Where I can be found up to seven times a week during the height of the season (typically when the weather starts to pack up in June) the theatre is a brilliant place to escape to. Auckland is blessed with a host of great venues, talented actors, writers, directors, and people behind the scenes, though I do spend the first five minutes of most shows trying to remember where I’ve seen the actors before. After seeing more than 70 shows this year, here are my favourites, in chronological order.
The Voice in My Head – Basement Theatre
Thanks to carmageddon getting into the city I arrived minutes too late to see this. Tried again (thank you for a rare two week season) and was glad I made the effort. One of the best written (Jodie Molloy) and performed plays (Natalie Medlock) of the year, offering five perspectives on abortion through different characters and eras.
Alice Fraser – Savage – Basement Theatre
As much theatre as standup (Comedy Festival import from Australia), and one of the most powerful stories I’ve seen about the death of a parent. Brutally honest, ferociously intelligent, bravely cathartic, and yet hilariously funny, an unlikely but perfectly realised combination.
Benedict Cumberbatch Must Die – Basement Theatre
An early highlight of the season, a blistering black comedy about taking an obsession a tad too far. Three brilliantly portrayed characters acted out increasingly surreal and disturbing fantasy encounters with their hero.
Hungover – Basement Theatre
Moulin Rouge meets twentysomething domestic drama. Spot on use of popular songs to intensify the emotion impact, from humour to remorse. Wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in but I was blown away. Great show.
Camping – Basement Theatre
With a stellar cast my expectations were high, and exceeded, with a show that fully lived up to it’s title. Comic highlights for me were Brynley Stent’s clog dancing, and Chris Parker’s coffee aided exclamation(s) of surprise.
That Bloody Woman – Skycity Theatre
A rock musical about Kate Sheppard, suffragette extraordinaire and face of the $10 note. With punkish spirit and energy, memorable songs, and a talented cast, this was a welcome transfer from the Christchurch Arts Festival. It was so good it even survived in the soulless expanse of the Skycity Theatre.
Mating in Captivity – Basement Theatre
Brilliantly written – smart, funny and thought provoking, this was another triumph (see also Valerie and Vernon God Little) for Last Tapes. Bonus points for a (literally) cracking ending.
Don Juan – Q Theatre
An absolute riot (in a good way), with the best audience involvement of any show I’ve seen. Very funny and filled with excitement and surprise. Loved it so much I saw it three times.
An honourable mention for Complexity of Belonging which would appear on this list if I hadn’t seen it at the St James Theatre in Wellington. A highlight of the New Zealand Arts Festival, this Australian show brilliantly and convincingly combined theatre and dance to powerful effect. I’ve seen many shows that tried to capture the zeitgeist but few as successful. The highlight was Lauren Langlois’ jaw dropping solo.
Bare made a rare break from Roger Hall plays at the Pumphouse, aided by a pair of stellar performances. At the Basement Milky Bits combined genuine insight and comic gold, Valerie was the homegrown standout of the International Cabaret Festival, a hauntingly beautiful work, and Vanilla Miraka and WHITE / OTHER both tackled race and belonging with intelligence and insight. At Q Theatre Yours, Truly upstairs at Q was a welcome revival of a wonderfully written tale of Jack the Ripper, and White Guitar was a powerful and compelling (true) family history.
There was also the welcome opportunity to see three of my favourite shows of 2015 again – If There’s Not Dancing At The Revolution, I’m Not Coming, Daffodils (twice!), and The Book of Everything. Two of which deservedly made it over to the Edinburgh Festival, truly world class theatre.
Live music, often in cabaret style, seemed to be the theme of the year, demonstrated in Hungover, Daffodils, White Guitar, Boys Will Be Boys, Mockingbird, Valerie and Don Juan.
As a relatively new convert, I find dance particularly hit or miss. I either love it or hate it. Of 13 shows I saw this year, these are the ones I loved.
Mana Wahine – Q Theatre
A perfect example of great New Zealand dance, drawing on traditional Maori culture in a more accessible and enjoyable fashion than I’ve seen before. Powerful and innovative use of film and sound complemented the impressive performances of the five leads.
HEALR – Basement
My pick of the Basement dance shows this year, HEALR created a very particular atmosphere (aided by a large number of heaters!). I didn’t really known what was happening but got entirely lost in it all the same, a memorable show.
Lifeworld – Q Theatre
A tour de force by Footnote New Zealand, some of the best dancing I’ve seen anywhere. Wasn’t entirely convinced by the visuals, but loved the humour and life of the dance and music. It was constantly engaging, interesting and brilliantly performed.
The Absurdity of Humanity – Q Theatre
Very much a show of two halves. The first half (Whispers from Pandora’s Box) was nearly everything I love in dance – energy, humour, the interplay of movement and sound, more things going on that you can really take in at the time. The second half (Matter) was nearly everything I try to avoid in dance – excessive symbolism, slow pace, monotone.
Nederland Dans Theater – The Civic
Quite possibly the best thing I’ve seen in any art form this year, I was blown away by this Dutch import. Every piece was quite different from each other, yet equally memorable, powerful and completely engrossing. This was truly world class dance, which I’m very grateful made it’s way to the other side of the planet for us to see.
What do you think of this selection? Anything you loved that I either missed or didn’t mention?