A Night of InterACTing

Corban Estate Arts Centre, Henderson, Auckland

24/10/2013 - 24/10/2013

Production Details


This promises to be an evening to remember with dance from Touch Compass, music from The Mutes from Mars and Johnny Matteson, the luminous Janelle Colquhoun from Australia and Julie Mc Namara’s one woman show Let Me Stay from the UK. Plus The Variety Voice choir and Angels & Demons, the latest show from Interacting theatre. 

A tender exploration of the impact of Alzheimer’s on a family struggling to hold onto the memory of their Mother. 
An extraordinary love letter filled with comedy and compassion.


TOUCH COMPASS DANCE CO. – ROGUE as part of their inaugural HOTBOX series

Performing original music, written by Johnny and inspired by his journey through the mental health system.
Johnny has been working with the Mental Health Foundation for 16 years. He has devoted the past two decades to motivating and entertaining the mentally ill with his music and spreading positive messages about mental health through music

ANGELS AND DEMONS – a new theatre show from Interacting. 
Luke loves video games, so much so that his life has narrowed as a result.
That’s up until the day he pops into the big red shed to buy the latest edition of his favourite game and drops through a portal into an alternative reality…. 


The Mutes are a unique rock / pop band out of West Auckland.

What makes them unique, beyond their undoubted musicianship and songwriting ability?

The majority of members have an intellectual disability in some form. They break down barriers through their songs and music and thus challenge people’s perception of disability, by being musicians who live successful lives with a disability – in and outside of band life.

Their creative passion and commitment to performing connects the disability culture with that of the rock music community.

Variety Voices is a group scholarship opportunity for talented young people from all walks of life to come together and have a whole lot of fun! 
The group of 30 singing stars, aged between 7 and 18, is led by professional musician, musical director and composer James Doy, and meets weekly to produce entertaining and inspirational performances.

Corban Estate Arts Centre, 426 Great North Road, Henderson

Theatre , Musical , Multi-discipline , Dance ,

A humbling and joyous riot of love

Review by Lexie Matheson 25th Oct 2013

Director Paula Crimmens, who founded the InterACT Festival in 2011, tells us that the festival offers “an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of disabled people in the arts and provides a pathway forward toward a thriving and vibrant future for Disability Arts in New Zealand.”  In 2012 the festival hosted 200 performers and 1800 members of the public.

The plan for 2013 is to expand on last year’s success and to deliver a free three-day festival involving leaders in the field of Disability Arts and thus provide an opportunity for participants to showcase, network and connect. The three core values of InterACT are inclusivity and participation, engagement and the creation of a quality product. These goals are achieved through workshops and classes in drama and film involving people with disabilities in disciplines they might otherwise never have considered and offering them an opportunity to show their wares in performance.

These are principled and far-reaching values and, as evidenced at the Gala Launch of the festival last evening, are achieved to a degree that is quite simply extraordinary. Creating a festival gala is one thing; getting seven diverse acts on and off the stage in slightly under three hours in a venue that can only be described as non-traditional is a feat in itself and one that should engender considerable pride in the hearts of the organisers. 

Add to this the fact that the entire performance is signed by a small team of exceptionally talented women and you have a massive logistic exercise, but one where every participant has a complete understanding of what is expected of them.

The Corban Estate Arts Centre is a great venue for virtually anything you can name. In this instance the gala is staged indoors in a huge shed big enough to be divided into foyer and welcoming area, raked and ‘on the flat’ seating for upwards of 400 people, ample room for techies, wings of substance and a backstage you could land a helicopter in. The stage is raised three steps from the audience floor and a further riser is available for drum kits when the bands play. All in all, it is a massive black box with a lighting rig sufficient to focus the stage and a PA system that is mostly adequate. All the key performers are miked which is a massive job in itself.

The auditorium is packed and throughout the evening there is a unique and wonderful sense of coming and going – all respectful of the performers and the performances – and more hugs that you’d get even at a teddy bears convention. The love in the room is palpable.

There is a helpful programme but few of the performers are named – always a challenge for reviewers – so I’ll do my best and hope it half-way matches the best that I’ve witnessed during the performances. 

Angels and Demons is described as a “new show from Interacting theatre”.  

“Luke’s favourite pastime is video games but his life has narrowed as a result until the day he pops into the big red shed to buy the latest edition of his favourite game,” the programme note says,“and drops through a portal into an alternative reality peopled with strange creatures who all seem out to get him and the most surprising thing of all-the possibility of true love!” 

It’s all true, but, in reality it’s much more than that.With a seeming cast of thousands, Angels and Demons has a quirky, rhyming text, songs, and plenty of challenges for the actors who rise to these challenges splendidly. It’s funny, charming and at times outrageous. The plot holds up well and the key actors do a great job of both telling the story and creating their characters. There’s an accompanying movie scenario played on the big screen that supports the action and appropriate silent movie-style sound effects emanate from the keyboards.

Costumes are great – especially for the medieval-type Cockroach Market – and excellent performances pepper the suitably surreal, other-world nature of the ‘dark side’ where Luke is told that “it’s bad for humans in there.”

Luke goes anyway and immediately meets a black-clad figure who describes himself as “a totally brilliant evil genius surrounded by idiots.” The evil genius’s performance is appositely chilling and in every conceivable way first rate, so it’s no surprise to see this actor turn up later as a key figure in the rock band ‘The Mutes (from Mars)’. He’s charismatic, a born performer, and the audience loves him.

He is not alone either. The Oracle, in traditional monk’s garb, is great; the two sexy sirens are utterly outrageous and almost steal the show, and the bevy of beautiful, haloed angels allows us to focus on the resolution of the plot: one that encourages us to consider that love at first sight might actually be a reality and that ‘happy ever after’ is possible when a suitable compromise can be reached. Luke is wonderful throughout and his sweet-voiced, angelic lady-love is[JS  delicious too. The moral – don’t watch too much TV – slips by almost unnoticed. 

Angels and Demons is a top rate piece of work and the prolonged applause at the curtain call says it all.

Second up was Janelle Colquhoun, an opera singer from Australia. She studied singing at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and has sung with Australian Opera, Opera Queensland, Opera Frankfurt and at the World Expo ’88. Complications with diabetes caused Colquhoun to become blind at the age of 29 but, beyond a self-stated concern about which direction she is facing while on stage, her blindness certainly hasn’t inhibited her at all.

Since becoming blind she has created her own entertainment agency, produced in excess of 1,200 events and has sung concerts in Australia, Europe, Asia, North America, the Caribbean and in the Middle East. Make no mistake; even in an environment that is rather unsupportive acoustically, Janelle Colquhoun is a class act.

Her five song programme ranges across styles and time and includes George Gershwin’s 1933 classic ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess, the sixth work from Franz Schubert’s ‘Lady of the Lake’ song cycle, ‘Ellens Gesang III’ (Hymn to the Virgin) more commonly known as ‘Ave Maria’, a somewhat sombre Mozart piece meditating on death, Arlen and Harburg’s ‘Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz and finally ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ from Webber and Rice’s Evita. It is an eclectic selection but the choices work in strangely exotic ways and the audience responds accordingly. The Schubert is especially impressive. 

It’s always heartening to see dance professionals Touch Compass Dance Company on any programme. Billed as New Zealand’s only professional integrated contemporary dance company, they always live up to their reputation for excellence and this performance is no exception. The brainchild of Artistic Director and dance icon Catherine Chappell, Touch Compass includes dancers with and without disability in ways that highlight the talents of all the dancers and integrate them in ways that are deeply satisfying to audiences.

On this occasion the piece presented is Malia Johnson’s ‘Rogue’ from the Hotbox series of intimate portable dances and is described by the chorographer as being “an energetic jigsaw of physical bodies” which, while embracing every day activities, also “challenges roles of dominance.” 

The dancers – Alisha McLennan, Georgie Goater, Zildjian Robinson and founder Touch Compasser Jesse Johnstone-Steele – are all quite astonishing in Johnson’s piece. It is heartening to see Johnstone-Steel still dancing with the company and performing with no less exuberance or professionalism than he did when I first had the pleasure of watching him in 1998. His handshaky, uber blokey duet with Robinson is a wonderful counterpoint to the sensuous eroticism of McLennan and Goater’s work but it is the concluding pas de quatre with its evocative tangle and avoid theme that really blews us all away, Robinson’s gymnastic physicality being especially notable. There is something, however, about Alisha McLennan’s work that is hypnotically watchable and while all four dancers are absolutely great, hers is the real standout performance. This is contemporary dance as good as it gets.

Variety Voices, a choir of young folks put together around the Variety children’s charity, ends the first half. The group has up to 30 singers aged between 7 and 18, and they are led by musical director and composer James Doy. The group adds the ‘cute factor’ to the gala with excellent mashups of, in the first instance, John Lennon’s ‘Come Together’, Jagger and Richard’s ‘You Can’t always Get What You Want’ and John Deacon’s ‘I Want To Break Free’, and latterly Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’. Dressed in red, black and white, the choir impresses with tight harmonies and a clear understanding of how their mashups work together. 

After a fifteen minute interval, during which much chocolate is devoured and fizzy drink consumed, the gala recommences with two excellent rock bands, one directly after the other. First up is Johnny and the Side Effects, a nine-piece led by Johnny Matteson who perform songs penned by Matteson based on his experiences with the mental health system. Matteson has been around for a long time – I first saw him as a solo artist in the late 1990’s – and his work is evocatively reminiscent of that of Luke Hurley, another fine Kiwi songwriter who often slips under the radar.

The band is in fine form and when, after two numbers, Matteson joins the line-up they really start to cook. The lyrics are raw and edgy, the guitars create a sound bordering on death metal and I am hugely impressed. I am less impressed, though, when, after one song, a crew member comes on stage and prematurely ends the set. While I have no idea why this happens it’s hard to imagine that time is an issue because, in classic style, the songs are all locked in at 3 minutes 20 seconds. I, for one, feel cheated by not being able to hear at least one more piece.

The Mutes (from Mars) are next in this imposing line-up. A seven-piece from West Auckland consisting of two guitars, keyboards, vocalist, drums, congas and harmonica, The Mutes aim to “break down barriers through their music and thus challenge people’s perception of disability.” They certainly do this for me, primarily through a fantastic, driving version of Free’s ’70s classic ‘All Right Now’ but also with their overall musicianship and, in a couple of cases, multi-instrumental ability. This is a band you should experience if you possibly can.

The evening ends on a sweetly sentimental note with Julie McNamara’s play Let Me Stay, a paean to her mother and her mother’s life living with dementia. McNamara is a clever writer and a first-rate performer and she has the audience in the palm of her hand from the moment she speaks. Her set is a simple one created, I suspect, for touring: a suitcase, somewhere to sit and a number of pairs of shoes, some matched, some not.

Let Me Stay is a touching and intensely personal tale that we can all relate to, either though personal experience or via the experiences of others. Shirley McNamara – Mrs Mac – is a hard case, fun-loving woman, married to a ratbag charmer and they’ve lived in Liverpool since they met as youngsters in Ireland. What with one being a Catholic and the other a Protestant they emigrated to Liverpool to get away from the troubles. We get to revisit the marriage, better and happier days and the onset of Alzheimers, all seen through a daughter’s loving eyes.

There are songs, magnificently sung and evocative of life in the McNamara home; there are other characters, such as Fr Brannigan, who are brought to life in the most hauntingly beautiful manner. It’s a simple play with a simple theme that’s staged simply but its effect far outweighs the effortless nature of its presentation and the deceptive sentimentality of its subject. Alzheimers is always big stuff and, when presented with integrity and honesty, it invariably grabs us by the heart.

Let Me Stay is a courageous work, but then the entire evening is a celebration of courage so why not end as it began. No question, McNamara is a talented performer and Let Me Stay deserves to be seen in more conventional theatre venues and to be sustained by festivals of a different nature.

By the end of the three hour InterACT journey I am worn out by laughter and have had my withers wrung in the best of all possible ways. I’ve watched hugs, been hugged, and lived in this world of love for almost as long as I can bear. That’s a scary thought, that we can even have too much of a good thing, but by ten o’clock I am cold, my bum is sore and I need to go home to my hot chocolate and my heater to reflect on what I’ve just experienced. It has been different – in a really good way.

On reflection, InterACT was humbling and joyous, a riot of love with exceptional commitment, a thumping musicality, physical delicacy, strength and power and all welded together by an underlying – and very wicked – humour. I asked myself as I drifted into sleep what the single most enduring image of the evening might be? It was this: Alisha McLennan of Touch Compass Dance Company rising from her wheel chair and dancing with sublime subtlety and grace. How magnificent all our lives would be if we could each experience that!


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