Janet McAllister: Depression, froth and fringe

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A Thousand Hills was one of a crop of captivating offerings from theatre's fringe.
Photo / Supplied
A Thousand Hills was one of a crop of captivating offerings from theatre's fringe. Photo / Supplied

2011: the year that rugby plays outnumbered rugby players, yet play on the field had more depth than any words onstage about the game. The year we used 1930s and 40s-style froth to escape thoughts of possible 1930s-style Depression, with Anything Goes, The Wizard of Oz, Drowning in Veronica Lake and Glorious. The year we examined other depressions with the Rebel Alliance's marvellous Standstill, and the Young and Hungry Festival's Tigerplay.

The latter three plays - along with Stamp at The Edge's A Thousand Hills, Thread Theatre's The Keepers, Young and Hungry's Cow, Taki Rua's Strange Resting Places and Renee Liang's The Bone Feeder - showed that some of the most exciting theatre is devised, or fringe, or offered by practitioners in development. Local writing, including the interesting history plays by more established practitioners - Albert Belz's Te Awarua and Auckland Theatre Company's On the Upside-Down of the World - often has a headstart in relevance.

However, my personal highlight of the year was an international one thanks to the Auckland Arts Festival: La Odisea from Bolivia, weaving myth and the mundane together with panache.

Many other plays could have done with a jolly good editing. I'm told aspiring playwrights and directors do not always listen to their mentors. They should.

But ones to watch (for good reasons) in the younger set include Kayleigh Haworth, who played Tigerplay's slumped teenager; Outfit Theatre's fine character actor Andrew Ford, who gives all his lines an enlivening twist; and the fearlessly comic Sam Snedden, who rushed in where even The Office's David Brent would fear to tread, in Silo's The Only Child. Set designer Jessika Verryt (daughter of John) is wonderfully versatile and talented.

But the most anticipated theatrical debut this year was (literally) polished: Q Theatre. Its low-lit wooden foyer is spacious and luxurious, if somewhat anonymous. And between the black stallion statues (National Bank leftovers?), the career bar staff - joy of joys - know and actually care about what they're doing.

I've seen three productions in the Loft, the smaller of Q's two theatres, and the space seems commendably flexible.

Its breathtaking inaugural production, Venus Is by the expert Dust Palace, was exceptional cabaret - thoughtful, acrobatic and sensual - and it would be adored on the international festival circuit.

But the near-absence of signage at Q - as if it's a speakeasy ashamed of peddling live theatre - is almost criminal, given the theatre boasts a prominent address at the expense of the ratepayer. Rival "Q" signs selling real estate across Queen St (Avenue Q?) are easier to spot.

Names in lights would help create queues at Q and raise the art form's profile in the city more generally. Auckland deserves to see its theatre - and its theatre, in general, deserves to be seen.

- NZ Herald

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