By Renee Liang
I love Festival time because of the atmosphere it creates. Auckland feels like a real city, living and breathing, with a pulsing heart at Aotea Square.
People are pulled into the CBD, pumped around its theatres and galleries, given time to linger in the spaces and eating places. This year the clever people at the Festival have created a great central space with neon signs, plenty of information clearly visible, and a good programme of events, both pay and free, to draw people in. Even on the slightly cooler nights we’ve been having recently the streets seem busier. There seems to be a real democracy to who’s eating ice cream at Giapo or sitting on the stone steps at the square – everyone from dressed up opera goers to students looking for a cheap night out.
Speaking of opera, Xerxes was a lot of fun – not something you can say about many operas. Deliberately light and frothy with delicious moments of comedy, it was a wonderful visual and aural feast. Handel’s music is accessible, the complicated love knots completely plausible in today’s confused society, and for the first time I understood the beauty of the counter tenor voice. And Trelise Cooper turned out to be an inspired choice for costume design – her clothes are pretty operatic anyway and not meant to be taken too seriously, so they suited perfectly.
I also very much enjoyed Massive Theatre’s debut of Havoc in the Garden, which has now moved to Mangere, and then The Pumphouse in Takapuna. In my view they attempted something – well, massive – and it pays off. In many ways it was more epic than the opera – five families dealing with the darkest, most challenging things any family can deal with. It was well over two hours but my attention never wavered, and I’m still feeling quite affected four days later. Highly recommended, and take a friend for the debrief afterwards.
Dark and (as the name suggests) smoky, Smoke and Mirrors is smarter than La Clique (from the same people, at previous festivals). It deals with the psyche of the tortured artist in an engaging and very physical way, complete with explanatory rabbits. I got there early and sat up the front - close enough to see the sweat and feel the heat of the performers (ooh, ahh). And the music, composed and sung live by Aussie cult icon iOTA, is just gorgeous – I might just have to go back and buy the album.
Last night I went to watch La Odisea, a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey by Bolivian theatre group. This finely wrought work is the highlight of the Festival for me so far. A cast of just nine people bring to life a complex story, weaving between Odysseus’ classic journey and depictions of the Latinos who leave their countries to chase the dream of better life – and how their families and countries change while they are away. Simply told, with minimalist lighting and live guitar and drums the only soundtrack, it’s the multilayered story and the words (beautiful even in translation) which carried me away. The deep passion and political statement in this work is inspirational for me, I think. I hope to include an interview with Teatro de los Andes in Backstage next week.
At the Fringe, which sadly finishes this weekend, I’m very much looking forward to seeing The Turn of the Screw (the play, not the opera). I saw this in rehearsal some weeks ago, interviewing director Benjamin Henson. The story is told with elegant physical theatre techniques and puppetry, and with the calibre of the cast, it should be a stunner.
Sadly Death by Cheerleader, a play containing the formidable ingredients of rugby, cheerleading and murder, will not be aired in this Fringe – family matters have forced its last minute cancellation. Let’s hope it comes back later in the year.
Man Bits has garnered a lot of attention – obviously the idea of a men’s knitting support group fires a lot of imaginations. I talked to playwright Rohan Mouldey about his creation, and the role of the male in the modern world (yes, we cover that in just a few paragraphs).
Off to see three plays tonight – my busiest night so far. One I’ve been looking forward to for a while is new NZ work Paper Sky – debuting at the Mercury Theatre tonight. It will be my first time in the Mercury theatre since I went to see a play there aged 16 – falling in love with Elizabeth Hawthorne and the theatre simultaneously. I can’t wait!