Auckland Fringe’s edge-of-your-seat events are sure to be offbeat, risky and inventive, writes Dionne Christian.

You gotta love a fringe festival, like the one that launches in Auckland this month.

Where else can you see Shakespeare as street theatre (Two Gentlemen of Verona - a one-hour production with an all-female cast) after beginning your day on a romantic one-on-one Boat Date with Melissa Laing along New Lynn's Whau River, offering up a discussion and a performative experience over a bite to eat?"

That variety, says festival director Lydia Zanetti, is one of the reasons why she loves the Fringe. Because it's an open-access event, anyone with an idea for a visual or performing arts event can apply to be part of it (as long as they're not doing anything illegal).

The festival's about inclusivity, celebration of otherness, taking chances and presenting work - from visual arts exhibitions to one-person plays - that might be a little more edgy, risky or inventive and, to be fair, downright bizarre.


In arts speak, it's part of an "ecology" where the big producers and performers of tomorrow sometimes start out. Here's an example: that fella Bret McKenzie, who won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and is now bringing the only performances anywhere in the world of The Jim Henson Retrospectacle concert to Wellington this year.

He and his mate, Jemaine Clement, also now a film star, staged some of their first shows at the New Zealand Fringe Festival in Wellington. Their award-winning comedy Flight of the Conchords played at the Edinburgh Fringe before lifting off to become a global television sensation.

Comedy more your thing? Laura Daniel, Alice Snedden, Hayley Sproull, Kura Forrester, Brynley Stent, Rhiannon McCall and Donna Brookbanks are some of our top comic writers and performers; they also grew up on a diet of McLeod's Daughters, Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill so they know a thing or two about soap operas. Now they're going to try to make their own (Mackenzie's Daughters). Meanwhile, veteran improvisers - they make it up as they go along - the Improv Bandits are battling it out in quiz show meets stand-up (Ding!).

Interactive trials to decide "who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?" There's one of those (Judge, Jury & Cookie Monster) and someone who even made the laws talking about the political underbelly (former Green MP Catherine Delahunty in Question Time Blues).

It seems everyone wants to get in on the act.

At Selwyn Village, there's a one-off spoken word event with elderly performers who are using poetry to express their thoughts about life, love and the universe as well as meet new people (An Oldie but a Goodie). It is part of Active Arts which, since 2015, has been sharing poetry in aged care homes.

Telling it like it is, is also part of the mission of Hobson Street Theatre Company in association with the Auckland City Mission. Described as an "unconventional theatre company", HSTC is made up of people who have lived or live on the streets. This year, the company performs in Auckland and at the New Zealand Fringe Festival in Wellington in the hope of sparking a discussion about homeless in this country with the message that homeless doesn't mean hopeless. Its latest production, The Race, considers how racism affects those experiencing homelessness.

There are international visitors, too. Ally Baharoon has probably travelled farthest. Originally from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, he comes via Vancouver, Canada, to share painful, but funny, experiences as a stutterer trying to navigate school, work, love and life in general (The Funtalker). Fresh out of Australia, babes, broads and chicks with tricks - their words - Ladies of the Big Top promises a cabaret-style circus show. Registered nurse Zuleika Khan also travels across the Ditch to bring her one-woman show Triage: A Nursing Cabaret to Q Theatre. Khan will explain exactly how you use an IV pole as a stand-in microphone while channelling Beyonce in ICU. Meanwhile, London comedian Charmian Hughes will explain how to bust out when you don't fit in (Bra Trek).


They're coming from Wellington (the inimitable Duncan Armstrong and Everybody Cool Lives Here with Force Field) and Taihape to solve the case of the missing gumboots (The Bright Lights of Taihape). Others are playing again for the first time in years, with the return of much-loved and lauded independent theatre company The Rebel Alliance to the Herald Theatre. It's working with freelance lighting and sound designer Sean Lynch on Watching Paint Dry, which tests the concentration spans of modern audiences who are no longer used to very little happening for sustained periods of time.

The Rebel Alliance Jedi, Danish playwright Anders Falstie-Jensen, says it was inspired by his son, Anton, who asked what it means to "watch paint dry". "We talked about it, stared at a wall for five minutes and talked about boredom, and before you know it the play was born," says Falstie-Jensen. "It is an exploration of time and riffs on our relationship with mobile phones and how we struggle handling very little happening.

"Sean is a very good friend of mine, so I wrote the play for him. Rehearsals are always very odd because we spend large periods of times doing absolutely nothing. Sean looks at a wall and I look at him looking at the wall. Sometimes I tell him to move his hand. But just a little ... "

As well as bilingual theatre (Roots - a Singaporean play in Chinese and English), NZ Sign Language makes an appearance in Salonica which is physical theatre exploring friendship across cultures. There's English and Serbian spoken, too.

What: Auckland Fringe Festival
Where and when: Venues from Manurewa to New Lynn, Waiheke Island to Auckland CBD; February 20-March 4