April Phillips is a well-known playwright in New Zealand. Her work (STiFF, Death & Taxe$, Killing Me Softly, Blue Eyes) has been performed across New Zealand, Australia and into London, since 2002. So, naturally I was delighted to attend the double-bill of ‘SNiP’ & ‘Bonking James Bond’, produced by Phoenix Theatre, at the Rose Centre, Auckland.
The production notes highlighted that both plays, were directed by first-time directors: Rob Holland and Mandy Kavanagh. Phillips’ plays were both 4 handers – 2 female and 2 male cast for each play – this felt deliberate to (possibly) balance the gender war.
‘SNiP’ opened with Frank (Gavin Lewis) and Jenny (Melissa Roberts) in bed. They appeared to be the ‘average’ married couple with 3 children, the youngest was still waking in the night. Jenny gave Frank an ultimatum, that he needed a vasectomy, if he wanted any more sex. He struggled with the decision to ‘snip’ his manhood, talking to the audience about his dilemma. Then in walks the ‘Don’ (Justin Grannall) who challenges Frank about relinquishing his virility. Don Corleone was obviously ‘The Godfather’, renown to most of us – voted one of the best films of all time.
Frank then meets with Dr Sam Smith (Debbie Mueller) to perform the procedure.
Engaging with the characters was difficult – due to all the blackouts. Frank (Gavin Lewis) lacked credibility, as he did not manage to share his inner turmoil, that he was experiencing. Losing our ‘reproductive organs’ is a life-changing event, that I did not share with Frank – on this occasion. Jenny (Melissa Roberts) is a strong-minded, unsympathetic woman, that will not take ‘no’ for an answer. She screams with emotion, when (probably) saying nothing at all – may have moved me more. Don (Justin Grannall) followed Frank around the stage, which looked awkward, however he had some great one liners, ‘You are more than the Godfather, you are a good father’. Dr Sam Smith (Debbie Mueller) could have been amazing, with more polish.
The (minimal) set doubles for both plays – a simple table, 2 chairs stage left, a double bed in the middle that represents the bedroom and a clothes rack. The sound was predominantly ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Walk the Line’ soundtrack. The lighting needs some work: less is more. I prefer lights up, for most of a performance, even set changes. Keeps it real – and interesting.
With more some tweaks, ‘SNiP’ has the potential to be a brilliant comedy.
‘Bonking James Bond’ opens with Betty (Helen Litterick), Jeffery (Ralph Duggan) her husband, and Penelope (Kate Regan) his mistress, talking in monologue about their physicality, their fantasies and their lives. Betty becomes aware that her husband is having an affair with Penelope. Betty speaks and works through all the hypothetical scenarios, of what she could do – or not. Jeffery is head-over-heels in lust, with Penelope who has big boobs, tiny waist and wears’ short skirts. Typically – he is having a mid-life crisis – after 20 years of marriage with Betty.
Betty then decides she will dapple in ‘reverse psychology’ (notes the program) to win her husband back. In the process, her imagination runs wild and we meet James Bond (Pedro Silva), who is her fantasy. Betty explores her womanhood: what her marriage is or not – and makes some radical discoveries.
There is a lot of comic timing in ‘Bonking James Bond’ that is executed fairly well. Betty (Helen Litterick) gives a brave performance, stripping on stage and (nearly) bears her soul.
Her husband, Jeffrey (Ralph Duggan) needs to be more charismatic and assertive, who is committing adultery, and in love with ‘Angelina Jolie’. Dreams are free.
Penelope (Kate Regan) appears confident, voluptuous and happy to be the ‘second’ woman. The affair was unbelievable: the connection was skin-deep. James Bond (Pedro Silva) walks about the stage rigidly and awkwardly, without any ‘Bond’ finesse. His attire is more convincing – and with more assured self-importance- Silva would be home and hose: mimicking Bond.
All in all – the direction of ‘SNiP’ and ‘Bonking James Bond’ evidently screams lack of experience. With more depth of character, both of these plays would be laugh out loud.
Outside TAPAC stood costumed male entertainers. One wearing an orange suit, that reminded me of a Gangnam vs Bollywood style outfit and another man with glittery harem pants, blue shiny sleeveless shirt and white face; both cackling loudly as patrons entered the foyer.
The atmosphere was buzzing with many Indian supporters dressed in vibrant saris drinking beverages from the bar or the complimentary rose petal drink (gulav sharbat) allocated to each table. A couple of female improvisers worked the crowd in a charming way, welcoming you in.
First up of the four short plays, is ‘Balti Kings’ (Main course) by Sudha Bhuchar and Shaheen Khan. This play is an 8-hander: cast includes Derrick Olivier, Nona Shedde, Amit Ohdedar, Vijesh Nangia, Aman Bajaj, Aamir Kapasi, Sudeepta Vyas and Raj Singh. An Indian restaurant based in Birmingham, UK decides to offer, and advertise on radio “Curryoke Night”, a grande buffet of 35 dishes for a flat fee of £10 to boost business. It is ‘do or die’ for the family business. A web of lies, deceit and surprise unfolds. This main course was a gastronomic experience spiced with humour. The Punjabi proprietor was a laugh a minute.
The performances in ‘Balti Kings’ are consistently authentic and credibility is established from the start with a basic kitchen set. The only things that let this piece down are the use of air props and at times there were too many people on stage which distracted from the storyline.
‘Through The Grapevine’ (Entree) is by Sananda Chatterjee and performed by Monica Mahendru. The set was stripped back to a few beer crates that doubled as a cafe. I struggled To understand this piece. Mahendru spoke at rapid speed playing two characters and it was often difficult to follow the narrative. Although Mahendru was mildly captivating on stage, her articulation made it difficult to emotionally connect with the characters she portrayed.
‘P James for President’ (Side) by Nikhil Sriram is about a magician who fails to make it. The cast includes: Ram Manthry, Kanchan Bandopadhyay, Kaushik Balan and Rahul Chopra. The magician spoke about ‘the government having no place in modern politics’. Magician by day, garbage can looter by night. Could he be President? Lively performance about hope and manifestation. A light hearted piece worthy of being named a side dish.
Lastly for dessert is ‘My name is Cine-ma’ by Mathivanan Rajendran and performed by: Patricia Wichman, Divya Hariharan, Natasha Trilokekar, Arwa Janjali and Madhurima Sen. Instantly I noted the ‘Bollywood’ dream, her wish to be discovered, and escaping the hum drum of school. Although sweet like dessert, this failed to tantalise my taste buds and leave me desiring more; it just lacked clarity. Vibrant costuming in saris with authentic Indian dancing engaged the audience. This was like a snippet of ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ with a female lead.
The lighting throughout ‘Thali’ was mostly natural with some interchanging multi-coloured back drops for ‘My name is Cine-ma’. The music was typically ‘Bollywood-style’ executed with great effect.
Overall this menu satisfied the audiences appetite. It had some stand out moments but not enough to leave with heightened sensory pleasure. This production ‘Thali’ presented by Prayas Theatre and Directed by Ahi Karunaharan and Monica Mahendru is performing at TAPAC until Friday 8th March 2013. ‘Thali’ is worth seeing if you are looking for a mild night out.
Alleluya Bar & Cafe is an alternative space for performance, the backdrop is ceiling to floor windows, the audience are seated on an eclectic array of chairs. The set for Darling, Today We’re Going To Die is simple, depicting a typical student flat: rundown lounge to the left, dining room in the centre and kitchen to the right.
I note the play’s characters are Tiffany, George, Cameron, Anthony (not Samir per Auckland Fringe Programme) and Margo.
Anthony (Toby Goode) walks into the kitchen, commanding a British accent with a warm and comical disposition. He talks about his job, cooking for the flat, Wednesday being is a notable day for flat meetings and collaborative dinners, all five flat mates must attend.
After touring Nationwide, The Bitches’ Box now graces the Auckland stage to reveal the multiple layers and the inner psyches of ‘man’s best friend’.
Walking into the intimate space of the loft theatre at Q, we hear farm animal sounds (baas and moos) and a farmer whistling as he goes about his duties.
The set is minimal with two makeshift kennels and a red curtain backdrop. This show has been performed in many wool sheds up and down the North and South Islands, so I assume they just use the resources they have, with basic props.
In walk Emma Newborn and Amelia Guild who gallivant as the two bitches on heat, Red and Twink respectively. Red is mature and experienced with ‘knotting’, which means having sex in dog language. Twink is virginal and innocent, so listens intently to the wise words of Red, who also throws in a few facts like how many times dogs are mentioned in the bible, the sleeping habits of puppies and – something I didn’t know, until now – the colour of Dalmation puppies at birth…
Full review on theatreview-