Theatre review: Vanilla Miraka and Hook-Up Boys

By Janet McAllister

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Hayley Sproull in her one-woman show, Vanilla Marika.
Hayley Sproull in her one-woman show, Vanilla Marika.

In her interesting solo show Vanilla Miraka, Hayley Sproull explores an issue that many grapple with in our colonised land: what it means to have Maori ancestry if you don't know much about Maori culture.

It's not a survey of all possible responses; instead, it's her own personal story told through song, comedy and reenactment. Directed by veteran Wellington clown Jo Randerson (also performing her own solo show this week), Vanilla Miraka uses snippets of visual metaphor and occasional surrealism to great effect. Sproull passes awkwardly through walls; her poi punch her in the face when she's trying her hardest.

She is an assured, consummate performer, with excellent audience rapport, dealing with an intrusive audience member on opening night with skill. Some of the show is about making dubious jokes because you're embarrassed about your ignorance. Is mugging about pukana poking fun at pukana or at Sproull's own attempts at making unfamiliar culture feel natural?

Pleasingly the show is not tidy and didactic with a neat solution; instead, there is a lot of space for the audience to think through their own ideas. "Let me in," Sproull sings, "So I can know what you all seem to know."

Perceptions of the show depend partially on whether you're thinking of Sproull as Maori or non-Maori but, of course, she can be both. Vanilla Miraka is light as a cloud on top, but there's also real poignancy here. A masterly balancing act.

Hook-Up Boys (6:30pm) brings together Bruce Brown's Short+Sweet and Legacy Project vignettes. Six dialogues purport to show young gay life: the high school coming-out; the Grindr hook-up; the sauna encounter, exploring tensions between hesitation and desire, intimacy and "just sex".

The writing is uneven - the travelling salesman conversation generalities would be better as specific detail - but when it's good, it's funny and intriguing: the school boys' bus stop revelations are endearing. The mostly inexperienced cast does reasonably well; Ciarin Smith in particular is natural and relaxed.

What: Vanilla Miraka and Hook-Up Boys
Where & when: Basement Theatre, Greys Ave; until September 24
Reviewer: Janet McAllister

- NZ Herald

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