The Cheat Sheet

“Cold Blood". Photo by Julien Lambert.
"Dimanche". Photo by Alice Piemme.
Shauna Macdonald in “Mouthpiece”. Photo by Lara Cappelli.
“Upu Mai Whetū”. Photo by Julie Zhu.
With Auckland Arts Festival heating up - and a sense of FOMO kicking in - three arts reviewers give you the good oil on their pick of the shows.


So you blinked, and the shows you were amping to see at Auckland Arts Festival sold out. We hear your pain. We’ve been there.

Happily, there are plenty of other exciting shows in the line-up. We’ve asked three in-the-know arts people to tell us which shows they’re most looking forward to seeing (that still have tickets available!) and why.

Kate Powell

Arts critic, columnist, communications professional, curator and writer for The Big Idea

Dimanche. One of the most powerful things about art is its ability to appeal to our common humanity in the face of seemingly insurmountable issues. To hold us accountable for our actions, and use humour and whimsy to explore darkness. For me, Chaliwaté and Focus’s latest production Dimanche ticks these boxes. They’ve merged puppetry and physical theatre to create art that explores the impact of global warming with a sense of devastating wonderment. Given it’s appropriate for children aged nine and over, it would be wonderful to see young ones inspired to become the next Greta Thunberg.

Mouthpiece. This has been feted by some of the UK’s top theatre publications, had sold-out runs and won the 2019 Carol Tambor Best of the Edinburgh Fringe Award, but those aren’t the only reasons I think people should check out this play. What makes Mouthpiece important is it confronts the stranglehold that the middle class has on the arts – both creatively and economically. It promises to be a gutsy yet compassionate production, a deliciously meta critique about the act of creation and the unequal society that creates it. I’m in.

Ka Pō, Ka Waiata – Songs in Darkness. I’m a sucker for immersive experiences and the idea of using all your senses to fully appreciate a work. Ka Pō, Ka Waiata caters to this, bringing together sound art and live performance of traditional Māori creation tales in complete darkness. Artists include Little Bushman frontman Warren Maxwell and te reo songstress Whirimako Black, which could lead to an interesting combination of sounds. It’s brimming with potential to be one of those offerings that merge the past and present to create something quite timeless. Cannot wait.

Shauna Macdonald in “Mouthpiece”. Photo by Lara Cappelli. 

Belinda Seeney

IMHO editor and arts reviewer, Australia

Snow White. Think you know your fairytales? Think again! Ballet Preljocaj’s twisted take on Snow White is darker than anything Disney could produce, and the interplay between ‘fair’ and ‘evil’ is far more nuanced than most adaptations of the Brothers Grimm source material. This is a striking study of youth and beauty, jealousy and envy, innocence and seduction, and the full spectrum of family dynamics – all intricately executed by the boundary-pushing French dance company. Of course, mention must be made of the show-stopping costumes, designed by revered countryman Jean Paul Gaultier.

Limbo Unhinged. Equally as seductive is Strut & Fret’s Limbo Unhinged, a show born to play a Spiegeltent. Limbo Unhinged is a sexy grab-bag of aerial artistry, live music, and polished performances that pull out all stops to titillate and tease. The thrilling circus-cabaret casts a carousel of international performers who push their bodies – and the audience’s nerves – to the very limit. The ‘illuminating’ take on traditional sword-swallowing is worth the ticket price alone.

Cold Blood. This subversive and contemporary conceptulisation of finger puppets is, rightly, one of AAF’s most intriguing productions. Each individual element is enough to pique audience interest – elaborate miniature film sets populated by a cast of hands, tiny handcrafted props beamed on to a sweeping cinema screen, and stories set to a soundtrack spanning Schubert to Bowie – but together, they become an irresistible combination. The fingertip tap-dancing routine alone will enthrall you.

"Dimanche". Photo by Alice Piemme.

Mark Amery

Arts critic, editor, broadcaster and writer for The Big Idea

Mouthpiece. Time for some intense, power-dynamic-shifting playwriting. Kieran Hurley’s Mouthpiece follows its acclaimed Edinburgh Traverse Theatre predecessor Ulster American (seen at last year’s Auckland Arts Festival), and may well – as it has in Edinburgh – sell out. By all accounts, this gritty, tight two-hander is an ode to the social and economic extremes of Edinburgh itself, as a middle-class writer meets a working-class artist. Why aren’t we writing these in Auckland yet?! It’s a “plea to break the middle-class stranglehold on the arts”, writes the Guardian. A timely call.

UPU. Something special has been happening in Auckland in the evolution of Pacific oratory, connecting traditional roots with contemporary style, melding theatre and poetry. UPU grew from 2018’s Upu Mai Whetū, under the brave leadership of Grace Taylor and Fasitua Amosa. It’s seemingly simple but oh so effective: stunning Māori and Pacific Island actor-orators (Nathaniel Lees, Nicola Kawana, Mia Blake – they could read the phonebook to acclaim, if we still had one) coupled with a menu of classic Pacific literature. Through our artists, a community is stitched together across Oceania.

“Upu Mai Whetū”. Photo by Julie Zhu.

Dimanche. Quite why it is the French and Belgians who have, with a wry lift of their eyebrows, cornered the market in magical and absurd physical theatre, I do not know. Yet virtually every international arts festival in Aotearoa has at least one piece of charming silent play with objects and gesture that doesn’t take itself too seriously – and hails from this European region. In Dimanche, it seems the actors make the scenery and the scenes, the audience observing them, using cameras and objects to tell a story that speaks of our ridiculousness in the face of environmental disaster. I’m taking the kids.


Written in partnership with Auckland Arts Festival, which runs March 11-29, 2020.

Written by

Mary de Ruyter

24 Feb 2020

Mary de Ruyter is a freelance journalist and editor who has written about books, arts and culture for North & South, Metro and many other publications. She also has a background in communications, and book editing/proofreading.