Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington

21/02/2016 - 22/02/2016

NZ Fringe Festival 2016 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Take off the training wheels, lift the rose-coloured glasses, pop the bubble. The world is getting louder. Eternity is closer. Squawk.

Presented by Wellington Young Actors, the capital’s youngest theatre company, aged 12-17. Winners of Best Newcomer and nominated for Outstanding Ensemble of NZ Fringe 2015 for To Sunder.

Whitireia Theatre
Sun 21- Feb: 6pm
Mon 22 Feb: 5.30pm; 7pm
(75 min)
BOOKINGS: fringe.co.nz
TICKETS: $15/$10/$10

Youth , Theatre ,

1 hr 15 min

Fun underpinned with emotional ballast

Review by Tim Stevenson 22nd Feb 2016

Once upon a time in a land far far away – children, please pay attention! This is a beautiful tale, and also quite educational – there was a kingdom where everyone and everything was 100% perfect, and the stories always ended happily ever after.

But sometimes things began to slip below the 100% performance target, or a story headed off down the wrong arc. To keep such deviations under control, there was a nasty queen called Ethelind. She had guards to stamp out signs of unhappiness, and dungeons for anyone not following the fairy tale handbook. And also a nasty talking mirror with a hypercritical fashion sense (think Simon Cowell, Tyra Banks etc).

You might think that Far Far Away Land would be just a lovely, lovely place. But actually it wasn’t. It was full of confused princes and princesses who couldn’t make sense of how they were expected to behave. Or who tried to live the fairy tale way, only to find it wasn’t quite as 100% perfect as they’d been told to expect. Or who ended up in the dungeons. And then there were the people who weren’t princes and princesses –they had to follow different rules, and their version of 100% perfect wasn’t even up to royal standards, for what that was worth. 

Now, it was time to find a husband for the beautiful Princess Awhina, and so in true fairy tale style, Queen Ethelind planned a ball to help this along. But first, Princess Awhina had to undergo the traditional ordeal by savage talking mirror. And who would Prince Caspian take to the ball? Was there a princess somewhere he could awaken with a kiss, old school style, after performing the usual valiant deeds to prove himself? And why is his best mate Tobin so keen for them to go to the ball together: just a couple of blokes, with no princesses about to spoil the fun?

If you want to find out the answer to these questions and learn lots more interesting facts about conditions in Far Far Away Land, then get on the Fringe Website pronto and book for Squawk. Don’t think too long about it, though, because Squawk only has 2 more shows to run (today, Monday 22/2, 5.30pm and 7pm).

Perhaps you’re inclined to hold back because you’re allergic to fairy tales, straight or bent. Don’t be, is my suggestion. Because underneath the machinery of the plot details, the clever folk from Wellington Young Actors and Churton Park Young Actors are delving away at another set of questions: Whose story are we in? And why? What story do we want to be in? How do we get there?

This other layer of questions adds coherence and emotional ballast, not to mention a sense of urgency, to the fun with fairy stories that makes up the plot.

And there’s much more to Squawk than a foundation of serious themes and a smart story line. The company’s done an entirely commendable job of playing to its strengths, which are variable (as you’d expect in a 12-17 years old cast).

The main elements of the plot are mostly carried by relative veterans like Gabe Parkin, playing Ethelind with a truly sinister titter, Maya Symmans de Vere Greene as deadpan narrator, and Hannah Durojaiye and Isabel Corfiatis, popular hits with the audience for their well-timed dumb-and-dumber guard routines.

Max Steel really makes us feel for poor confused Tobin, and Mirren Callaghan shone as the witch who is supposed to be helping Tobin but is distracted by memories of a sexy centaur.

That’s not to downplay the contributions of the other veterans and not-so-veterans in the cast. I don’t have time or space to mention everyone, but an example of what good use the production makes of its material is the speaking trees (Karina O’Connor, Susannah Rusk, Henry Sinclair, Emily Butler). The trees keep it simple, in terms of lines and movement, but I grow to love those trees and want good things to happen to them.  

Todd Rippon, of film and TV fame, makes a brief appearance and is excellent and funny. An unintended result is to create a contrast between the acting equipment of the rest of the cast and Rippon’s strong trained adult voice and skilled economy of movement. Having said that, Sol Maxwell of the easy princely charm and Symmans de Vere Greene play scenes with Rippon and show that they’ve got the timing, confidence and voice to hold their own in such experienced company. 

Congratulations to director Deborah Eve Rea for what I imagine was a major amount of work bringing the joint company together and guiding them to a successful production. Congratulations as well to the people who did the scenery, lighting and costume (loved the gowns, Gabe’s headdress and of course, the trees). 

Not all the acting is stellar, not all the lines compel, not all the story lines convince, but “Squawk” carries this playgoer into the story, makes me laugh and makes me care about what will happen to the characters. That’s better than good going for a cast and crew of any age. And yes, I do want everyone to live happily ever after.

Do they? Go along and find out. 


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