A year of strong performances on the stage in Auckland, particular at the Basement Theatre. In chronological order here are my favourite from the ~80 shows I saw this year.
Kate McGill in Weave (Basement Theatre)
One person shows with multiple characters can struggle to provide sufficient definition between characters, and avoid slipping into cliché. Neither was an issue in Weave, with Kate McGill triumphantly bringing to life twenty real New Zealanders, running the full range of emotions from humour to sorrow.
Julia Croft in The Plastic Orgasm (LOT23), Power Ballad and If There’s Not Dancing At The Revolution, I’m Not Coming (both Basement Theatre)
It was hard to avoid Julia as she had three shows on at the pretty much same time this year. All demonstrated the same total dedication to the cause, blurring the lines between theatre and performance art.
Andrew Gunn in The Faustus Project (Basement Theatre)
In a similar vein to the Basement Christmas show, The Faustus Project had an unsuspecting guest actor every night, put through their paces in a variety of ways. Andrew was impressively assertive, conveying convincing depth of character, and was a bloody good sport (literally).
Karin McCracken in Jane Doe (Q Theatre)
In the most emotionally charged show of the year, Karin gave an impressively measured performance, quickly building trust with the audience and allowing them time and space to digest the subject matter. I particularly liked the spot on lip syncing to the videos playing behind her, a novel way of presenting alternative views.
Tom Clarke in Camping (Q Theatre)
Tom had tough boots to fill, replacing Thomas Sainsbury as Les Bean in one of my favourite shows of the past few years. He was great though, bringing a different dynamic to the group. Unusually for a second viewing it was as funny as the first time I saw it, particularly the intense quivering lips whenever Chris Parkers’ Francis got close.
Shoshana McCallum in Looking at Stuff in Clouds (Basement Theatre)
As mentioned above with Weave, playing multiple characters is a good test of acting ability, establishing credible characters in a short period of time, without falling into stereotypes. I’m not sure there is a stereotype for a flame, but it was still a highlight for me from Looking at Stuff in Clouds, with Shoshana flickering and shimmering away in a quite hypnotic fashion.
Sheena Irving, Jessie Lawrence, Daniel Watterson, and Will Wallace in The Effect (Q Theatre)
The best ensemble cast of the year, with spot on performances from all four actors in a this rich and rewarding play. Jessie and Daniel brought real chemistry to a beautifully developed relationship, Will was likeable in a potentially unlikable role, and Sheena was the emotional heart of the work for me, during her final scene you could hear a pin drop in the theatre.
Junior Misimoa in Te Waka Huia (Te Pou)
An affecting performance as Pahi, haunted by New Zealand’s worst road accident (a bus returning from Waitangi Day celebrations in 1963 that killed 15 people), alternating between slightly manic playfulness and disturbing confusion and anger. Junior was the spirit of this powerful show, a reminder of an overlooked tragedy.
Ash Jones and Arlo Gibson in Non Flower Elements (Basement Theatre)
A pair of engaging performance from Ash and Arlo, in one of the more unusual, and enjoyable, shows of the year. Non Flower Elements was a wonderful combination of audience feel good, personal introspection, comic moments and life affirming music. Ash and Arlo brought honesty, bravery and fun, a winning combination.
Robyn Paterson in The South Afreakins (Basement Theatre)
Solo shows with dialogue between multiple characters often feel (understandably) stop start and can struggle to flow. This certainly wasn’t an issue for Robyn, with her brilliant performance as characters based on her parents, which she switched between rapidly and believably. If I’d closed my eyes there could have plausibly been two actors on stage.
Jodie Hillock and Frank Borrell in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (Basement Theatre)
Playing two of the most damaged characters I’ve come across at the theatre, Jodie and Frank brought Roberta and Danny to life in this incredibly powerful depiction of a pair of lost souls in New York. They brought heart, compassion and total commitment to their performances.
Ella Gilbert in Soft Tissue (Basement Theatre)
The most off-beat performance of the year, more performance art and clowning than character acting. Ella was impressively fearless in this initially totally baffling show that only gradually became more comprehensible as it went on. Not sure how much of it I understood but it was certainly memorable.
David Fane and Nicole Whippy in The Mountaintop (Basement Theatre)
A pair of tour de force performances in one of the best shows of the year. David brought the required gravitas but also unexpected humour and humanity playing Martin Luther King Jr, while Nicole was a tornado of energy and passion as the mysterious maid.
If you’re interested in an historic comparison, here’s my previous picks for the best Auckland Theatre performances of 2016.