Happy Hour for Miserable Children

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

19/09/2006 - 30/09/2006

Production Details

Devised and performed by Barnie Duncan and Trygve Wakenshaw
Directed by Geoff Pinfield


In a run down old go-go bar, glitzy and fetid
A crime of great passion has just been committed
In this carnal emporium if the base and the lusty
Two builders are framed for a Murder Most Nasty…

From the award-winning creators of hit festival show The Magic Chicken, comes an award-winning macabre comedy of anarchic proportions – Happy Hour for Miserable Children

When two bungling builders – under the gaze of a sinister madame – set about renovating a grungy strip joint into a church, little do they know the dark and gory secrets hidden behind every greasy pole.  

After winning critical acclaim and the ‘Best Comedy’ award at the 2004 New Zealand Fringe Festival, Auckland underground company Theatre Beating is back to fracture funny bones and split ribs with a slapstick thumping of power tools, plank spankings and a chaotic ignorance of OSH regulations.

Theatre Beating earlier this year became the only theatre production company to be formally invited to the China Shanghai International Arts festival in Oct 2006.

Happy Hour stars two of Auckland’s hardest working actors, Barnie Duncan and Trygve Wakenshaw. Currently they have theIr own show on Alt TV as 2 German conceptual artists whom recently attempted to become the Guinness World record holders for continually hosting a TV show in one sitting (over 48 hours).

Director Geoff Pinfield, is also associate Director of MAUI – The next biggest show heading to Broadway. Happy Hour is Produced by Graeme Bennett, one of New Zealand only Independent Theatre Producer and founder of PAI – Performing Arts Internationally. www.pai.org.nz
Also, see www.theatrebeating.com for more info

Yvette Parsons
Barnie Duncan
Trygve Wakenshaw

Sam Hamilton as musician and circus clown

Theatre , Clown , Music ,

Clown logic

Review by Nik Smythe 21st Sep 2006

As the audience is seated we have a chance to peruse Rachel Walker’s sumptuously decrepit set and observe the harlequin entity of the sole musician who I’ll rave about at the end, as he fiddles about in accompaniment to the house music.  The atmosphere creates an uneasy but positive kind of anticipation of what is to come.

Lights come up to the sound of sharpening knives, accompanied by some twirly accordion music from said musician, and the plot is revealed:  Madame Coochicoo LaDouche (Yvette Parsons), gothically flambouyant owner of run down  raunchy nightclub ‘Gogo’, has committed murder most foul, as an assortment of dismembered limbs illustrates.  In a nonsensical bid to evade the law, she advertises for construction workers to transform the tatty old bar into a church. 

Enter our two hapless working class heroes Toot and Collins (Barnie Duncan and Trygve Wakenshaw), who proceed to bumble their way through the task at hand.  Collins, the tall one as he is no doubt generally known, has the upper hand in status and Toot cowers to his commands as they take stock of what’s there, and what needs removing.  From the start they are falling all over themselves, each other, numerous props, and sometimes Madame Coochicoo too.

Some finer details of the plot were unfortunately lost in the audio mix – Madame Coochicoo, the only talking character, sings most of her lines accompanied by Heinous Crime on the accordion, and I couldn’t distinguish a fair amount of the lyrics. It’s probable there isn’t a great deal of contextual subplot to miss, and if there is it’s not essential to the comedy, although the words I did make out were quite perverse and witty. 

It’s apparent that Duncan and Wakenshaw have a great deal of experience in the art of slapstick, and in particular working together, as they methodically replace the plush crimson surroundings with stark white decor more befitting a place of religious worship.  While Parsons delivers an attitude and energy appropriate to her sinister wench character, she doesn’t match her costars’ sheer technical skill.  Through Geoff Pinfield’s unobtrusive direction, the two heroes are the dominant feature, assisted to that status by the musical genius of  Sam Hamilton’s circus clown meets Clockwork Orange alter ego, Heinous ‘Freejazz’ Crime. 

Heinous (or may I call him Freejazz?) underscores the entire proceedings with freakish tunes and rhythms, scratched and tooted out of various traditional instruments, plus sticks and hunks of metal and so on.  The trashcan alley vaudeville style reminds me of Kurt Weil, Tom Waits’ The Black Rider, and/or local 90’s garage jazz outfit Spacesuit.  Further to this excellent soundtrack, Hamilton supplies foley for the many of the cast’s outrageous antics, to much delightful effect. 

The whole brilliant fiasco is half slapstick, half black comedy, half bawdy musical, half satirical send-up … actually make that a conservative three quarters slapstick.  Yes, that’s a blatant target for any pedant who may care to dispute the maths, but I maintain that this description is accurate.  Adhering to physical reality as we know it is one thing that half this twisted chunk of vaudeville circus mayhem is not.

No, clown logic rules the stage here; a ‘cartooniverse’ if you will, where power drills turn their wielders into robots, or where a tape measure with a couple of sticks becomes a functioning stethoscope in times of need, where hanging ropes resonate like bass guitars and electronic samples if you know how to play them. 

Any lover of the art of clown, or classic anarchic animation a la Tex Avery or Nickelodeon, will undoubtedly have a good laugh here.  Yet for all of Happy Hour for Miserable Children‘s old school homages, pop culture references and obligatory kick-in-the-crotch gags, it manages to be about the most unique theatrical work I have yet reviewed.


Morag Carter September 21st, 2006

I took a group of Senior High School Students to this production. The responses have all been very positive with many students planning to attend the performance again...with their parents. The performance has also presented these students with lasting images which they are able to write about in reflection.

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