I've fallen in love with indie theatre again!

The current Basement trend for small personal shows - usually just one performer presenting their own life or obsessions - could so easily be self-indulgent navelgazing. But, and in fact, I'm nearly always delighted by how surprising, intriguing and challenging the results are, thanks to the creators' rich, entertaining theatrical devices and the smart packaging of their own experiences as widely relevant.

So next year, in this "write what you know" storytelling genre, I'm looking forward to more cabaret (Last Tapes' Valerie was this year's stand-out); more performance art such as Vinay Hira's Heteroperformative and more explorations of cultural identity such as Antonia Stehlin's Brown - It's Complicated and Alice Canton's technically superb White/Other.

Robin Kelly (centre) alongside (clockwise from left) Tom Broome, Benjamin Henson and Cherie Moore told the remarkable tale of his family inspired by his grandmother, Valerie.
Robin Kelly (centre) alongside (clockwise from left) Tom Broome, Benjamin Henson and Cherie Moore told the remarkable tale of his family inspired by his grandmother, Valerie.

The Auckland Fringe will bring back other favourites - young playwright Nathan Joe, Wellington's must-see Binge Culture Collective - while post-Promise and Promiscuity, Penny Ashton is threatening Charles Dickens with Oliver Copperbottom in April.


I'm also looking forward to another edgy year from Silo Theatre. Melissa Bubnic's Boys Will Be Boys divided audiences: some mistakenly thought its message was "all men are misogynists". In fact, the play is a well-researched case study of how a toxic bigoted culture damages all its members, men and women alike.

This year marked a glorious milestone in gender equality: women directed an entire main bill programme - all five Silo shows, with artistic director Sophie Roberts accounting for three. Women even directed three out of seven Auckland Theatre Company shows (artistic director Colin McColl directed two of the four others).

So it's extremely disappointing that of the 10 Silo and ATC Auckland main bill shows scheduled for 2017, only one has a woman director: Virginia Frankovich directs Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again for Silo at the Basement. At its more chi-chi venue, ATC will not be showing the work of women directors at all.

Still, women have written two of ATC's five 2017 shows (better than this year's tally of one out of seven). But the uneven progress towards equality suggests that vigilance is required. Case in point: the main bills' five overseas works are all from white writers - not good enough in a diverse city like ours.

However, at least both bills include works by Maori playwrights and directors: Silo's Cellfish (brand new) and ATC's When Sun & Moon Collide. Excitingly, it seems we're getting to see an increasingly diverse range of Maori theatre; this year war histories and family melodrama were joined by dream fantasies (Hone Kouka's The Beautiful Ones), present grim realities (Rob Mokoraka's Shot Bro) and presentations of cultural discomfort. Hayley Sproull's Vanilla Miraka has its faults (who was laughing at who?) but raises issues worth exploring.

So we're back at the personal pieces. Desiree Burch's comic rant Tar Baby at the Auckland Arts Festival was particularly memorable. Next year, the festival seems safer - all overseas theatre is from the UK or Ireland. Hopefully this is not a post-Brexit sign of things to come - Janet McAllister.

Twelfth Night, at Pop-up Globe, proved the power of theatre to unite.
Twelfth Night, at Pop-up Globe, proved the power of theatre to unite.

Auckland enjoyed a deluge of Shakespearean productions on the 400th anniversary of his death and for me the most memorable moment came from the audience for Twelfth Night at the Pop-Up Globe. As the play approached its celebratory finale, a tropical downpour flooded through the open-roofed venue; instead of rushing for cover or hoisting umbrellas, the groundlings standing in front of the stage were literally dancing in the rain as they joined the folk dance that brought the production to its joyous conclusion.

You couldn't get a better demonstration of the remarkable connection generated when the vitality of a live performance becomes entangled with the energy of an enthralled audience.


Dr Miles Gregory's vision for Pop-up Globe should see this brilliant venture flowering into an international phenomenon. The venue returns in 2017 at Ellerslie Racecourse with professional productions of Henry V, As You Like It, Othello and Much Ado About Nothing.

The racecourse offers an attractive garden setting with plenty of parking but why couldn't we shift the rows of imported used cars that clog the waterfront and plant the Globe in the heart of the city, where the Waitemata would be a great stand-in for the Thames?

ATC's long awaited Waterfront theatre is a glittering addition to Auckland's cultural infrastructure and the 2017 programme includes three works by New Zealand writers with Briar Grace-Smith's murder mystery When Sun & Moon Collide, directed by Rawiri Paratene, promising to be a highlight.

The corporate glitz of the new theatre stands in stark contrast to the stripped-down functionalism of the Globe with its balconies cramming in a potential audience of 900, all of whom enjoy intimate proximity with the stage. For $15 the unseated groundlings can risk the elements and get the face-to-face engagement that makes live theatre so special.

It is difficult to see how the Waterfront Theatre will be able to match this. Even with generous concessions, ATC tickets are in the $39-$49 range and the only way groundlings are likely to get a look-in is if they are represented on stage in plays that serve up the plight of the oppressed for the edification of the well-to-do.

The value of theatre for low-income communities is clearly shown by the Mangere Arts Centre - Nga Tohu o Uenuku. Under Alison Quigan's direction, come one of Auckland's most vibrant venues delivering ethnically diverse theatre like Black Friars' exuberantly Pacific version of MacBeth. Highlights for 2017 include a "Ngati Africa" tribute to Martyn Sanderson and the intriguingly titled Magdalena of Mangere by Louise Tu'u.

The Auckland Arts Festival returns next year with a variety of treats selected from international festivals. In 2016, we could have learnt something from the James Plays by the National Theatre of Scotland which emphatically demonstrated funding the arts does a lot more for developing a sense of national identity than squandering money on a flag referendum - Paul Simei-Barton.