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NZ International Comedy Festival
The Lonesome Buckwhips
They have witnessed their childhood caravan burn to the ground in a blazing inferno, struggled with critical indifference, battled with The Warratahs and each other, been arrested and “lived unhappy lives.” But most importantly the only country band with their own brand of raspberry jam is back! After re-visiting their roots in the small dank Dunedin suburb of Corstorphine, they are back in concert with a new member and a raft of new and inspirational country tunes.

at 101 @ Bodega, Wellington
From 8 May 2007 to 12 May 2007
[1 hr]

Reviewed by Thomas LaHood, 9 May 2007

The Lonesome Buckwhips look set to ignite audiences like brushfire across the prairie with their New Zealand tour.  Their blend of fighting words and four-part harmonies has been reworked and refined since their Best Comedy award-winning debut at the 2007 Wellington Fringe, making an already enjoyable show into a great evening's entertainment.

The story has been tightened up from the rambling tale presented at the Fringe, but the basic plot remains the same. The four Buckwhips - Benny (Ben Hutchison), Arty (Arthur Meek), Miri (Miriama Ketu) and Gary (Gareth Williams) - play a reunion gig on the day of Gary's release from prison, where they proceed to exhume their family skeletons in front of a live audience.

The Buckwhips' style is colloquial, intimate, and adroit.  Their laconic delivery belies the speed of the show's wit, covering territory from Māori tikanga to the commercialisation of Christmas, via smoking and corporate sponsorship, at a deceptively rapid rate.

The songs, too, range in style and content despite somehow remaining 'country'.  The standout musical number of the show - 'Africa' ("take a shower in my money and a bath in my tears") - is anthemic and emotive, elevating the audience and drawing huge applause before smoothly returning them to the ambling pace of the between-songs bickering.

This is the skill of The Lonesome Buckwhips: what seems to be simple humour, drawing easy laughs from the crowd, is actually sophisticated, smart material with something to say.  Similarly, the characters go beyond simple hillbilly stereotypes to become real people - from Corstorphine, Dunedin - that we can identify with.

The revisions to the story are for the most part successful.  In particular, Miri has now been promoted from outsider to adopted sister and authentic family member, making her and Arty's cloying married couple routine all the more icky.  It's a distinct improvement, but the character is still underutilised, especially in the second half of the show.

The new venue presents some difficulties, being narrow and flat; more suited to stand-up gigs than this character based work.  I spent a lot of time ducking from one side to the other of the head in front of me trying to catch dialogue.  The over-head projected images, too, lose impact in this space.

The Lonesome Buckwhips is a brave undertaking by a young company that has worked hard, and it is a real pleasure to see that work paying off.  The audience was engaged throughout, despite the difficulties presented by the venue, and the band more than earned their exuberant encore, 'Santa - King of the Jews'.  
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