Theatre review: Janeece Gunton: Herstory, Basement

By Paul Simei-Barton

Janeece Gunton: Herstory.
Janeece Gunton: Herstory.

The new work by Yvette Parsons and Thomas Sainsbury is billed as "the pitch black comedy to rule them all" and the promise of "offensive language and adult themes" is abundantly fulfilled as the show works its way through a comprehensive checklist of topics calculated to cause offence.

Setting the tone with a scatological sight gag, the play covers benefit fraud, prostitution and drug dealing before moving on to child abuse, domestic violence, incest and sexual slavery. Along the way there is onstage performance of sexual acts, various bodily fluids and some inventive use of coarse language.

It is difficult to say whether the aim is to create a scandal or to comment on the impossibility of causing offence among audiences inured by decades of over-exposure to objectionable content.

In earlier works Yvette Parson has demonstrated a remarkable ability to find humour and humanity in the lives of marginalised characters, while Thomas Sainsbury is an imaginative writer with a clear understanding of dramatic structure.

In a few scenes we get a hint of the pair's potential: There is plenty of awkward humour in an earnest attempt by an expectant father to provide an organic breakfast for his seriously hung-over surrogate mother.

In a nicely understated performance, Bryony Skillington captures the pathos of a teenage mum who has been the victim of abusive parenting and there is some hard-hitting satire in Derek Braine's portrayal of a corrupt Winz investigator.

Satire has always found vitality in ridiculing powerful elites but for the most part Janeece Gunton reverses this dynamic and society's most damaged, vulnerable members are held up for ironical amusement of the sophisticated set. Or, in the words of John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, the show provides "a cheap holiday in other people's misery".

Theatre review

What: Janeece Gunton: Herstory
Where: Basement, to June 29.

- NZ Herald

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