Industry veterans and burgeoning talent collide once again for The Actors' Program's annual production. Now in its eighth year, the end-of-year show gives emerging actors a chance to cut their teeth and work alongside some of the country's best theatre practitioners.
This year they've staged Welcome to Thebes, a 2010 piece by UK playwright Moira Buffini. Set after the Theban civil war, this story of a rising democracy deftly blends the mythological and the present, Buffini's script grounding the Greek tragedy in the modern era. Characters wield machine guns and smartphones while interacting with the prophet Tiresias and talking of Athenian and Spartan tension.
It follows newly-elected leader Eurydice as she hopes to lead a feminist, fair democracy while having to appeal to Athens for help. Rival senators threaten to destabilise her position and Eurydice's desire for revenge adds further conflict as the nation struggles to get out the gate. With a huge cast of characters, and with 13 members of the programme to showcase, most of whom have to double up on characters, it means there is plenty for each performer to dig into.
Yet, because most of the cast is doubling up on their roles, they have less of a chance to let their characters grow. It is perhaps no surprise then that Georgie Salmon and Aidan O'Malley in the central roles of Eurydice and Theseus, Athens' cocky First Citizen, command the most attention. Their performances made it easy to forget their age as they portray the conflicted, sparring politicians with gripping depth and maturity.
Others do their best to stand out. Liv Whyte, as the government assistant Talthybia, takes her character from early laughs to sombre lows, and Sophie Sharp's focused, determined Aglaea does wonders with an under-written role.
If the actors are aware of the small scale of their production, it never shows. It may have a surface-level appearance of a high school production, but the script provides themes of revenge, political conflict and wartime trauma that most professional Auckland productions rarely tap into, setting a challenge that the promising cast rises to accept.
What: Welcome to Thebes
Where: The Basement, until Saturday, November 16