TRULY RIDICULOUS, UTTERLY HILARIOUS, AND REFRESHINGLY AGENDA-FREE FARCE
by Nigel Collins, Toby Leach & Damon Andrews
performed by Long Cloud Youth Theatre
presented by Whitireia New Zealand
at WHITIREIA THEATRE - return season, Wellington
From 4 Dec 2012 to 7 Dec 2012
Reviewed by Caoilinn Hughes, 5 Dec 2012
I have to admit that I'm often reluctant to review ‘youth group' theatre, as I worry that the critical eye that is calibrated for first-rate professional productions might need re-calibration, given the inexperienced actors and minimal rehearsal time given to casual, youth ensembles.
However, Long Cloud Youth Theatre's production of Wheeler's Luck needs no such leniency. It is a committed, confident and fully-achieved production by a talented group of New Zealand entertainers. No doubt, Long Cloud's Artistic Director Aaron Cortesi has a significant part to play in begetting such a unified and enthusiastic performance by the cast of inspired 16 to 21-year-olds.
‘Hilarious' and ‘refreshing' were the two words floating about the friendly theatre space at Whitireia last night. The first adjective can be attributed to the excellent script, which started out as a devised two-hander. Although there were actors playing multiple characters in this production, it certainly wasn't a two-hander (it was a 12-hander, in fact) and without a doubt the script requires this larger cast.
I did suspect that the script was originally devised, as fun is central to the story and narrative is secondary; also, there are multiple protagonists (which often happens with devised plays). However, the script has clearly benefitted from editing and fine-tuning, and from the fact that this isn't its first run. Wheeler's Luck is undoubtedly a farce, and that it refrains from pursuing poignancy is a very good move by director Cortesi and writers Nigel Collins, Toby Leach & Damon Andrews.
Of course, the performers have a lot to do with the ‘hilarious' adjective, and even more to do with the show's ‘refreshingness'. Oh how I want to name names among the cast! but Cortesi asked if I would avoid doing so, as he is trying to encourage a chorus-like, collaborative environment. I will respect that and suffice it to say that there isn't a weak link in the troupe, though there are a few shining links.
The group work that Loud Cloud fosters manifests in on-stage dynamism, and in the fact that there are no selfish performances; no stage-school limelighters. Stereotype and caricature abound, but the performers manage to bring energy, personality and ownership to the caricatures, and there is always room for lampooning if it's done as well as it is in Cox's Point.
This is far from the Kiwi culture-bashing I've seen in so many stand-up routines recently. It's got more of the laugh-out-loud Kiwi charm of Rhys Darby, who I would recommend the show to in a second.
If you don't like devised theatre, don't be put-off. This production is very together. The shadow puppetry and use of the projector are great, and it isn't self-indulgent (apart from one or two moments that I would omit: namely, the major's silhouette taking his secretary from behind, which turns out to be [spoiler averted]; and the townsfolk descending into a weapon-brandishing mob, which doesn't fit the rest of the show's wit and creativity).
Wheeler's Luck is running from December 4th-7th, so if you're looking for a parody of small town Kiwi culture that is truly ridiculous, utterly hilarious, and refreshingly agenda-free, get along to Whitireia Theatre at 7.30pm this evening. Bring friends and family.
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Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);