Paul Simei-Barton: Small companies drive the resurgence

By Paul Simei-Barton

Jacob Rajan dazzled in Guru or Chai.
Photo / Supplied
Jacob Rajan dazzled in Guru or Chai. Photo / Supplied

With some very smart urban design coming to the central city, Auckland has created a sophisticated cultural hub stretching from the Aotea Centre, across to Q Theatre and up through the revamped art gallery to the Maidment Theatre. The area is now buzzing with all kinds of theatrical activity and hopefully this hive of artistic enterprise will begin to colonise the tantalising but culturally arid spaces opening up on the waterfront.

This year has been a celebratory year for Auckland, with the Arts Festival in March providing a decent curtain-raiser for the main event.

It was impossible to see everything at the festival, but memorable shows included the Gare St Lazare Players (Herald Theatre), who brought an Irish inflection to Samuel Beckett's bleak sense of humour, and Silver Stars (Concert Chamber), who presented a moving account of the experiences of older gay men.

A sure sign of the vitality of the festival is that low-budget Fringe events often threatened to outshine the headline acts.

The Basement served up a feast of shows, with stand-outs including Canadian writer Vern Thiessen's Shakespeare's Will and Tim Watts' beguiling combination of high-tech animation and child-like storytelling in The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer.

Auckland Theatre Company and Silo Theatre both demonstrated a willingness to take risks with large-scale productions of seldom-seen works.

These challenging shows featured some of the year's best performances, with Elizabeth Hawthorne and Robyn Malcolm giving exhilarating portrayals of competing monarchs in Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart (Maidment), while Cameron Rhodes seemed to effortlessly carry off the bizarre form of clowning required by Moliere's Tartuffe (Q Theatre).

For those who love the theatre of ideas, Red (Maidment) offered a brilliant exploration of the clash between modernist idealism and post-modern irony. In a similar vein, Rita and Douglas (Concert Chamber) saw Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Michael Houstoun giving a sharp reminder of the passionate intensity that pervaded New Zealand's beleaguered art scene in the 1940s.

The powerhouse driving the resurgence in Auckland's live theatre continues to be the small independent companies and, in this crowded field, Indian Ink clearly stood out with Guru of Chai (Maidment), featuring the dazzling showmanship of Jacob Rajan.

In South Auckland, the beautiful Mangere Arts Centre - Nga Tohu o Uenuku - has been a catalyst for an explosion of live theatre, with Pacific Institute of Performing Arts students combining with ATC in the riotously funny Polly Hood in Mumuland and Kila Kokonut Krew's The Factory offering an exuberant musical celebration of the Pacific Island immigrant experience.

Theatre in the Super City is blossoming.

- NZ Herald

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