Our reviewers reflect on what they saw during the second and final week of the Auckland Fringe.

With the Summer Shakespeare struggling to stay afloat, it is heartening to see Auckland University's student company, Stray Theatre, presenting one of Shakespeare's earliest and least known works in Aotea Square. The plot of Two Gentlemen of Verona is something like Married at First Sight Australia with characters falling in and out of love faster than Dean & Davina but instead of the brash Aussie colloquialisms you get sparkling iambic pentameter, delivered with admirable clarity by the cast of nine young women and two well-trained dogs. The staging wasn't entirely suited to the street theatre setting but some strong performances drew audiences into the play's emotional roller-coaster. Meanwhile, Question Time Blues is a poetic memoir of ex-Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty's nine years in Parliament and the show hits all the right buttons for the Party faithful. There's sneering put-downs of the patriarchy, nostalgic recollections of sixties counter-culture, earnest solidarity with Maori seeking Tino Rangatiratanga, self-conscious anxiety about white privilege, contempt for the frivolity of social media, giddy celebration of the "gay rainbow rising over the Beehive", sarcastic mockery of Parliament's old-boys club and cynical disdain for the bureaucratic processes of parliamentary democracy

Paul Simei-Barton, theatre reviewer

Whose hand in cookie jar?

Judge, Jury & Cookie Monster


is a tantalising title - and when you're sifting through the Fringe programme and have sweet childhood memories of

Sesame Street

it's tempting to pick a show that might offer some nostalgic indulgence. Alas, this show didn't feature my beloved furry blue friend (aside from an introductory voice) but unquestionably focused on cookies - and that can never be a bad thing. The actual show itself wanders between a TV game show, a law revue (except it's not a spoof) and stand-up comedy. Written by Will Moffatt (who also plays Chuck Wheaten) and the six-strong ensemble cast, it was a non-stop sugar-laden extravaganza where audiences determined the nefarious cookie thief that stole Simon Shrewsbury's (Eli Matthewson) beloved Valentine cookie. The three suspects are broad stroke stereotypes which renders them unfortunately quite bland, particularly Kirsty Bruce's French kitten and Sneha Shetty's IT professional, but Kyle Sheilds had surprising moments of authenticity and truth (despite his blokey stereotype) and the drama unfolded at an engaging, if haphazard, pace. High levels of audience interaction, singing and lots of pointed fingers, and with different guests every night, the show was never the same. If you still walked out disappointed at the absence of your favourite telly character, at least, you know, there were cookies!

- Dione Joseph, dance and theatre reviewer

Memory, death and wet paint

Production crew took over the stage (for once) in The Rebel Alliance's Watching Paint Dry ("a different colour every night!"), to create an amusing yet resonant piece of whimsy. With a script written for him by Anders Falstie-Jensen, talented lighting designer Sean Lynch painted a wall, sat and watched it dry; as well as watching the wall, we watched him watching the wall. The wall was not well-painted, which is a good thing, allowing different patches and textures to be highlighted in different Lynch-designed lighting set-ups. The piece involved The Girl from Ipanema; turning your phones not off but up; and inevitably, musings on memory and death. A welcome escape from life for an hour, with a guy in an overall. Meanwhile, racism clearly contributes to home insecurity (disproportionate numbers of people without homes are of Maori and Pacific descent), but somewhat surprisingly The Race – devised and performed by the Hobson Street Theatre Company of people who have experience of living on the streets – seemed just as concerned about anti-Asian racism. Opening night was a little shambolic, but it's great to see theatre's fourth wall smashed so exuberantly (charismatic Belinda Pollett had us all humming scene-change music), and Shadow as Mona told a story about a new granddaughter with heartfelt poignancy. Best line: "We can't fix racism in 50 minutes, you know that, ay?"

- Janet McAllister, theatre reviewer

Drag-tastic music, humour

Any fan of Tom Sainsbury's prodigious output of plays will find plenty to love in his latest show (a phrase that seems to be getting used at least twice a month now). The perfect combination of his previous plays mashed with RuPaul's Drag Race, Wigging Out is a lip sync musical revolving about the dramatic lives of the wonderfully named Dee Pression (Sainsbury) and Ann Xiety (Drag Wars 2016's winner Hamish Russell). The two old school friends, who fell out after creating a new style of dress, reunite in a doctor's waiting room, where they struggle to hide the failings in their lives. Sainsbury brings his typical sass and careful examination of humanity to Dee, but for once found himself outshone by Russell's enigmatic, sardonic and fiery Ann. Brynley Stent also commanded attention in her own double-cross dressing role as Ann's flatmate Sebastian and Dee's terrible boyfriend Slade. While not as side-splittingly funny as other Sainsbury shows, the musical performances and humour made this a drag-tastic good time

Ethan Sills, theatre reviewer


Dances to watch for

Trip the Light Dance Collective's four strongly contrasting dances in Side B ranged from a flirtatious, light-hearted quartet to solemn and serious interchanges between three men shocked by tragedy. Joash Fahitua's comedic Uso, with Taitanyk Toniu and Sione Fataua larking about not-doing the cleaning, was the crowd-pleaser; the collective also impressed in Perri Exeter's ominously whirling ensemble work Tempest, where the intense emotions of a group of people confined indoors were equated with a huge storm raging outside. Meanwhile, intense feelings, spiritual healing and redemption were the focus of Hawaiki Tu's Pumanawa. A work in development, it's a series of short dances with movement drawn from kapa haka and Maori contemporary dance. Two powerful sections stood out: a deeply sorrowful, grief-stricken solo by Kura Te Waati and a vigorous tussling trio (Nancy Wijohn, Kiwa Andrews and Arahi Easton) where the story starts with joking around, teasing and laughter but degenerates into hostility, snarling and rage. One to see again after further development.

Raewyn Whyte, dance reviewer