Death By Cheerleader

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

14/09/2011 - 17/09/2011

BATS Theatre, Wellington

20/09/2011 - 24/09/2011

The Real New Zealand Festival

Production Details

This 2011 Rugby World Cup it’s not just the boys who are performing…. Watch out WORLD!

Meet the CheerBlacks! Jessica, Lucy and Dakota are three passionate, patriotic dancers with varying degrees of cheer-ability- but what they lack in skill they make up for with their enthusiasm and dedication. Their hard work pays off when they win the chance to cheer for the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup, 2015 Dubai! 

With their nation’s hopes and dreams held tightly in their manicured hands they embark on the biggest adventure of their lives. But after a night of Dubai debauchery they wake to find All Black golden boy Tane has mysteriously disappeared…

Hair and trust is torn, nails and hearts are broken, spray tans and secrets are revealed as team loyalty disintegrates. How will they prove their innocence and claim their rightfully earned spot backing their boys in the world cup final? Will all their dreams come crashing down?

Death By Cheerleader is a cheeky, ballsy, comedic romp that will leave you with a spring in your step and a large grin smeared across your face. The tried and true combo of comedy, drama and upbeat choreography (and a rare insight into the secret life of cheerleaders!) ensures Death by Cheerleader is a night out not to be missed!

September 2011 would be nothing without a show about rugby. And whether or not you give a damn about rugby, you’ll give a damn if you miss one of the highlights of this year!

Warning: Contains offensive language and nudity! And a lot of cheer!

The Basement, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland
8pm, September 14th – 17th 2011

$18 – $20 or 09 361 100    

Performed by:
Amy Waller (Jessica)
Julia Hyde (Dakota)
Claire van Beek (Lucy)  

Tane Smith (poster boy): TeKohe Tuhaka

Choreographed by Amy Waller with Danielle Miller and Amiee Schollum
Designed by Bronwyn Bent
Lighting Design by Uroš Žuraj
Lighting by Raff Dobson
Sound by Maia Rata
Stage Managed by Sarah Gallagher/ Lucy McCammon
All Black Anthem created by Adam Usmani
Graphic Design by Aimee Schollum 

Futuristic cheerleaders in unfunny bellyflop

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd Sep 2011

As we all know, there have been disasters of rugby games. How could we not know with the ABs playing France on Saturday? Disasters are not unknown in the theatre too.

Death by Cheerleader is the first entertainment of three about rugby which are being performed at Bats while the World Cup is on. It is set in the future: in 2015 at the Dubai Rugby World Cup.

A cheerleader team of three called The Cheerblacks, run by a bossy woman who behaves like that ghastly sergeant-major in that dreadful and totally humourless and inappropriate TV ad promoting TV rugby, gets to Dubai and by devious means into bed with the AB captain, their hero Tane Smith (read a SBW type). There’s a twist at the end but it is as about as surprising as the final score between Japan and Tonga.

There’s quite a bit of athletic cheerleading but the team is not meant to be very good and they are not that good when they are meant to be good in the finale for example, though the small audience on the second night applauded them loudly regardless. 

The show has two things in its favour: it doesn’t make any connections between rugby and Jesus, and it is performed with energy. But at times it is as deliberately tasteless and crude as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s Derek and Clive, at others it is just plain coarse and clichéd. It’s worse sin, however, is that it isn’t funny.

The audience laughed about two and a half times in 60 minutes which is like no one cheering at a rugby game.  
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Gypsy Dee September 30th, 2011

 Wow - I'm not sure we saw the same play! I attended the final night in Auckland with a near sold out audience at Basement Theatre. I'm not sure there is even a more appropriate adjective to describe this show other than funny, perhaps hilarious! It left abdominal muscles aching from the constant flow of laughter. As an event organiser promoting over 200 concerts a year, I recognise a good show when I see one, and this was certainly good by all definitions. I thought it stretched the boundaries of fridget theatre and progressed in a direction more actors and writes should not be afraid to venture. 

Sorry, you are so wrong. 

claire van beek September 28th, 2011

Here's another great review from the Auckland season   and another awesome review fresh from the Wellington season Be afraid... The CheerBlacks might just be returning soon...!! xx The CheerBlacks

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A nudge is all it needs

Review by John Smythe 21st Sep 2011

With acting, dancing and directing talents like this, what a pity the devised script doesn’t quite match them. Oh it’s fun all right, and a splendid vehicle for high energy performance, some wicked humour and a bizarre twisted ending. Yet it stays resolutely trapped in its own petty concerns, not quite managing – like Absolutely Fabulous, for example – to reflect the clashing zeitgeists of two generations, or distil some bigger truth about human relationships. 

Claire van Beek’s Lucy McSalmon intrigues from the outset as, in dowdy grey, she works at a colouring-in book before becoming inspired to choreograph new cheerleading moves … then (what’s this?) teach them. Is this ‘real’, with a class of wannabes to be imagined by us, or is it just her fantasy? Her increasingly extraordinary treatment of her students makes me hope the latter. 

The manner of her liberation from incarceration into the heady world of Cheerleading by ‘Cheer Blacks’ captain Jessica Jones indicates that pesky details which could lend credibility to such events are not to be bothered with here. It just happens, ok? Ankle bracelet removed – move on.

Amy Waller’s driven Jessica is certainly in fantasy land about her relationship with 2015 All Black star Tane Smith (modelled in pin-up by TeKohe Tuhaka). She is also in denial about her age, insisting she’s 28 despite having a daughter who would be 16 at the youngest and is, in most respects, more mature.

Julia Hyde’s Dakota Jones – the daughter – is the most grounded character (sort of DBC’s Saffron to Waller’s Edina, in Ab Fab terms). Clearly capable of pursuing a more intellectual vocation, she nevertheless loves cheerleading, and her mum; that is, she still craves her mother’s approval and recognition of who she really is.

Physicalised with a dynamic fluency by director Benjamin Henson (who created the play with the above three actors then, with Jackie van Beek, workshopped it to make it “darker”), the plot carries the trio’s quest to be selected to cheer on the All Blacks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Dubai. (It’s actually going to be hosted by England. If any satirical musing ever existed in the script as to how the venue becomes Dubai, it has hit the cutting room floor.)

Lucy’s underlying obsessions and psychopathic tendencies are delightfully (if that’s the word) manifested and conveniently ignored by Jessica and Dakota, who are preoccupied by their own concerns. Thus the ending, which brings veracity to the play’s title, comes as a shocking surprise but not out of the proverbial ‘left field’. In this the script and production is deft and assured, although what follows is fudged.

The glimpses we get of Dakota’s true nature are also well handled. Her heartfelt talk to her mother, about moving on when they get back from Dubai, is memorable for its truth and poignancy amid the more frenetic action.

All three actresses fully inhabit their roles, and their cheer routines (choreographed by Waller with Danielle Miller and Amiee Schollum) are exemplary. As I said at the beginning – such talent!

What’s missing for me is any clear insight into why Jessica is as she is. Although Waller’s fully committed performance gives the show’s energy its nucleus, Jessica seems to be conceived as little more than a piss-take of air-head mums who refuse to mature and are vicious to daughters whose relative intelligence threatens them. Her soliloquies to her mirror offer the opportunities to add more depth, to balance this role with the others, and I hope it happens. 

‘Real world’ consequences for what has happened – through alcohol-fuelled jealousy (she did say she shouldn’t drink!) – are neatly side-stepped to deliver a wacky twist that clearly states this show’s main purpose is to showcase the remarkable talents of its makers and any hints at commentary on our lives and times are relatively incidental.  

A nudge is all it needs to become much more than that. Dakota would know what I mean. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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A madcap, semi-clad, pom-pommed, psychotic romp

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 16th Sep 2011

In real estate terms it’s fair to say that The Basement is a ‘doer upper’. It’s pretty basic but, strangely enough, that’s one of its charms. For those of us old enough to remember the genesis of venue-based, professional theatre in New Zealand, places like The Basement were ‘where it was at.’

The late Jivan Mary Amoore’s 1960-70’s Central Theatre in Remuera comes to mind. Who could forget Mary’s readily (and frequently) flooded suburban venue, its fare of exciting contemporary works and the lifelong careers nurtured there. The Basement’s bit like that, an artistic treasure with a history of gems but decidedly grunge-like when it comes to theatrical sophistication.

Who cares, though, when you can go there to experience The CheerBlacks, an energetic, funny, talented and downright nasty, tarty trio of trouble. Who cares when the talent on offer far outstrips any issues with the venue as is certainly the case with Death by Cheerleader. 

The set is pretty conventional (there’s not much else you can do with The Basement, in that it is wide and shallow) with a central slice of Astroturf creating a stage within a stage. The Astroturf climbs the back wall like out of control kikuyu grass and enables the audience to focus on the area where the action is centred. Not that we needed focussing, the girls do a more than adequate job of that. Apart from a few props and a pin board photograph of Tane Smith, the once and future All Black captain all decked out with Honey Bill abs, that is it for any extraneous bits and bobs.

Truth is, the cast don’t need anything else. Except pompoms, of course … and little snips of costume … and a script to die for (in which Tane Smith dutifully does).

But back to Mary Amoore – yes, there was a reason for mentioning her. Amoore was one of the first producer/directors to introduce New Zealand audiences to the extraordinary contemporary talents of Edward Bond (Saved, 1969), Robert Patrick (Kennedy’s Children, 1974), Peter Nichols (A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, 1968) and last, but by no ways least, Joe Orton (Loot). Works by each of these great playwrights were first performed by Central Theatre within a year or so of their premiere production, such was Amoore’s eye (and ear) for magnificent writing and we must acknowledge her for that. We should also recognize her fearless approach to programming as a number of these plays – A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and Saved to name but two – were steeped in controversy and none more so that Orton’s Loot.   

The Basement, similarly, neither courts, nor shuns, controversy in its programming which leads us back to Death by Cheerleader and the segue that, of course, you knew was coming: there is much about Death by Cheerleader that is reminiscent of Orton at his most outrageous and this is both invigorating and immensely exciting, especially as we to get to experience it first in such an appropriate venue.

As with Orton the humour is black and the characters function in a world almost devoid of conventional morality. Unlike Orton, whose work was so riddled with memorable epithets that he was considered the new Oscar Wilde, Death by Cheerleader is largely free of such artifice but still manages to be darkly disturbing while peppering the audience with memorable lines and generating riotous laughter. 

The fact that Death by Cheerleader is unlikely to rustle anyone’s tail-feathers for its often risqué, frequently potty-mouth and sometimes downright sexy content is a sign that perhaps we have come some distance in enabling the theatre to truly ‘hold the mirror up to nature’ in a way not possible even as recently as late in the last millennium. 

Death by Cheerleader follows the story of a woman possessed.

Jessica (Amy Waller) is twenty eight going on forty one and the leader of a cheerleading team of two, the other member being her high achiever daughter Dakota (Julia Hyde). To say Jessica is preoccupied with the captain of the 2015 All Blacks, Tane Smith, is a gigantic understatement. She is fixated – and nothing short of a full sexual encounter with the AB with the abs will satisfy her. 

Lucy (Claire Van Beek) arrives with a somewhat mysterious history which may, or may not, include serious mental illness. There is, as frequently with Orton, more than a suggestion of institutional incarceration in the past of this intentionally ambiguous character but the nature of the world the women create is such that she often seems the most normal of the bunch. 

Dakota is, it would seem, both loathed and feared by her mother. She is the black sheep, the odd one out, the misfit in this cheerleading trio and Jessica is positively venomous in letting us know that she doesn’t think terribly much of her attractive and attentive daughter.

The play begins with Jessica ‘auditioning’ Lucy to be the third member of the team and it’s all downhill from there. To outline the plot would spoil the surprises – and there are many – to be experienced on this topsy-turvy, somewhat depraved journey to the Rugby World Cup finals in Dubai. Suffice to say that the title of the work says it all. There are cheerleaders and there is death and the death is by cheerleader. Enough said.

The essence of the success of this work – and it is undoubtedly successful – is the script and the sublime understanding the director and actors have of how it works. While it’s blasting away in front of you at a million hoots an hour it may seem somewhat unsubtle but the opposite is actually true. These are carefully crafted performances and the production, which has all the hallmarks of simplicity in its staging, is in fact rich and complex. 

It’s about cheerleaders who are not exactly at the top of their game so you would expect them to be less than brilliant in the cheerleading sequences but they’re actually a lot better than might be anticipated. Pleasingly so, as these are attractive young women comfortable with who they are and they really and truly get into their work. None of that ghastly “this is me showing you how not very good I am” nonsense, just quality work from actors who are at the top of their game. 

As Jessica, Amy Waller has real chutzpah. She’s the centrepiece and she knows it. All the action starts and ends with her. She drives the play in a way that keeps us in the belly of the laughter throughout and buries the fact that she’s as nutty as a fruitcake in ways that allow us to believe, as she clearly does, that this world of hers is perfectly normal. 

Julia Hyde, one of my favourite actors, plays daughter Dakota pretty straight. She’s the put-upon one who cleans up all the messes, the essential Cinderella, the quiet achiever. Hyde makes clever actor choices that enhance her character’s ability to create an essential conflict within the text, an argument that illuminates the journey and allows us those brief glimpses of sanity that are critical if we are to understand fully where we are and what’s actually happening during this madcap seventy minute romp, because the pace is such and the laughter so regular that the audience otherwise never has time to see how silly it all might be. This is very smart work from a very sharp actor. 

Lucy is a gem, the type of character every actor wants to play. She is ambiguous, malleable, sometimes mystifying and in Van Beek’s performance there is an understated psychosis and guarded revulsion that, in a different genre, might culminate in endless sleepless nights but in this she’s just plain scary. Van Beek never takes obvious options and, as a result, her performance is a doozy. 

All three women are individually simply tremendous and their teamwork is exceptional. They’re in absolute control of the physicality, make the text sing, time their comedy beautifully, share the R18 bits with delight, pace the whole thing perfectly and, as a result, the opening night audience had an absolute ball. 

It’s been a good year so far with some excellent Auckland productions and lots more to come. Performances across the board have shown a maturity and skill that makes going to the theatre an unqualified joy and Death by Cheerleader is up there with the best of them. While the first part of the year featured some great work by the men it seems now it’s the women’s turn to shine and Waller, Hyde and Van Beek – along with Olivia Tennet’s flawless Dorothy in Peach Theatre Company’s The Wizard of Oz – can take a thoroughly well-earned bow. 

Death by Cheerleader is what it sets out to be: a madcap, semi-clad, pom-pommed, psychotic romp; great fun with a sting!  
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


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