Dad.

 

My Dad’s Deaths is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Livin’ La Vida Joker

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Reviewed by Indigo Levett

Terry Williams, an obviously experienced stand-up comedian, provided a crisp, clear-cut and enjoyable show for a varied audience. With a great relationship with the crowd and plenty of relatable jokes, the show was an enjoyable experience for all.

Williams entered the stage with a casual yet full-bodied gusto that immediately had the audience rooting for him. He has a classic stand-up tone that keeps simplistic and doesn’t get caught up in the bells and whistles that so many comedians use. He kept his stories personal, not delving too much into national or global topics which I think were well received by the nelson crowd. His “in-jokes” about different places in New Zealand through a conversational kiwi tone, definitely showed that this show greatly appeals to the locals. His anecdotes around family and his children, added a balance to his sometimes corporate tone, which added to the relaxed feel.

Williams interacted with the audience well, without ever putting them under pressure. The audience clearly related to him and understood the majority of his jokes. And when a few one-liners went amiss, he dealt with it like a seasoned pro and managed to get a few laughs out of us anyway.

I always try to go into stand-up shows with an open mind, every comedian has their own way of doing things and each has their own stories to tell. However, I do go in with an expectation of gaining something from the show. Through comedy I think great points can be made, and I think Williams sometimes got too caught up in ‘easy’ laughs, rather than delving into more substantive bits and jokes that would have satisfied me more as an audience member. I would challenge Williams to broaden his topic range to appeal to an even wider variety. He clearly has a superb understanding of comic timing, and an honest tone that the audience can relate to, so I would like to see Williams take more risks and vary his delivery. My view on this could reflect my personal taste in the edgier shows that really get me thinking about things, while this shows’ goal is to provide an enjoyable evening filled with laughs, and this show certainly achieved that.

 

Livin’ La Vida Joker is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel

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Reviewed by Jess D’Ath

From the moment Katie Boyle’s Patricia Goldsack tips two packs of condoms into the empty biscuit tins, sitting innocently next to the tea pot and cups, we know we are in for something a little bit more than we bargained for. Or perhaps that was just me? The women sitting next to me were equally mortified, but in that hilarious way we all become horrified when someone of the elderly variety starts to talk about love…or god forbid….sex.

And so the scene is set for an unlikely night out with our new friend Pat. For the next hour she regales us with stories of her lovers and long line of husbands. We are informed of the rules of the swingers club we all entered somewhat unwittingly and we are pushed out of our collective comfort zones, leaving us gasping and sweaty and begging for more.

Boyle expertly teases the audience, moving the narrative along with clever dialogue and jokes your grandma should definitely never say, choosing her victims carefully and leaving the rest of us in much appreciated safety. Her character is flawed and flawless and impossible not to love. Her take home message about consent was supremely well handled, as was the underlying message about humans being humans and sex being just sex, no matter what your age or your preferences. So why not just relax and have fun, ideally, at Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel?

 

Pat Goldsack’s Swingers Club and Brothel is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, click here.

Dadba

 

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Reviewed by Eleanor Strathern

Aaron Jelley has a great face. Jelley’s face is the kind that can deliver a punchline with a well-timed twitch and he has the audience at The Refinery Artspace transfixed on the subtleties in his delivery.

It is clear that Jelley is a competent stand-up; he would do well on stage with nothing but a mic, a light, and a collection of his delightfully specific analogies and anecdotes. But for his hour solo show, Jelley gives so much more to the performance and provides several avenues for laughs that keep the whole crowd either giggling, snorting, or (often in my case) cackling. Dabda rides the balance between theatrics and conversational stand-up comedy well and Jelley takes us on a wondrous ride through the five stages of grief and withdrawal.

Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance are embodied by five larger-than-life characters all played by Jelley with fondness and familiarity. The first character we are introduced to, however, is Aaron as himself. An extremely affable character, Jelley kicks off the show with some apologies. Disclaimers are not usually a strong start to any show, but Jelley gets genuine laughs and empathy from the audience whilst apologising for both his sickness and the dark turns Dabda would take. Given the style of comedy Jelley delivers, there is room for apologies from the top. If he wanted, these could be developed further to help build the personal connection between Jelley and the audience rather than popped in on the fly.

Jelley is vulnerable with us right from the get go and we warm to him and his story, settling in to take the journey through rehabilitation. At this point the woman next to me realises why the show is called Dabda and exclaims, “Ooooh! He’s clever!” She loves a good acronym like I love a good autobiographical story. Her and I both remain impressed with Jelley’s wit and multiple talents throughout and, although we may have different expectations for the night, neither of us is disappointed.

Anyway, back to his face. Jelley creates characters that are reminiscent of cultural icons (I swear saw Tom Waits, Quentin Tarantino, Brian from Downstairs (Spaced), Edna Mode (The Incredibles), and a former Nelson College physics teacher grace the stage in fleeting moments) but all brought to us through the gloomy and relentlessly lovable face of Aaron Jelley. Combined with well thought-out prop humour and skillful guitar and loop pedal, my interest in what comes next never lulls. Of the characters presented on stage, there are clear crowd favourites; Denial, Anger and Acceptance kill it on stage, whilst Bargaining and Depression fall a bit short in comparison. Tropes used in these segments are missing some of Jelley’s originality and, crucially, we lost his face in these performances. Everyone was back on board in a big way when Jelley brings out his kazoo.

Dabda is a showcase of Aaron Jelley’s multiple talents within a format that is honest at the same time as it is silly and ridiculous. It is wonderful to be a part of the process of turning Jelley’s personal struggle into a source of joy. Jelley is part of a new generation of stand-up that is vulnerable, personal, and important and I am all about it. I can’t wait to see more from Aaron Jelley and his five right-hand men.

 

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

Home Alone – Abridged

Reviewed by Jess D’Ath
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Home Alone – Abridged, by Elijah Scowcroft, was a simple concept, featuring a combination of cold reading and improvisation.

A collection of experienced improvisers joined 10-year-old Elijah onstage to recreate the classic family film, Home Alone. The premise was simple, Elijah was the only one who knew what was going on, everyone else has to wing it. But no matter what, they absolutely had to make it to the end of the movie before the end of the show.

Featuring just the right amount of warmth and laughter in each ensuing scene, and the inevitable descent into complete and utter chaos, it was obvious that everyone both on stage and in the audience, was having an absolute blast. Invoking a perhaps unintentional  amount of nostalgia, we were treated to scenes brought to life with cardboard, silly string, picture frames and children’s toys, as though the movie has been ripped from a child’s imagination, which it has been.

Everything we love about the movie was not lost in this interpretation. It was equal parts heartwarming, ridiculous and hilarious, reminding everyone about what really matters in life, family. In Elijah’s own words, “it was funner and yummier than I expected” and I am inclined to agree.

 

Home Alone – Abridged is part of the 2018 Nelson Fringe Festival. To check out other shows and workshops, head to https://www.nelsonfringe.co.nz

 

 

Maungatapu

 Simple, powerful, provocative.

 

Reviewed by Trish Sullivan
Directed by Giles Burton
Presented by Northpark Productions
Written by Justin Eade
Suter Theatre as part of the Nelson Arts Festival 2017

Justin Eade’s ‘Maungatapu’ delivered not only in the historical re-telling of one of Nelson, and New Zealand’s most intriguing stories, but also in bringing the four characters to life.

Set in an era when Picton had more opportunities than Nelson, ‘Maungatapu’ is the story of the notorious Burgess Gang murders, which caused a sensation back in 1866 when five men were killed on the Maungatapu track.

The trial that followed the murders gripped the tiny nation but the infamy of Richard Burgess, Joseph Sullivan, Philip Levy and Thomas Kelly lives on today thanks to Burgess’s remarkable death row confession.  Three were eventually hanged and Sullivan was pardoned after turning on his fellow gang members.

Promising murder and mayhem, ‘Maungatapu’ delves into the relationships between gang members Burgess, Kelly, Levy and Sullivan as they plot and carry out the murders, are arrested, tried, and then executed.

Moving back and forward in time provided context and insight into the lives of the key characters with the play narrated by Levy, his naivety as an unwitting accomplice skilfully portrayed by Pete Coates.  Cameron West delivered a strong and controlled Burgess, capable of murder, but weathered by a life of crime.

Daniel Allan brought the hot-headed, emotional Kelly to life, breaking down the “tough man” stereotype.  The stand out was Nick Kemplen, embodying the menacing and sinister Sullivan.  Kemplen gave a powerful performance as the calculating “ladies man”, who ultimately, cared for no one and nothing.  For the man with a wife, girlfriend and children, he was the only one who neither valued nor craved love.

There was a minimalism about the show that added to the overall intensity.  The set was simple, but used to great effect, with little more than four bleachers and some bedrolls artfully providing the backdrop for the jail, the murder site and the town.  With the absence of a backdrop, the costumes took on the key role of taking us back in time.   Similarly, the lighting and music was subtle, yet powerful.

MAMMA MIA
Presented by Nelson Musical Theatre
Theatre Royal Nelson
Directed by Peta Spooner
Music director – Michaela Sheehan
Reviewed by Charles Anderson

It was a packed house for the gala performance of Mamma Mia. As we streamed into the Theatre Royal we were met with a set design seldom, if ever seen in Nelson before. We were transported to a small Greek island – beautifully created and rendered.

Soon the audience was learning about the plans of young Sophie (Rebecca Myers) who sought to discover the true identity of her father. So she invites three of them to her imminent wedding – little to the knowledge of her mother Donna (Glenna Armstrong). Worlds and pasts soon collide in an extravaganza of song, dance, staging and of course, ABBA.

All the cast, musicians, crew and production team can be proud to have brought the show to Nelson, having put on something that is undeniably toe tapping and joyful.

Particular highlights were Tanya’s “Does your Mother Know?” – where Amanda Crehan brought to life the role of the three-times married seductress bent on humouring a young barman’s (Alex Bradley) affection.

Glenna Armstrong’s rendition of “The Winner Takes it All” feels like she was building all night to a crescendo worthy of her voice. She did not disappoint. The song showed off what she is capable of.

Mamma Mia works because of the audience’s knowledge of the songs and they responded with rapturous applause and standing ovations at the end of the production.

It is a really fun show and I hope the cast can relax a bit more into their roles and really let loose into more fully realised characters as the season goes on – both in their enjoyment of this piece and letting their voices really show what they can do.

You will definitely leave the theatre with a smile. Great effort to all involved.

The show is on from 3-23 September at Theatre Royal Nelson.

Bye Bye Birdie

Presented by Nayland College
Directed by Anton Bentley
Music Director – Nigel Weeks
Reviewed by Jessica D’Ath
Performed by Youth

Nayland College’s production of the 1963 Tony Award Winning musical Bye Bye Birdie, directed by Anton Bentley, and musically directed by Nigel Weeks, is a brilliant example of how to engage young people in musical theatre, without compromising the integrity of the show.

As someone whose life essentially revolves around the musical theatre form, and a high school music and drama teacher myself, I am always somewhat dubious about spending money on youth productions. I find it hard to forgive missed notes, pitchy ensembles or productions which offer subject matter which either results in young actors struggle to portray situations which are beyond their ability to play sympathetically, or which forces audiences to feel uncomfortable about what they are seeing.

Not so with this production. This group of talented teens were expertly directed in a show which was thoughtfully chosen for their age group, yet not stripped down or lacking in themes which challenged them. Sure, it was written before most of their parents were even born, but the themes of teenage obsession with celebrities, overbearing parents and the inevitable search for independence from parental control, are timeless and remain as relevant today as they have ever been.

The costumes were simple, accurate to the period being portrayed, were bright and fun and a joy to witness. It was great to see that the school’s textiles technology class were involved in their creation. The bright colours worked magnificently against the black set, which in itself was a simplistic, genius design comprising of clean levels, and a vinyl record centrepiece on which most of the action took place. Bentley has a great ability to design sets which do not detract from the production, but which allow for maximum play with levels and contrast, whilst not breaking a budget, and this was no exception.

Incredibly, Bentely was also involved in the choreography (along with Tacy Eyles and Stuart Lowe), and this aspect of the show was particularly impressive, in particular the very clever and effective number “The Telephone Hour” in act 1. That number alone, was worth the ticket price.

The cast were enthusiastic and there was not a wrong note amongst them. Indigo Levett was a revelation in her creation of Mae Peterson. Her physical portrayal never once dropped, and her accent was impeccable, not to mention her comic timing which left the audience in stitches every time she came on stage. Also, Ruby-Ann Burgess, who played the long suffering Rosie Alvarez, did a magnificent job of drawing the audience into her frustrated world of the woman scorned, through her commitment to character both vocally and in her interactions with those around her. It was very easy to sympathise with her plight, and I thoroughly enjoyed her vocals throughout, particularly in “Spanish Rose”.

In a production of this size, it is impossible to give feedback to everyone on stage, everyone in this show had a solid grasp of their character, and performed strongly as a group, which is a direct result of excellent directing on Bentley’s part, he should be very proud. The only pieces of advice I have for these young actors is that (and I’m in no doubt that you have already been told this a million times by the highly professional Mr Bentley) you absolutely need to remain in character until you are well off the stage. When you drop out of character as you are coming on or off stage, the audience does see you, and it always makes the onstage energy drop, regardless of whether you are the focus or not.

It was great to see an all female stage crew, which is rare and needs to be encouraged. These girls were flawless in their execution, and although they were visible whilst moving set pieces, I was never distracted from the story by their presence, a great, and chronically underappreciated achievement.

As usual, Weeks led a flawless team of musicians comprised of both semi professional and student musicians, and it was great to hear such a tight and completely live ensemble who have not resorted to click tracks. The only other feedback I have is that some targeted voice coaching would help your cast cope with some of the more difficult numbers, especially when working in the contemporary/rock genre.

A huge congratulations to everyone involved in this production. You should be very proud of what you have put together, and I look forward to seeing what Nayland does next!