PSA: The Ghosts of Christmas Parties

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

24/11/2018 - 23/12/2018

Production Details

Public Service Announcements, Wellington’s longest running political satire, has gone full Circa to bring its irreverent and bawdy brand of humour to a whole new stage.

It’s the night of the Beehive Christmas Party, and the MPs are letting themselves relax, mingle, and forget about the craziness of the last year. But as crackers crack and leakers leak, each party will come face to face with their own ghosts and discover the true meaning of Christmas.

‘Public Service Announcements’ is Wellington’s most frequently recurring political satire show, making work every year since 2011. Under their banner “The No Fefe Collective”, Co-Creators Anya Tate-Manning and James Nokise set out in 2011 to fill the void of political satire, which had all but vanished from our stages, and have made 14 shows over the last 8 years.

Both specific and broad comedy, aiming to entertain those working in the heart of the Beehive and also for an audience that doesn’t know their David Seymours from their David Langes.

No Fefe means ‘no fear’ in Samoan, and that has always been the motto of the show and the Collective. ‘Public Service Announcements’ is not afraid of making fun of those in power, nor should it be. The shows are defiantly non-partisan, mocking all sides of the political spectrum, no politician or party are safe and everyone is treated with same disrespect and irreverence.

Come join all your favourite (and not so favourite) politicians for a Christmas Party to remember. Starring Wellington’s best comedic actors, ‘Public Service Announcements’ is the perfect end of year outing for your office, school or government department. Come join us for a laugh and a drink as our politicians sing and dance their way into the new year.

Circa Two
24 Nov – 23 Dec
Please Note: Friday 14th December’s Performance will be at 8.30pm instead of 7.30pm.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm
Sun 4.30pm
$25 – $35
$30 SPECIALS – Fri 23 & Sun 25 Nov
Book Now!

Neenah Dekkers-Reihana – Judith Collins / Louisa Wall / Marama Davidson 
Johanna Cosgrove – Trevor Mallard / Paula Bennett / Chlöe Swarbrick 
Batanai Mashingaidze – James Shaw / Grant Robertson / Amy Adams / Peter Dunne
Anya Tate-Manning – Jacinda Ardern / David Seymour 
Tom Knowles – Simon Bridges / Gareth Hughes / Gareth Morgan / Geoff Simmons / Phil Twyford
Matthew Staijen-Leach – Winston Peters / Kelvin Davies 

Theatre , Political satire ,

1 h 30 min, incl. interval

Devastating satire where all are game and few escape

Review by Dave Smith 25th Nov 2018

PSA, last seen at BATS, now triumphantly bestrides Circa Theatre Two in what might be seen as a cross between elegant pantomime and one of those one-eyed show trials with built-in death penalty from the French Revolution.  Populism is all the rage across the world’s political spectrum and PSA are going to grab their piece it. They also seem to come with an extremely vocal camp following that makes those wimpy Trump disciples look rather subdued.  

The basic ongoing plot (sic) continues to posit Jacinda Adern as the relentless hunter, Bridges as the terrified hunted and Winston as licensed poacher all now served up with a few chilling echoes of, as its name suggests, a dollop of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Jacinda (Anya Tate-Manning) continues to bask in her unexpected glory channelling a deep red-costumed ‘holy picture’ saint replete with upturned lateral palms beloved of those about to ascend into heaven. The ham-fisted Simon (Tom Knowles) grows ever more tongue-tied and paranoid over the still-unidentified leaking curse. Winston (Matthew Staijen-Leach) stolidly stands like a sugar figure atop a wedding cake ruminating – with the assistance of a ubiquitous dram and a few ghosts like the repellent Peter Dunne – about his place in history.

Lucas Neal’s set is nicely effective in the glow of Jennifer Lal’s creepy lighting. The oppressive effect created is that of a Soviet era mausoleum with a large Christmas tree and walls groaning with Stalinist portraits of the long-gone Holyoake, Muldoon and Lange culminating with an up-to-the-minute Jacinda herself (in crowing mode.) The floor boasts the inevitable black and white political chessboard motif. Dry ice clouds are used for most entrances from the middle ground and the cast whooshes in and out making numerous memorable entrances – none more so than Paula Bennett’s writhing Clintonesque saxophone-with-fog effort that brings the enraptured house down.

While Bridges humorously obsesses about the multiple knives in his back (as you do) the Labour lot are heir to the daunting challenge of finding just the right Yuletide gift for their terrifyingly mystic leader; on whose beatific countenance they may no longer gaze. The Coalition also-rans (through the overweening Tracey Martin and dour apparatchik Chloe Swarbrick) grab a worthy slice of the politically correct action as they frantically search for a new angles to trampoline their way into Cabinet.

There are some truly exhilarating moments in this 90 minute romp that blossoms out of a robustly compiled script by Thom Adams and Carrie Green. These talented writers are able to churn it out to the point where the cast seems to have, if anything, too many ideas to work with. Director Hannah Smith decrees that the speed of action is in-yer-face and relentless. Especially in the first half, one might occasionally wonder if freneticism has taken over from pace, and mindless bludgeoning has topped the more judicious use of the well disguised stiletto.

No matter, let’s consider the high points, given there are so very many. This is a marvellously athletic cast. The audience swoons to Bridges doing an impromptu somersault, Judith Collins (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana) daringly pulling off the splits while David Seymour (Tate-Manning) in orange body tights jumps out of every improbable cubby hole in sight. Simply stunning.

There is also assured use of the less obvious Christmas music, like ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like….er… Russia’ and ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’; all delivered with something approximating style. PSA is a carols-free zone.

The onstage dissection of the Greens, though, will live long in memory. Crowbarred into minimal cardboard and glossy tights costuming, James Shaw (Batanai Mashingaidze) rockets up the leader board as a robotic and dogmatic creation, up there with Woody Allen in Sleeper. So what if the actor playing the instantly forgettable Shaw is a strong woman (who also ‘does’ Grant Robertson, Amy Adams and Peter Dunne)? The crude thrust is that in order to save the planet (and the Greens) we will soon be eating lovingly-iced shitcakes – and the peasants will like it or else. Nothing succeeds like excess.  

I particularly enjoy the Victorian top-hatted Trevor Mallard as Speaker laying down the rules for the evening. Again a woman does a man’s job to perfection. I am less enamoured of the Phil Twyford (Knowles) sendup: it looks a tad like cruelly satirising the inherently satirical. That skit is, though, side-splittingly redeemed by the sporadic entrances of the club-footed Collins reeking of an ill-gotten cross between Kate Winslet and Vampira.

High marks too to the Winston sequence in which his career is batted around between him and several ghosts that are well chosen Peters visages smirking down the years; a reflective and well considered high point in the Man of Mancha style that is well worth reflecting on. It unflinchingly highlights that the jovial Peters is himself a long-running lowlight; one who personifies both careerist duplicity and terminal emptiness.   

When the ensemble is this good, picking winners is especially hazardous. I can’t stop myself singling out Johanna Cosgrove for her Paula Bennett which does much to hold the show together. Both vocally and visually she is sharp and penetrative (ambition being the last refuge of the less than talented), always razor-edged but oddly folksy in her spotted Westie coat, and knowing how best to work the populist crowd. I will forever envision her locked in a back-to-back praying mantis embrace with Bridges – simultaneously holding him up and dragging him down. Cosgrove (who also plays Trevor Mallard and Chlöe Swarbrick) is a born master of tone and timing.  She can pivot both on her toes and on her heels. Ten out of ten.  

Some pretty tough things are said and done in this devastating little show where all are game and few escape. But this is still in a tongue-in-cheek format that, with a wink, begs us not to take it all too seriously. It continues a run of successful satire shows that calls to mind the All Blacks in their pomp when scoring less than 60 points was considered a bitter setback.  

The cast and writers are clearly aware of the greasy pole/banana skin nature of politics and that the loser now may be later to win.  Their last outing always cleverly sets up their next. Will our dear leader ascend into heaven or descend into hell? Will Collins pull it off and Bennett bite the dust? Will Bridges finally pass English as a Second Language? Stay tuned.  

Hearty compliments of the season to PSA. May their supply of grease and rotten fruit never run out! 


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