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April 27, 2009 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

The Pick of the Fringe

The triumphant return of four shows from the Fringe to Downstage is about to tear into the Wellington cultural scene like a wall of flying metal stingrays. Uther Dean, Arts Editor and culture vulture, reports.

Starting this Wednesday, Downstage theatre is showcasing some of the hits of this year’s fringe festival. This wide-ranging selection of theatrical works encompasses all tastes and styles. There seem to be really only two common factors. One is that they are all young, energetic works of theatre. The other is the Victoria University Theatre department. To a greater or a lesser extent all three of these works stem from time spent in our hallowed halls. And we should be proud. Oh so proud. It is rare for a collection of work of such consistent quality and pedigree and energy to be collected in one place, not just in Wellington, not just in New Zealand but in the world. Whether you missed them in the Fringe or were lucky enough to catch them, this season (running until 7 May) is required viewing, not just for anyone who likes theatre, but simply for anyone who likes anything more in their entertainment than farts and explosions.

Kicking off this semi-triptych of theatrical delights is Poly-Zygotic. Set in Newtown, this is the story of three triplets—as opposed to four triplets—Aso (TaofiMose-Tuiloma), Masina (Tupe Lualua) and Tausaga (Asalemo Tofete) and their journey towards the Samoan celebration of White Sunday, when children perform for their parents at church. A story of community and family, Poly-Zygotic came about due to the lack of Pacific and Polynesia theatre in Wellington. “I’d go and see groups like the Laughing Samoans or the Killer Coconut Crew,” says Tofete, a graduate of the Vic Theatre department, “and wonder why there wasn’t more of it in Wellington.” Taking that and an odd interest in twins as their starting point, the cast and director Anya Tate-Manning devised the work, taking pieces and observations from their real lives, weaving a story they like to think is “kinda autobiographical”. Hoping to get a larger Polynesian audience to the theatre, they made sure to keep it accurate and genuine, trusting their non-Polynesian audience would pick up what’s going on without having to condescend them. Sitting snugly as the quiet sleeper hit of this year’s Fringe, Poly-Zygotic is a funny, heartfelt story of siblings that will appeal to everyone no matter what island they’re from, and with Nathaniel Lees (of The Matrix trilogy fame) guiding them as they expand the show from the cosy confines of BATS to the epic aura of Downstage, this little gem can only shine more.

Following close on their heels is A Most Outrageous Humbug from Three Spoon Theatre. The story of the life, death and work of Edgar Allen Poe, Humbug is a gothic piece that, like all the works in the season, eschews genre—it’s a bit funny, it’s a bit scary, it’s a bit serious. “The comedy does come from within the gothic that we set ourselves out with,” says Ralph McCubbin Howell, founding spooner and one of two Poes within the piece, “instead of playing against or subverting the gothic. It’s not a spoof. Because that would be pretty lame.” Three Spoon are the newly-minted veterans of the pick of the Fringe, having had their previous Fringe work The March of the Meeklings included last year. Not a group to be cocky—they’re too busy staging three shows a year to stroke their own egos—they have treated this return as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes the first time round. “We’re much more aware of the space and the people and utilities they’re offering,” Howell adds. Three Spoon theatre always makes shows primarily for their own enjoyment. “There’s nothing like sneaking into the audience during a run and just enjoying the show,” says Jean Sergent, who plays many roles in Humbug. A majority of Three Spoon team met during their time at Vic. They also share a lot of classes with their season-mates. “It was really cool when we had the meet-and-greet at Downstage. It was like hanging out with all your mates from Vic,” says Howell. The move from the show’s original site-specific location—a hidden dell up Holloway Road—to Downstage is allowing them time to rework and reshape the show, taking it down a more abstract path. If ever there was a case for theatrical double-dipping, it is this one.

Ending each night is The Intricate Art of Actually Caring from the Playground collective. The story of two friends and their journey to James K. Baxter’s grave, it is a play about what it is to be a young male in the world suddenly realising that you need to grow up and what exactly that means. The big breakout success of this year’s Fringe, it endured universal critical praise. This, accompanied with its restricted original staging—a bedroom into which an audience of 12 was crammed with little elbow room—has raised questions of how they plan to adapt to Downstage. “So many people are so married to what we did,” says Eleanor Bishop, director and former editor of these very theatre pages, “and it’s too soon to get enough distance to change it completely.” “It was too long,” adds writer and star Eli Kent, “It’s hard to know what to cut though, because there is stuff that just seems stupid but it needs for the progression of the play.” They have, like Humbug, decided not to attempt to replicate their original site, opting for more of an evocation of a bedroom. What makes Intricate Art special is its warts and all approach to replicating the realities of the lives of its subjects. “It’s so rare to hear people speak on stage the way they do in real life,” says Bishop. It is this intense and earnest veracity that has appealed this work to audiences of all ages and walks of life. Its return, like the returns of the other shows, is more than welcome.

If the Fringe is about anything, it is about expecting the unexpected. So, on select nights of the season, the Binge Culture Collective, who caused a major stir with their piece Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish in the Fringe—which started as Upton’s practical work towards a BA Hons in Theatre—will be crashing the Downstage Bar between shows. “It feels quite nice, actually. To be on the Fringe of the Fringe.” Says Ralph Upton, director. They will be performing adapted extracts from their work—influenced by monolithic theatre terrorists Forced Entertainment—for little fifteen-minute chunks, sure to go down smooth with your twixt play wine. “I’m really interested in things like Facebook and cellphones,” says Upton, “how we create these ongoing narratives of our lives.” Expect Wellington cut in cardboard, gun-toting panda bears and live Facebook updates.

The Pick of the Fringe runs from 29 April to 2 May at Downstage.

Poly-Zygotic at 6pm.
Most Outrageous Humbug at 7.30pm.
The Intricate Art of Actually Caring at 9pm.
The Binge Culture Collective will be crashing on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

The shows are $25/$20 each or $60 for all three.


About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

Comments (1)

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  1. Asalemo Tofete says:

    Great write up Uther….
    Just a small correction in the Poly-Zygotic part…it’s spelt Kila Kokonut Krew


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