With the Auckland Theatre Awards happening Monday thought I’d share my thoughts on the highlights and lowlights of of the 48 shows I’ve seen this year. Think that’s a reasonable sample size…
Top ten1. The Book of Everything, Q Theatre Rangatira
When I saw this as part of the Auckland Arts Festival back in March I thought it would be hard to top, and so it proved. An absorbing and immersive experience, hilarious (best Jesus ever! though some late competition in that department, see below…), emotionally engaging, with innovative staging (use of blackboards, on stage sounds effects, interactive frogs!) and a great cast.
2. The First 7500 Days of My Life, Basement Theatre
Young and Hungry delivered big time with this creative tour de force. Anarchic, insightful, very funny, heart felt and quirky (loved the Doctor Who references), and Saraid Cameron is a star.
3. Jesus Christ Part II
Annoyingly good. I had to rewrite my list to make deserved space for the funniest show of the year. The core cast of four are uniformly excellent, and the night I saw it Liv Tennet was an energetic if slightly scared looking Jesus (justifiably given that she had little idea what to expect, as does everyone playing Jesus, with a different actor every night). So good that I’m going to see it again in a couple of weeks.
4. If There’s Not Dancing At The Revolution, I’m Not Coming, Basement Theatre
I heard about Julia Croft’s solo show by word of mouth and very glad I saw it (along with seemingly half of the Auckland theatre scene). An amazingly brave and physical performance, unsure how she didn’t get heat stroke from the Russian Doll layering of outfits, expressing powerful arguments about the media portrayal of women.
5. All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever, Q Theatre Loft
Another show I nearly missed if it hadn’t been for word of mouth, and though slightly uneven overall, it contained two of the most powerful scenes of the year, concerning love and death. Bonus points for the best ending, featuring a giant inflatable blob.
6. Daffodils, Q Theatre Rangatira
A repeat from last year but given how short theatre runs are in Auckland (usually five nights at The Basement, couple of weeks at Q Theatre) a very welcome opportunity to see this. Effectively a musical but far fresher and engaging than most, telling the true story of the writers’ parents relationship. Possibly the best thing to ever come from The Tron.
7. Ernest Rutherford: Everyone Can Science!, Basement Theatre
Second funniest play of the year, with bonus points for audience participation (something I enjoyed personally!), and impressive in character improvisation. I even learnt something as well!
8. The Events, Q Theatre Rangatira
Inspired by true events, seen from the victims perspective, The Events was thought provoking, with the innovative inclusion of a real choir. The multiple characters were a little confusing but the simple staging and performances of the two actors pulled it through.
9. Manifesto 2083, Basement Theatre
A well timed companion piece to The Events, telling the true story from the perpetrators perspective, a deeply disturbing place, explaining his rationale.
10. Between Two Waves, Herald Theatre
The best relatively traditional play I saw, with a perceptive depiction of anxiety, and the impact if can have. Slightly one dimensional supporting characters but well staged, with a powerful finale.
Good to see that half of these are New Zealand original plays.
Best stagingFew further plays worth calling out for their innovative staging. Standout was Dust Pilgrim – A Tale of Freedom at Q Theatre Loft, which was visually stunning, and brilliantly evocative of a foreign land. The Non-Surgeons Guide to the Appendectomy involved installing a beach upstairs at the Basement, Bed downstairs pushed the boundaries of the space, Tiny Deaths back upstairs had the best ensemble dress code, while Hudson & Halls Live! at The Herald was set in a real kitchen, complete with burning food.
In general Auckland theatre is of a very high standard, but there were some notable disappointments. I’d been looking forward to Lysistrata at Q Theatre Rangatira, but it ended up being the only play I’ve left at the interval. Humorous in the crudest possible fashion, deeply obvious, it felt like a waste of the cast and the striking runway style stage. Fun Run and Respite, both at the Basement, were comedies that I didn’t find funny. The Deliberate Disappearance of Jack Hartnett at Q Theatre Loft was the tough follow up to Daffodils, and while I’m more positive on it than most, it still didn’t really engage me enough to care what happened to the main character.
I have also been to the Maidment, Pumphouse and Skycity theatres this year, and while enjoyable, found the productions too traditional and familiar to make the cut.
Little quiz for those who like a challenge. There are two actors who appeared in two of the plays mentioned above, and one actor (actually pictured) who has appeared in three. Can you name them?