Best of 2017 – Auckland Theatre

A solid year at the theatre, though with stronger performances than shows in my view. It was great to see the ASB Waterfront Theatre really come to life this year, while Q Theatre and Basement Theatre proved as reliable as ever. Here my top ten shows of the ~80 shows I saw this year.

1. My Own Darling (ASB Waterfront Theatre)
The most mesmerising hour I spent in a theatre this year, My Own Darling blew me away with it’s lyricism, relevance and heart. Grace Taylor is renowned as a poet, and crafted some of the most evocative words I’ve ever heard about my adopted hometown. It was on all too briefly one weekend afternoon at the ASB Waterfront Theatre (and a week in Mangere two years ago), it deserves to be seen by a much larger audience.

2. Jane Doe (Q Theatre)
A rare show that I wish was longer, though to say I enjoyed it (as the usher asked me when I left) wouldn’t be the right emotion. Horrified was probably closer to the mark, but in a can’t look away fashion. This feeling was seemingly shared by the rest of the audience based on the innovative use of text feedback throughout the show. Karin McCracken brought an impressively measured tone to a highly emotive topic.

3. The Sound of Falling Stars (Concert Chamber Auckland Town Hall)
The clear highlight of this year’s Auckland International Cabaret Festival (excluding That Bloody Woman as I saw it last year), The Sound of Falling Stars was a beautiful tribute to those musicians who burnt out rather than fading away, including Elvis, Tim and Jeff Buckley, Sid Vicious, Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake and many more. It cleverly and effectively linked their stories, with Cameron Goodall demonstrating his versatility throughout.

4. The Effect (Q Theatre)
An intelligent and thought provoking script from the UK, stylishly staged in the round upstairs at the Loft, with the best ensemble cast of the year. It balanced head and heart, science and emotion, represented and paralleled in the relationships between the two couples, though the core of the play was the pivotal character of Lorna, with a tremendous performance from Sheena Irving.

5. The Mountaintop (Basement Theatre)
Fully deserving of all the superlatives it received, The Mountaintop was undeniably powerful and moving, but also unexpectedly comic and magical. David Fane and Nicole Whippy put in a pair of phenomenal performances, an enthralling piece of theatre.

6. OTHER [chinese] (Q Theatre)
A wonderful companion piece to last year’s WHITE / OTHER, moving from an individual to a collective experience of race and belonging in New Zealand society. Alice Canton effectively marshalled the knowledge and views of a group of volunteers to create something greater than the sum of it’s parts.

7. Amadeus (ASB Waterfront Theatre)
The best ATC show in two years (That Bloody Woman excepted). I love the film, so the story was familiar, but everything else was fresh and exciting. The staging wouldn’t have been out of place in an art gallery, with a labyrinth like set literally built out of music, atmospherically lit. Scattered throughout this landscape were musicians bringing Mozart’s music to life, while below the cast flirted, fought, schemed and danced.

8. Nell Gwynn (ASB Waterfront Theatre)
A triumphant staging by ATC of this Olivier Award winning play, which featured probably more audience applause during the performance than any other show I’ve been to. It was a little too much like Carry On Shakespeare at times, but the whole show was performed with such energy and humour. Random fact, I knew the writer Jessica Swale at university, small world. It was a shame they missed the opportunity to stage it at the Globe, where it first ran in London, that would have been quite amazing.

9. Weave (Basement Theatre)
One of the most impressive solo shows I’ve seen, with Kate McGill bringing to life an insightful, entertaining and moving cross section of New Zealanders’ stories in a thoughtful fashion. A quite beautiful and powerful piece of theatre.

10. Non Flower Elements (Basement Theatre)
One of the most original shows of the year, a beautiful life affirming work that stuck in mind long after I saw it for it’s compassion, experimentation and sense of fun. Not everything worked, but the vast majority did, involving and making the audience think and feel.

Bubbling under
And So It Goes (Backbeat)
, one of my favourite shows of the triumphant Fringe Festival, a little genre defining gem. Te Waka Huia (Te Pou), an historical sobering but life affirmingly joyous and powerful show. Pleasuredome (a warehouse in Avondale), I agree with pretty much all the critics comments, but it was still a hugely enjoyable (two) nights out, this year’s Globe Theatre, one for the public rather than the critics. 2am Phone Call (Basement Theatre), a late but well deserved entry, for a wonderfully poetic and relatable show.

You might also be interested in perspectives on the Best Auckland Theatre Performances of 2017 and the Best Auckland Theatre Staging & Props of 2017.

For historical reference here were my thoughts on the Best Auckland Theatre of 2016 and Best Auckland Theatre of 2015.

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