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August 13, 2007 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Go Solo

August 6-19, times vary.
Te Whaea, 11 Hutchison Road Newtown
Written by 3rd year Toi Whakaari students
Directed by Jade Eriksen

Toi Whakaari New Zealand drama school is where it all begins for some of our national treasures (and Shortland Street stars) of the acting world. The graduates of this year did not disappoint with their solo creations, each just under half an hour long.

Shaneel Sidal started with a very simple direct address monologue about his views of the world, his trip to India and how he is the reincarnation of Gandhi. Next we listened in on Prince with a capital P (Natano Keni) sweet talking on a chat line to several girls and using Cleo, New Idea and Cosmopolitan magazines for inspiration. Natasha Falconer bravely stepped into an expensive clothing store and changed from a supermarket attendant into a silky dress. It was her thirtieth birthday and she is unhappy.

Natalie Medlock led Group D with the performance I found most interesting. It was a slightly creepy mix of the animated “Salad Fingers” and some kind of bird. She spoke to a goat head called Leonard while stroking its beard with extremely long nails/claws. Antonia Bale took away the eeriness as naïve Svetlana, a funny but sad story of a failed ice skater who has been in her room wearing the same skating costume for a few months.

Dan Musgrove was an American with a dream to be the fastest man in the world. He subtly brought the issue of race and colour into his story by turning himself black with shoe polish throughout the piece. Finally Anya Tate-Manning dragged herself on stage as an injured woman from what seemed to be an historical time, judging by the animal furs and peasant skirt. She yelled her defiance with passion at the raiders and eventually is defeated.

To be able to enchant an audience for over 20 minutes single handed is something that never ceases to amaze me. The sheer range of characters, stories, scenes and subjects kept us enthralled, laughing and impressed throughout both of the shows. There is something for everyone and some great talent here that will no doubt go on to bigger things.

Toi Whakaari’s Go Solo performances are “new New Zealand compositions… that showcase the abilities, passions and curiosity of the students involved.” (Jade Eriksen, director). The solos set out to explore how to engage the audience and how to make them feel integral to the meaning of the piece, which was achieved particularly well in two of the performances from Group E. Maria-Rose MacDonald’s ‘The Others’ confronts the audience members as observers, suddenly forced to sit and reflect as an old homeless woman goes about her daily business.

This confrontation made the piece as much about the attitudes and passive responses of society as about the solo character in the performance.

In ‘Nightbloom’, Sophie Roberts explores “the landscape of dream and its peculiar feeling of incompleteness,” by crafting what is indeed a peculiarly incomplete narrative, that left me with the strange feeling of wondering what had happened in the last 20 minutes, but still glad I had experienced it. Ryan Richards’ ‘Tough Love’ was an example of an excellent performer being able to engage an audience in a not so engaging narrative. Although I feel I’ve seen enough “teenage angst” forming the basis of a piece of art, Richards was able to creatively use performance techniques and his acting ability to mould clichéd ideas into a well-staged composition.

‘Moulding Man’ (Matt Whelan) was the highlight of Group E, a hilarious mock-epic look at the human race, with a clever and original script: “some would argue that only a madman would put a toxic waste line through a recreational part of the body.”

Group F began with another original and oddly disconcerting comedy by Sophie Hambleton. Anyone who is sceptical of women performing comedy must see ‘Rudey Trudy’, undoubtedly one of the funniest comic performances I’ve seen this year. Byron Coll demonstrates an impressive mime routine in ‘The Taxi Driver,’ proving himself to be a master of physical comedy, while challenging the audience to accept comedy as having done its job, if it makes you laugh and no more. In ‘Slicing on the Cake,’ Lee Smith Gibbons explores death through rhyme, demonstrating the power of language to entertain and reveal, producing a creative and enjoyable performance.

The solos are well worth seeing for the convincing performances of the actors alone, but are well supported by an unobtrusive, yet aesthetically pleasing set design, and well operated and creative, though simple, lighting. If you want to be opened up to the creativity and imaginations of others, in an easily watchable and entertaining way, then go to see the solos. I give them a tick.

Group C and D reviewed by Sherry Elbe
Group E and F reviewed by Fiona McNamara


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