2009 Auckland Theatre wrap

Various Auckland venues, Auckland

10/01/2009 - 22/12/2010

Production Details

Theatreview wraps up another year of theatre in Auckland.

Blessed with rich variety and verve

Review by Janet McAllister 05th Jan 2010

Dammit Auckland theatre, I wanted to be a bitchy critic! But this year’s offerings were, in general, so complex, funny and nerve-touching I could hardly scrape together a soupcon of snide. In particular, it was a delight to see so many quality local plays – from both emerging and established practitioners – parading in front of the footlights.

My top 4 picks, here in order of appearance, are an unintentional testament to the variety on offer: [more]  


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Auckland’s big year

Review by Nik Smythe 31st Dec 2009

Looking over the year in Auckland according to our own record, I am impressed with numbers such as almost 300 reviews out of nearly 850 nationwide (respectably though predictably 2nd only to Wellington’s output of almost 400), all in all covering more than two hundred local and international theatrical and dance shows.

I note with some envy that there are a few pages worth of reviews through January for Wellington shows, whereas 2009’s first Auckland theatre review here at theatreview (not counting the undoubtedly fabulous international circus spectacle Le Grande Cirque), was the nicely conceived short story collection-style Asian Tales at the Herald reviewed by Jessie Kollen on the 13th of February after a more than six week break. 

It is a formidable proposition to comprehensively summarise this entire eclectic mess of performance art events, and as such I’m not really trying to in the wholistically inclusive sense. Rather the following highlights are simply those that stick in my mind at the end of a rather busy year.

For ATC’s first trick they borrowed Ross Gumbley’s Carry-onesque The Thirty-Nine Steps at the Maidment, a heartily well received escapist slapstick spectacle. Their reasonably eclectic 09 season concluded was book-ended at Halloween with a competent rendition of that other vintage British classic Oliver! 

Undoubtedly though the highlight of their year, not to mention a milestone in the history of Kiwi Theatre, was their Bruce Mason’s The Pohutukawa Tree in September. A lot of people have lamented the absence of what is arguably our greatest vintage classic over the decades of its absence. The production itself received mixed responses among patrons, mainly favourable – in particular it seems the polarising dramatisation of Aroha by Rena Owen. 

But ultimately the true strength of this work that seemed too risky to every professional company in the country for over fifty years is shown in its record-breaking box office response. At the risk of labouring the very tired question: we’re better off with Chekhov or Shakespeare why? 

Auckland’s 2009 Comedy Festival again saw many local and international acts flexing their funny bones before appreciative audiences large and small. The standard of the shows I saw was very high as we’ve come to expect, and my surprise favourite gig was the first one I covered, 18 year-old Rhys Mathewson’s playfully hilarious The Best $18 You’ll Ever Spend!

Another milestone event, crossing over with the international Auckland Festival, was the first annual Auckland Fringe. It seems ironic that the country’s largest municipal centre has been the last to produce a Fringe festival, but to make up for lost time we started as we mean to go on with over 100 original productions, predominantly local. There were so many people involved even I was cast in a Basement show (!), and in spite of being mounted at the height of the global recession it appeared to be a great success thanks to the high subjective value of the entertainment dollar. 

One fringe benefit (no pun intended) of this job, which I always look forward to, is taking my son, now 7, to the children’s and family shows that play each holidays and during the festivals. My own pick for this year is Phineas Phrog Productions’ The Bubbles and Mustard Show, ingenious back-to-basics comedy for kids of all ages. I’m also driven to commend Mr. Tim Bray and the exceptional standard of holiday theatre his company have produced at the Pumphouse for each and every school holidays for I don’t know how many years now.

My overall personal highlight for a long time let alone 2009 was Hackman Productions’ Apollo 13: Mission Control. Much as I’m given to champion indigenous theatre in an era where we are now well in gear with expressing our unique and intriguing voice with confidence, the sheer genius of this interactive masterpiece has literally global potential. Honourable mention also to Red Leap Theatre’s world-class production of The Arrival. I believe both these marvellous works are scheduled for return seasons and heartily encourage all and sundry to attend.

Most prolific playwright and director for the somethingth year running is young Tom Sainsbury; directing five out of six shows he wrought in Auckland (The Needies, Cindy and Eric Go To Hell, Little Blonde Hen, Dinner Party Money, My London Sojourn and The Christmas Monologues), plus at least one play, the semi-devised Gas made it to Wellington this year. Many attendees agree that Sainsburys work is patchy in the conventional sense but almost always undeniably infectious, which leads me to ponder whether it really is patchy or simply a new kind of form theatergoers need to get used to?  

Most successful single production was Roger Hall’s, with separate productions of Four Flat Whites In Italy performed in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

The final serious drama of the year was the much anticipated opus-in-progress, Kirk Torrance’s Flintlock Musket. Drawing a number of critical reviews, there seems to be a general consensus to see this work deepened and sharpened. The feedback forms audiences were encouraged to fill out are a clear indication of Torrance and Stamp Theatre’s commitment to develop it with a view to producing a bona-fide original classic.

December has seen a slew of Christmassy shows, from Tim Bray’s perennial classic The Santa Claus Show, to laugh-heavy revues Comedy Christmas Gala at SkyCity and the Sexy Recession Cabaret at Tapac, and their spirited poor-theatre cousins Christ Almighty at the Basement, Sainsbury’s Christmas Monologues at the Wine Cellar and the Outfit Theatre Co’s explosive The Office Xmas Party at Cross Street. 

A big thank you from me personally to all the reviewers who have contributed to this mammoth archiving task – Kate Ward-Smythe, Sian Robertson, Joanna Page nee Davies, Candice Lewis, Andra Jenkin, Lillian Richards, Caoilinn Hughes, Jessie Kollen, Alex Port, James Amos nee Cockle, Venus Stephens and Tamati Patuwai.

Also, great respect for the team of dance reviewers, whose branch of performing arts have gotten far more coverage this year than previously. I understand a similar critique of the year in Auckland dance is to follow.

Thank you also to you the readers; a number of intense discussions have been had by many visitors to the website, in the comments sections of the reviews and issues raised on the forum boards. The theatreview position on persons responding and contributing their thoughts is the more the merrier!

And of course, anonymous acknowledgements are undoubtedly due to the numerous shows we neglected to review, for whatever reason. As far as we strive to cover every relevant work we invariably miss many, particularly during the crowded festival seasons. 

Anyone in Auckland who’s read this far may like to consider contributing reviews in the future; contact John through the site for more information.

Now we’re all gonna get sloshed and regroup in the new year for another fifty odd weeks of madness. Then the year after that it’ll be the final countdown to the Rugby World Cup, and I for one will be aiming to get us some theatreview comps to cover that much anticipated serial drama…


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