Theatre review: Hippolytus Veiled, Basement Theatre

By Janet McAllister

Highly stylised melodrama and enjoyable farce credit to talented young Kiwi writers.
Mating in Captivity stars (from left) Jack Buchanan, Frith Horan and Milo Cawthorne give top-notch performances.
Mating in Captivity stars (from left) Jack Buchanan, Frith Horan and Milo Cawthorne give top-notch performances.

There are some similarities - men in undies and women with blonde ringlets - in these two provocative tales of sexual tension by talented young New Zealand playwrights. But where Hippolytus Veiled is a wonderfully stylised melodramatic myth, Mating in Captivity is fun, naturalistic farce.

Nathan Joe won a 2015 Playmarket Playwrights b4 25 award for Hippolytus and the first half of the script, which sets Hippolytus up as a Hamlet figure, is full of assured, beautiful wryness: "let shame guide you safely to shore," says the nurse after Phaedra (a wonderful Fiona Mogridge) confesses her lust for her stepson.

The formal language is matched by Rose Mulcare's excellent red-and-white transverse set and Jacqueline Harrison's 19th century costumes, while Patrick Graham's direction brings out the erotic energy. Amanda Grace Leo's singing and Callum Blackmore's soundscape add to the spellbinding atmosphere.

However, the Ancient Greek story turns on a false accusation of rape, and the play misses an opportunity to acknowledge that, in reality, false accusations are rare and rape survivors are often silenced.

Oliver Page's Mating in Captivity, produced by Last Tapes, shows us a pitfall of studio apartments: no room for unexpected guests. Page uses the ensuing claustrophobia to amusing effect, probing a few 20-something preoccupations - anxiety, jealousy and getting high - while also slipping in some musings on metaphor.

Directed by Renee Lyons, the actors give excellent, committed performances, particularly Frith Horan who makes Annie bright and sympathetic, and Jack Buchanan who lends his nice-guy teeth to the shambling Rob. The blow-up photographed set adds some interest.

It's over-long but the conversations are mostly believable and interesting. And- warning or promise? - it contains swearing, nudity and descriptions of sexual activity.

What: Hippolytus Veiled, to August 20; Mating in Captivity, to August 27
Where: Basement Theatre.

- NZ Herald

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