14/09/2017 - 27/09/2017
13/10/2017 - 15/10/2017
05/10/2017 - 07/10/2017
Written by Roger Hall
Presented by Auckland Theatre Company
HIJINKS, HYPERTENSION AND HILARITY
Mark Hadlow, Alison Quigan, Ray Henwood and Louise Wallace to star in cardio-arresting comedy.
Auckland Theatre Company’s (ATC) premiere season in the ASB Waterfront Theatre would not be complete without a work by one of New Zealand’s most popular and prolific playwrights, the unstoppable Roger Hall.
ATC’s production of Roger Hall’s Last Legs will play from 12 – 27 September, before heading off on tour to Hamilton’s Clarence Theatre from 5 – 7 October, and Tauranga’s Baycourt Community Arts Centre from the 13 – 15 October.
Last Legs is a lethally-funny black comedy about sex, death and politics, with an irresistible appeal to the old and bold of heart.
News that Bill English is to open a new wing of the Cambridge Retirement Village sparks a revolution amongst its residents.
Though many want to turn on something special for the PM, others are less enthused and plan to stage a protest. Soon, new fractures appear along old fault lines, transforming the swanky facility into a hotbed of insurrection, intrigue and infidelity.
The shenanigans and skulduggery continue right up to the last minute – with the Prime Minister’s car only moments away, a vehicle suddenly blocks the driveway. What’s worse, it’s a hearse!
Real Housewives of Auckland star Louise Wallace (Agent Anna, Shortland Street) will make her Auckland Theatre Company debut, alongside the star-studded cast which includes some of our country’s most illustrious theatre actors, including Mark Hadlow (The Hobbit, King Kong, Nell Gwynn), Ray Henwood ONZM (Lord of the Rings, Heroes, The Crucible), Alison Quigan (Shortland Street, Calendar Girls, August Osage County) and Catherine Wilkin (Mcleod’s Daughters, Trees Beneath the Lake, The Importance of Being Earnest).
Led by an expert creative team of experienced Roger Hall practitioners – including director Colin McColl, set designer Rachael Walker (Venus in Fur, That Bloody Woman, Angels in America), Last Legs is a chance to laugh, as if it were your last.
ASB Waterfront Theatre, Halsey Street, Wynyard Quarter
(Previews: 12 – 13 September, 2017)
14 – 27 September, 2017
Clarence St Theatre
5 – 7 October, 2017
59 Clarence St, Hamilton Lake, Hamilton 3204
Baycourt Community Arts Centre
13 – 15 October, 2017
38 Durham Street, Tauranga 3110
www.atc.co.nz or 09 309 3395
Director: Colin McColl
Set designer: Rachael Walker
Costume designer: Debbie Thearie
Lighting designer: Nik Janiurek
Sound designer: John Gibson
Few twists or surprises to keep us engaged
Review by Michael Hooper 15th Sep 2017
Roger Hall is back in familiar territory as he lays out (in some cases, literally) the lives of six residents in what is supposed to an upmarket Auckland retirement village – its stature belied, to the chagrin of a few, by Happy Hour wine being served from casks.
We open on a familiar Hallway set; a table with chairs around, although this is placed in front of a tall chess board wall which tempts us to wonder what games these residents might be getting up to. The stage is set for the “ResCom” meeting of the amenity.
Endeavouring to orchestrate, and profit from, the operation of the village are stereotypical real estate couple Gary (Mark Hadlow) and Trish (Louise Wallace) who, despite financial success, have found it necessary to change career paths rather quickly. He fancies himself with the ladies, and has evidently put to good use his realty knowledge of the whereabouts of empty houses in the middle of the day. Jaw jutted firmly forward, Hadlow delivers a nicely physical performance that provides most of the energy of the play.
The other main characters vary in vitality, however an extraordinary cache of acting experience enriches the stage. Ray Henwood is Angus, a retired professor with “not so much a bladder – more of a filter” who nonetheless discovers what puts a spring back in his step. His resonance and quiet assurance first hit me at Downstage, then at the original Circa Theatre in Wellington, and he remains a mainstay of Roger Hall’s plays, remembered indelibly from television’s Gliding On. The perceptively intelligent Henwood has an ability to side with the audience, and is at his winning best when sharing secrets with us, as he does in Last Legs.
Margaret-Mary Hollins, as his long-suffering, loyal wife Helena, also brings credibility, while the other bright spark is Catherine Wilkin, the buxom Kitty – queen of the village. She is so man-grabbing that women will hiss at her at their husband’s funerals.
The social conscience of the residents is greenie Edna, played earnestly by Alison Quigan. On a mission to outlaw plastic, and undermine the smarmy management, she is the mouthpiece for Hall’s more serious undertones, and I feel her character could potentially be much more subversive.
The women also double as second-line characters playing an uncomfortable bridge game, the humour of which is founded on the shakes and memory issues of Parkinson’s disease. I believe we have grown beyond this, and perhaps the opening night-attending playwright might have noted the number of audience members gripping the handrails of the crowded theatre stairs – a hint about the sadness of comedy so dependent on infirmity. To be frank, as someone fortunate to be able-bodied, I find these card-playing scenes embarrassing, a far cry from John Smythe’s Theatreview comment, reviewing Who Needs Sleep Anyway (2007), then applauding Hall’s respect and compassion. Who Wants to be 100 was incisive humour, sympathetic, pacey and perceptive. However, mocking the afflicted in the opportunistic way that Last Legs does is squirm territory.
The use of Bert Kaempfert’s ‘Swingin’ Safari’ and other sixties’ tunes, including the Dean Martin version of ‘Memories Are Made of This’, adds appropriate colour and context.
Audience laughter thins out noticeably in the second act, and it seems the writer had run out of steam. A final panic as politicos are about to descend for the opening of the new village wing is too little, too late. Yes, there are still some funny vignettes – like hearses erroneously pulling up to the front, not to the rear entrance – but the pacing is puckered, like a curtain pulled by hemming tape and string into sudden pleats at the end of the rail, never evened out; an unspectacular football game where it’s a draw until injury time, and the resolution at the end is too late to justify the lack of attack in the main game. That seems a strange misjudgement from Hall after half a century of theatre. I am reminded so much of the McPhail & Gadsby TV series where you sat through 70 percent failed jokes in order to enjoy the 30 percent of excellent Kiwi humour.
The series of illuminated soliloquys, sometimes just one-liners, make for a staccato experience, the dots of which were never really joined by a fast-flowing narrative. This is a far cry from the innovation of Hall’s collaboration with A.K. Grant that gave us the musical Footrot Flats, or the more serious Prisoners of Mother England (directed at Downstage by the talented, late Tony Taylor).
It is Roger Hall’s great strength that is also the weakness of this play – and that’s his gentleness of satire. The characters are as comfy as well-worn slippers, so familiar that they become predictable, leaving few surprises to keep us titillated and engaged. It’s the martini without the twist, disappointingly lacking in dryness.
On the Sunday afternoon following the New Zealand general election, at the ASB Waterfront Theatre, the playwright is holding an appropriate discussion entitled The Ones That Got Away.
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