The Fest Test: A Rave
The latest Auckland Arts Festival blog from Mark Amery
It's late, in blog time. But I'm in the mood for a rave. I've just returned from a lock-in in a Scottish pub up Durham Lane.
We got given a dram of single malt on entry and then the doors closed, and the bar opened. It was, as described, a Scottish Ceildh that turned into a Scottish Kylie: from old folk ballads to karaoke. Everyone waved their hands in the air and sang repetitively 'There's only one Colin Symes' to the tune of Guantanamera, to said person atop a tabletop in his underwear. It was 9pm on a Friday night and no one looked remotely drunk.
The show was the National Theatre of Scotland's The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. It. Was. Amazing. And I'm not the kind of writer who breaks the common standards of English grammar without very good reason (plus my editor Cathy Aronson is away at WOMAD so I figure I can live a little). This work is in a league of its own amongst the festival shows I've seen this week. And yes I'm writing about you National Theatre of England and National Chinese Theatre. In this week's round, the Scot's won hands down.
A couple of academics are at a conference about Scottish folk music in the border country, the central debate's provocation: "Border ballads, neither border nor ballad." Prudencia Hart is a traditionalist, too prudish for her age, who believes in these works undeniable beauty. Colin meanwhile wants to be all hip and talk about them as the past's equivalent of Facebook updates and football chants sung to the tune of Guantanamera. Snowed in our protagonists seek refuge in a dodgy pub where a long night ensues. A right surreal bender. In one particularly active sequence I watched audience member Tim Finn almost get a Kung Fu kick in the chin.
All this is delivered in rhyming couplets ("pint of bitter, rhymes with twitter"), and if anything it's the merit of all culture, popular, high and low, old and new, which is at the play's heart. I've been a fan of playwright David Grieg's work for quite a while, but with this show his dexterity with language, and marriage of ideas is off the charts. The fantastic cast work the room, moving between the tables, and delivering outstanding musical interludes.
Any true bender descends into a kind of hell that is both pleasure and disturbance. In this instance Prudencia Hart really does end up in hell, in a long, exquisite dance with two twinned devils. In this munted version of Goethe's Faust the righteous Prudencia Hart eventually manages to slip back through time after millennia away and sing "I can't get you out of my head" amongst the still partying throng in the pub to the red hot lover she left behind. Shows like this don't need a critics rave, they book out through word of mouth. Put some useless piece of equipment on Trade Me and book for this one now.
Before I retire for the night I should recap further on the day's events. Today I've been in training for tomorrow's big last ascent before I return to Wellington. It's quite a climb: the Rosebank Road symposium at Unitec in the morning, five short shows in the afternoon as part of ATCs Dominion Road Stories, the premiere of Mitch Tawhi Thomas's Hui and White Night across the city until midnight. Do I have the cultural fitness, I asked myself.
So I bought in a professional. Performance artist Mark Harvey and his dog (labrador Lara) took me for a trot around the Domain and onto St Paul Street Gallery at AUT. Pictured here are Mark and Lara checking out the Comics Manga and Co: The New Culture of German Comics exhibition. Its an excellent show, though I come away still maintaining comics are for reading rather than exhibiting. Yet here you get a fantastic spread of high level graphic storytelling work. I was impressed by the storytelling and its diversity. Lots of autobiographical projections, but equally lots of journalism that imagines real life situations with amazing clarity and strong humour. Even if I couldn't understand a word. In many respects not understanding the language felt like it helped me step back and appreciate the story construction through image.
Next door Dylan Horrocks has brought together a smaller show of New Zealand comic artists, Nga Pakiwaituhi. Lara and Mark were more impressed with this show, me less so. Too many of these artists were overly familiar from the 1990s, with a whole slew of zinesters and other young whippets missing. I really thought our comic scene was broader. While I liked how the show brought together the artists initial sketches rather than the reproductions, ultimately the exhibition felt like it hadn't gestated conceptually for long and was more a case of Dylan and his mates. Or maybe I was still struggling with the fact that the real art felt like it was in a book somewhere. Again there was the curse of an arts festival slot: we always expect big things.
As part of my personal training for my last day on the blog job I also attended another performance in the Tautai Pacific Island artist Performing Art series More Than We Know, on the steps of the Gus Fisher Gallery in Shortland Street. OK, I fib. It was actually yesterday but I failed to fit it in then so do now.
The series this week has been a treat (you can watch it all on Facebook if you go to the Tautai page), infiltrating the brick building and the city, which has rich history as New Zealand's first purpose built radio station and where our first television broadcast were made. On this night I saw spoken word company Niu Navigations (pictured is Daren Kamali in full flight) in a short but punchy challenge to the city, making their Pacific voices heard, mixing the personal and the political. Gentle but strident. Its just a shame the crowd was so small - I wish it a long life on Youtube.