The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005

I once again embarked on the odyssey that seems to be one of Kickin’ Rad/Soap Factory’s Fringe schticks these days – an improvised soap opera, set in Wellington, with a cast of ten and new episodes on the hour every hour from 1-11pm.

Having stumbled exhaustedly but also with a great sense of excitement from the ten hour epic that was their last long-form soap opera (Mirror Miramar, Fringe 2018), I was incredibly keen to see what this group of talented Wellington improvisers would have up their sleeves.

And I was not at all disappointed, sticking around for the entirety of the bizarre, hilarious, and often quite touching show.

Drs. Shelly (Jen O’Sullivan) and Evans (Matt Powell) Bay own NZ’s leading animal hospital. For the most part, this goes very well for them (there’s a dash of revolution around about episode six – we’ll get to that later).

They’re joined by a cast of lively and soap-appropriate characters.

There’s a hint of romance brewing between lovelorn ambulance officer Pam Hamm (Christine Brooks) and nurse Jake Remore (Wiremu Tuhiwai) but it’s dashed to the rocks when Pam ends up with chief of operations Greta Point (Clare Kerrison) after a particularly poignant degustation menu and a few too many glasses of port. Pam, however, is not lovelorn for long, ending the ten episodes with three people after her heart; Remore, Point, and wealthy Polish donor Laars (Lyndon Hood, after his first character was killed off by mutant roosters).

After surveying the audience, Pam decides, that she should love herself instead, much to our cheers and applause.

Receptionist Damian Raven (Sam Irwin) gets a little too big for his boots after getting lost in the catacombs of the hospital and decides to commit some fraud. He weaves in and out of the main plot, occasional antagonist, but mostly just there for his crossword.

Fishologist Charlie Boothroyd (Jonny Paul) has lost touch with the sea, and definitely doesn’t have daddy issues. It sure is convenient that his father – he discovers – is the hospital’s animal chaplain Keith Grant (Stephen Youngblood), who spends most of the season running away from that fact. They do reconcile, in the end, but it’s a near thing.  Keith takes off on a whirlwind romance with Dr Sam Sheppard, who spouts animal facts when she’s nervous, and the pair get married at the end.

It is not just saucy entanglements in the world of Bay’s Anatomy, but true hospital! drama! too. The medical team give an octopus a catfish heart transplant – to much success, Sam loses an eye to a lion but is her sight is saved by the practise’s best surgeon, Shelly Bay, and Damian commits, in his own words, “a shitton of fraud.”

Once nervous, but quickly quite maniacal salesman Kea Falcon (Lyndon Hood’s first character), loses sight of his business goals, nearly loses his job, and then kidnaps Pam, setting off the show’s kidnapping plot, which is wrapped up in under an episode. Kea is killed, very gruesomely, by Pam’s mutant roosters, which I assumed were just throwaway jokes at the start of the show but came into their own after ten episodes, basically becoming characters in their own right.

The entire season is underscored by Gill Grilligan (Liam Kelly), a salty sea dog turned bartender/musician, who provides a fantastic soundtrack to the show, as well as some gorgeous sea shanties. It’s all very fitting for a show set somewhere in the vicinity of Kilbirnie.

Some additional highlights from this ten hour odyssey –

– Many Freudian slips, some of which were clearly not intentional.

– The entire clinic, barring Shelly and Evans, deciding to take their workplace from their oppressors and start a revolution, which mostly seemed to involve the drinking of many bev-er-rauges from Gill’s Grill. VIVA LA REVOLUTION (the workers were right).

– The life. death, exhumation and slight mutilation of Anastasia, the clinic’s Russian Blue cat.

– Sam coming on stage eating gradually more and more weird things, culminating in a can of Chef in the final episode, throwing proceedings off for several minutes.

 

Bay’s Anatomy was ridiculous fun, and a true undertaking. The right blend of satirical and heartfelt, I cannot imagine the energy that went into improvising for nearly ten hours and keeping a logical plot straight. Major kudos to the performers and crew.

I was very committed to the rooster storyline, and I had one hell of a good time.

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Review – Oddacity

by Sophie on March 9, 2020 in Festival, review, Theatre

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Oddacity promised an “award-winning, best-of spectacular with a cast of international luminaries performing stylish acts”, under the beautiful skylight in Bats’ Heyday Dome.   I wasn’t sure what to expect, knowing the theatre wouldn’t suit aerials or acrobatics, but I hoped  for clowns.  I was not disappointed in that sense.

Oddacity is usually Sachie Mikawa, Trent Baumann, and Fraser Hooper, all accomplished clowns with various talents in music, juggling, and performative absurdity.  Hooper sadly couldn’t perform on Saturday night, but in his place was Vinyl Burns, our very own Las Vegas showman, and he was absolutely the right man to tag in.

Each performer is seasoned and polished, and with their own unique style.  Mikawa is a childlike doll of a clown, providing a genuinely innocent whimsy to her parts.  Whether inviting an audience member onstage to simply toast her birthday, playing a little tune on her horn, or playing Lovely Assistant to Baumann in an inexplicable egg costume, she’s 100% committed to her persona, and it’s completely charming.

Baumann is a little jaded, slick, and sardonic, juggling plastic bags and pouring water up one nostril and out the other.  It’s weird and a little silly, but he’s smooth as silk even when the soundie messed up his cues a little.

Burns is a brilliant character, and his diabolo juggling doesn’t miss a beat, even when it does.  Burns and Baumann both show off their balancing skills, and Burns’ is impressive, at one point balancing a stool on his chin while he played guitar to a loop track and never dropping character at all.

We all loved the soft toy fight they instigated, we all clapped along and laughed throughout the performance, throwing the roses we’d been given when the time came.  But rather than a full variety show, it was more a tasting platter, a bare 45 minutes to dip our toes in.  With the calibre of the cast I’d happily have stayed for more, and perhaps felt a little let down at the brevity of it.  But it will absolutely inspire me to check out more of Vinyl Burns’ shows – he’s local, and a staple of our festival season, and he’s bloody brilliant.

 

For a taste of tomfoolery and hijinks from internationally recognised performers, Oddacity is on for two more nights at Bats, 9pm in the Heyday Dome

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DND Live at the Fringe: When Dwarves Cry

I wouldn’t necessarily say that Dungeons and Dragons has gone mainstream, but it’s become a lot more popular in the last twenty years.  It probably helps that there are so many TV shows these days with a fantasy element, as well as movies like the Lord of the Rings series making sword-and-sorcery stuff cooler.

DnD is a tabletop roleplaying game where players build fantasy characters, and play those characters’ choices in a story facilitated and guided by a DM (dungeon master, the person telling the story they’re part of), with dice rolls dictating the success of those choices.  A good DM is a craftsman, colouring in the details of each new scenario with skill and commitment, but good players are also wonderful to work with.

I’m a DnD amateur.  I played a little, very badly, twenty years ago, because my boyfriend of the time played.  I played a little, 10 years ago, for the same reason.  Right now I’m playing a game with some friends because I actually wanted to, and having a ball doing it.  I’m still nowhere near good, and the dice maths of it continues to elude me, but I have heaps of fun, and definitely more confidence in my abilities (to mostly hit enemies in the nuts, provide teenaged sass, and occasionally burst into song or awful puns.)

Diceratops, as well as running a pretty cool podcast, “Diceratops Presents”, has been staging live DnD shows at Bats for some time now.  A show includes, as well as the DM, at least three of a steady cast of six players (and their characters).  The shows stand alone; a newbie won’t be missing half a story if they’ve not seen previous shows, and it’s easy to get the gist of the characters fast.  The set-up is the DM at his table, and the players at theirs, with their character sheets and dice.  They’re miked, and there’s a simple lighting rig with a few different dramatic light colours, which the operator uses based on what he thinks the action needs.  Sometimes that’s a bit arbitrary, but it’s fun to know that he’s lighting in response to the story, ad hoc, rather than following a set schedule.

Full disclosure:  The DM, Morgan Davies, is an old friend of mine.  But he’s also an award-winning game designer.   And on Friday night he set the scene for a superfun and very silly mini adventure with three of the revolving cast.  Wiremu Tuhiwai of the Wellington Inprovisation Troupe (WIT) played Ford the Ranger (yep), a pretty competent fighter character.  Tuhiwai is a great improviser, and played his ranger lowkey and wry.  Steven Youngblood, also of WIT, was a charmingly oblivious Randy Dwarf, producing and distributing magical kittens and stoically avoiding Feelings until he couldn’t anymore.  And comedian Jarrod Baker played a sarcastic and mostly atheist priest called Frun Gothilde.  Together they solved a mystery, fought some monsters with varied success, and Randy faced some painful emotions.

Davies was a lovely DM to watch, wildly gesticulating as he described the landscape and clearly delighted when his players responded in a funny or interesting way.  The adventure is obviously named after a Prince song and the story played with Prince-related themes and puns throughout.  Did we know the Purple Rain joke was coming?  Yes, of course.  Did we enjoy it regardless?  Hell yes we did.  We laughed helplessly when Randy utterly failed his dice rolls time and time again, and cheered when he FINALLY got a decent one.  Loud approval greeted Tuhiwai’s ambitious action attempts, and dismay when he fell short, and when Baker’s taciturn priest fireballed the monsters we were all pretty grateful that someone at least was getting some damage in.  I like to think there was even genuine sadness in the audience at the end when a non-player character died.  The audience were clearly mostly either DnD players themselves, or somehow fans of gamer/geek culture, and they were into it.  We were invested.

Turning a game like DnD into a show depends on the skill of the players, and for the technical side to be super-simplified.  We certainly wouldn’t have been as hyped to watch them spend 10 minutes each before their turns discussing what their bonus action would be, whether they were going to employ some device to get extra rolls or extra damage, the distance they were moving, or their armour class and skill level.  The players gave us the information we needed for basic understanding, and the rest was left unspoken.

I will absolutely go to the next Diceratops show.  These performers are great players, genuinely love the game, and were clearly having a really fun time.  They trusted  each other’s cues, kept up the integrity of their characters, and worked hard to keep the action moving and the plot progressing.  If anything, I wish I’d been playing with them.

Check out Diceratops’ podcast at https://diceratops-presents.pinecast.co/

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It was weird for me to go to a show at 93 Kelburn Parade, having completed my own humble BA at Vic almost 20 years ago.  In fact, #93 was the site of at least one audition and more than a few rehearsals for me.  It’s had a bit of a facelift, now being an actual little blackbox theatre rather than just a big room, but the smell was the same, as was the uncomfortable heat generated by many bodies.  It was nostalgic to be crammed together with a bunch of students, and to add insult to injury, we were all given a reading on decolonisation to do before the show, which was completely impenetrable (at least to me).

James Wenley, or should I say Dr Wenley, is a dramaturge and lecturer at Victoria University.  He was inspired to write a show of his own while on a research trip to the famed Edinburgh Fringe.  The inspiration became a compulsion and the show was written at the same beautiful desk at which he completed his PhD, the same beautiful desk that shares the stage with him.  The themes are, sort of, performance, masculinity, whiteness and privilege.  But the driving theme that struck me was a rather sweet and awkward search for approval, in a world where being a tall white educated cis man gives you an automatic advantage, and a platform.  He asked us and himself, should he have made the show?    Is it right to use a platform others have to struggle to reach to discuss the injustice of their struggle?

Wenley is clearly a brilliant lecturer.  He easily engaged the audience, owned the space, and spoke articulately and persuasively about performance, privilege, and his journey.  He danced, he stripped, he used a projector, live video feed, and a mic to argue against his own commentary.  It was all very polished, and extremely self-deprecating.  He knows all the devices and artifices performance uses to make a point, and he adeptly used them all, while simultaneously explaining how those devices served to manipulate us.  Clever, and fun to watch.  And Respect – he worked his ass off.

Wenley told stories about himself, his family, his experiences, all in the perfectly enunciated and projected tones of a Theatre Person.  Don’t @ me; I do it too.  As the show progressed, it evolved into something darker; an interrogation of his motives and his right to the stage.  Very valid questions, and very complex, and Wenley articulated them with grace and honesty.

There was still that awkwardness, though…  I think because with all the questions Wenley was asking us, and asking himself, there are no answers you can really unpack in an hour and a half.  Rather like a lecture, we left thoughtful, wondering how to justly use the space we’ve been given.  I left wondering why all the reviewers I’ve met are white, most of them older, and mostly dudes.  Are our opinions so important that we feel we should generously share them with everyone?  It’s a little shaming.

Everyone has a show in them.  And everyone has the right to produce it.  And with this show, I think Wenley was absolutely using his powers for good…  he made us think about what we’ve been given that we did not earn.  We don’t have to abdicate our platform, but can we shuffle over a bit and share it with someone in greater need of amplification?

Dr Drama Makes a Show was frenetic, earnest, and very well-meaning.  It did not solve all the problems in the world, but it started a dialogue.  I think Dr Wenley should be bloody proud of that.  And also provide a reading list, please.

 

Dr Drama Makes a Show

93 Kelburn Pde

3-7 March, 5:30

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Books giveaway: Dreamweavers #1 and #2

by noizyboy February 18, 2020

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