Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch

20/01/2019 - 20/01/2019

World Buskers Festival 2019 | BREAD & CIRCUS

Production Details

Pick your teeth with the leftovers, festival lovers! Here are the best bits for the gala that marks the closing of the busking pitches for another year. We’ve deglazed the festival pan to soak up all the best juicy bits and sprinkled it with fresh talent to keep you satisfied till next year. Time for a nap I think.

The Last Morsel is the closing to our opening THE FIRST BITE.

Pick one! Or both? But do it quickly – they are sure to fly off the shelves! 

Isaac Theatre Royal
20 Jan 2019

Theatre ,

2 hrs incl. interval

“You had to be there, and I’m glad I was”

Review by Tony Ryan 21st Jan 2019

Although entitled The Last Morsel and designed as a summary of the best of this year’s World Buskers Festival, there’s still twelve days of festival performances remaining, with LIMBO continuing right up to 3 February and several new shows beginning from this Tuesday (22 January).  But the street shows at the many outdoor busking pitches have now finished. 

The Theatre Royal is packed, as always, for this gala event and, although it features a few of the indoor ticketed shows, the best of the street shows are certainly the highlights tonight.

Australian, Damien Warren-Smith, from his show Garry Starr Performs Everything opens the programme and, although this act remains my top pick from the ten shows that I’ve seen so far, this ten-minute sample loses something in its translation from the more intimate setting and hour-long context of the complete show. Some of his audience involvement is lost from my seat halfway back in the stalls, and the extracts that he chooses tonight haven’t benefitted from the timing and structural mastery that make the full act so exceptional.

Tonight’s host is award-winning NZ comedian Shay Horay. Although he’s an effective, witty and relaxed MC, I’m sure there’ll be a great deal more to enjoy when his The Revolver Club show opens its run (as he frequently reminds us) on Thursday in the festival’s Back Stage Social Club venue.

Other acts tonight, which I’ve already seen in their fuller glory, include excerpts from LIMBO, Kaput (Tom Flannagan) and Melanie Bracewell’s Melodrama stand-up show.

Although Hilton Denis’s tap dancing is impressive and full of variety and energy, it, too, loses some of its colour and personality outside of its LIMBO context. Tonight he’s accompanied on banjo by one of LIMBO’s superb musicians, Eamon McNelis, whose musicianship and versatility (banjo, sousaphone, bass trumpet, etc.) in the full show, are nothing short of remarkable. And tonight’s gala ends with another spectacular moment from LIMBO as one of the show’s world-class circus performers, Danik Abishev, wows us with his hand-standing feats of strength and balance.

One extract that does pack its full punch tonight is the Love Story sequence from Kaput. The audience ‘volunteer’ here is quite different from the one I saw in the full show. Tonight our co-star is a little more passive and ‘vulnerable’ in style than the previous one, which makes the act newly spontaneous and engaging, and Tom Flanagan has the audience in the palm of his hand for every hilarious minute.

Unfortunately this act is almost compromised, as was last week’s opening gala, by the misjudged sound levels. The accompanying ‘romantic’ piano music is anything but romantic as every note assaults us with gun-shot-like violence. I’m not sure what small segment of this widely varied audience the operator thinks he’s catering to, but I’m far from the only one who’s relieved to emerge into the relative quiet of the street at the end of the night.

As the show continues, comedian Melanie Bracewell also has the audience wrapped around her little finger with superbly timed gags and (seemingly) off-the-cuff wit. For those of us who’ve already seen her full act, there’s somehow renewed enjoyment in our anticipation of the remembered punchlines and in the audience reaction as the jokes hit their mark.

All the remaining acts tonight come from the street shows. Three of these prove to be real stand-outs. Christchurch’s own Mulletman really brings the show to life with his wonderfully engaging, almost self-deprecating, style of presentation: a combination of genuine comedy, audience participation and impressive circus skills.  

Then Pancho Libre from Mexico has us absolutely roaring with laughter at his giant hoola hoop antics, in an act that also includes brilliantly managed participation from hapless audience members.

But best of all and, certainly on tonight’s evidence, the indisputably deserving winner of The Press’s ‘Iron Chicken’ award, Fraser Hooper (UK/NZ) serves up a truly unforgettable combination of slapstick, comic timing, story-line and exceptionally effective use of five audience recruits. For this act, along with most of the others, it’s impossible to convey the originality, atmosphere and humour in writing – you had to be there, and I’m glad I was. 


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