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VOLUMES IN MICROCOSMS

Print Version

NZ International Comedy Festival
JOSEPH HARPER in THINK: TREE (Omoutautahi)


at Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff St, Mt Victoria, Wellington
From 3 May 2013 to 4 May 2013

Reviewed by John Smythe, 4 May 2013


By way of getting started, Auckland-based Joseph Harper offers some delightful perceptions of Wellington that prove he sees the world we share quite differently. He also confides that he'd forgotten this piece he's about to deliver for the first time was for the Comedy Festival … and yet he has a way of making what could be mundane amusing and sometimes hilarious.

In a show that seems like a loose ramble but is actually an astutely crafted meditation inspired by his experiences of bonsai trees, the title Think:Tree turns out to relate to a scene from the film The Karate Kid. The way Harper tells it, Mr Miyagi counsels the Kid to first imagine the tree he wants it to be; then he will know how to make it a reality. Not the best “life's what you make of it” metaphor but it does link to some very amusing anecdotes.

I haven't deciphered the subtitle, Omoutautahi, but Ōtautahi is the Māori name for Christchurch, which is where Harper grew up, and it's central to the stories he tells. As it happens mōu means for you, and moumou can, in different contexts, mean misspent, needless, pity, squandered, struggle and waste – and all these concepts resonate here.

In a YouTube clip from 2012 Harper says he'd like to think his audience got things in retrospect and indeed it is later that I realise how his recollection of himself as a gruesome baby who didn't grow (because of his own unwillingness to eat rather than anything anyone else was doing to him) relates directly to his bonsai motif.

What begins as a fond memory of the beloved bonsai garden in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens segues into a bizarre story of his first performing experience there and if you want to know why and how Elvis extinguished a flaming monkey you'll just have to go to the show.

The reduction of Christchurch – “no chimneys” – from what he once knew is on theme too, and the tale of how his quest to recover what was lost through the great bonsai heist (again, you have to be there) brings him to a widow's greenhouse in Governor's Bay, speaks volumes about microcosms, and the making and preserving of memories.

Having admitted up front he was a bit underprepared and so may need to refer to his written script, it will be no surprise to Harper that I feel his ending needs work, not only in the presentation but in the content, given his sudden introduction of flocks of butterflies seems out of context and so doesn't fly as yet.

Nevertheless, his self-referential and deferential deconstruction of the process as it plays out adds lots of apparently spontaneous humour which his loyal audience laps up with delight. It could be more clipped and concise but then it wouldn't be Harper.
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