H.R. The Musical

Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, Auckland

01/02/2024 - 03/02/2024

Production Details

Written and composed by Amy Mansfield
Choreographed by Mika Austin and Zoe Triggs

Artsense Productions

It’s time for your performance revue.

Q Theatre
1-3 February 2024

Mika Austin
Zoe Triggs
Lizzie Buckton
Amy Mansfield

Costumes by Zoe Triggs, Mika and Janet Austin
Backing tracks arranged by Amy Mansfield and Lizzie Buckton and recorded and produced by Lizzie Buckton at Sleeping Moa Productions, Piha

Lighting – Zane Allen
Artwork, Set – Lizzie Buckton
Photographer – Michelle McLennan

Operator – Dan Matthew
Live sound operator – Zane Allen
Stage Manager – Simon Todd

Theatre , Comedy , Music , Musical , Political satire ,

60 minutes

The full house laughed their cotton socks off, a sign the season will do well.

Review by Cushla Matheson 03rd Feb 2024

It’s always satisfying to sit in a theatre and watch the seats fill up until the house is full, so this opening night was hugely reassuring for everyone – there wasn’t an empty seat in the Q Loft house and comedy always works best when there are plenty of willing patrons. It’s a big plus to be packed before the lights even dim.

The set is wonderfully simple: downstage there are four chairs and four microphones on stands. Upstage there is a suggestion of office cubicles, plants, and ‘motivational’ posters, just enough to spark the imagination. It feels familiar because it’s meant to, anyone who’s worked in a modern office will find it relatable in the extreme – satire and parody at its best.

I’ve done my homework, so I know already that H.R. The Musical is a “performance revue” the like of which you’ll ‘never get in an office tower’. It’s a fantastic concept, and it never lets up.

The Q website elaborates with ‘this cheeky number takes on the ridiculous and objectionable in the modern workplace in the form of the blues, rap, Latin plainchant and more, to see what meets expectations and what needs improvement’. Yes, a performance review like no other.

Four actors dressed in clown collars and hats enter and take their seats. True to the sideshow that unfolds they present a parody of the open-mouthed, head-turning sideshow clowns that we all know and love but, unlike those at the Easter Show, these clown heads spout HR interview clichés. The mostly ensemble singing presents narrative songs in many styles with sundry shining solo moments in which flautist Lizzie Buckton excels. Costumes consist of a base of bland, but never boring, office attire with occasional eruptions of clown collar, monk’s habit, and the classic image of the corporate high-flyer from the waist up and, when working from home, PJ pants covering the nether regions.  

Having worked in exactly this environment myself, the comedy was suitably cutting (and deeply satisfying), the characters were finely drawn and painfully recognisable.

Yes, it’s a musical and it’s designed to stretch the stylistic talents of the performers, and this is mostly successful. The songs, written and composed by Amy Mansfield in an expansive range of genres, tinker with topics as comprehensive as co-worker communications (‘Mansplain it to me’) and ‘uniformity and exclusion’ in the corporate world, in the public sector (‘CEO Song: Okay so I’m white’), and the precarious ‘gig economy’, a labour market that relies on temporary and part-time positions filled by independent contractors and freelancers rather than full-time permanent employees – in other words, a life of elasticity and individuality but one that has absolutely no job security.

The Q Theatre website further tells us that the show ‘draws on influences as diverse as comedy TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, Tricia Hersey’s Rest is Resistance and David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs’ and that ‘H.R. The Musical will have you laughing with despair, and wondering – along with the rest of the world – when the revolution is coming, and then putting it on your to-do list.’ Just watch ‘Question Time’ in Pāremete Parliament on any given day and you’ll see a real-life version of H.R. The Musical playing out before your very eyes, a modern-day satire on a satire on a satire as worker’s rights are ruthlessly decimated by the Coalition of Chaos but without mitigating joy of music. Art imitating life – or is it the other way around.

The talents cast is made up of Artsense Productions regulars Amy Mansfield, Mika Austin, Zoe Triggs and Lizzie Buckton who sing, dance and play ‘various blowable and plucky instruments’ throughout. Occasionally the harmonies wobble as the actors settle into the songs but this balances out as the evening progresses and is never really an issue.

The concept is great and avoids the pitfall of being a one-line joke which ensures that the audience remains completely engaged throughout.

There’s the eternal question of ‘what do those emails really mean’, a section that was especially well developed and beautifully performed. Stage manager Simon Todd revels in his cameos and makes the most of his cue card schtick and the audience rolls in the aisles. Richard the Dick CEO ‘onboards’ the team – with vigorous audience participation – for Thursday’s ‘waiata’ practice, drinking the KoolAid of a team culture that is stripped completely bare of anything vaguely representing a culture of any sort at all. This is an additional very special rowdy treasure, and the audience responds accordingly.

There is the definite feeling in the house that this is an experience we all recognise, a shared experience that is strangely cathartic, alongside the HR speak, the Agile and Scrum Immersion Training – that trendy Six Sigma medium that enables teams to work together – before everything falls apart and any shortcomings get blamed on the consultant anyway.

H.R. The Musical is the ultimate in recognition theatre and the full house – regardless of age or background – laughed their cotton socks off, a sign that the season will undoubtably do well.


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