A play about a couple facing the challenges of retirement, cancer, and all the lows of ageing might not sound like a jolly night out, but thanks to the incredible talent on and off stage, it really is.
The audience who had packed in to see Auckland Theatre Company's Winding Up at the TSB Showplace on the first night of a two-night run were left gasping for breath at times as the jokes came in quick and fast.
With a script from Sir Roger Hall, actors of the calibre of Alison Quigan and Mark Hadlow on stage, and the years of experience and skill of director Colin McColl, there was never any doubt this play was likely to be a good one, and it exceeded all expectations on the night.
Mark and Alison are well matched on stage as they play bickering, but ultimately loving, couple Barry and Gen, and it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the retired couple.
Alison's portrayal of Gen's no-nonsense, practical demeanour is perfectly done, especially with Alison adding a sophisticated level of vulnerability as she shows Gen worrying about her husband's health, and a future without him. The script is fantastic, but it is in the nuances and facial expressions that Alison gives the needed depth to Gen for this play to truly hit home with the audience.
Likewise Mark's talent isn't just in delivering the consistently funny lines his character has, but also his amazing and committed physicality as he falls, trips and struggles with his health that really gives his character depth and grabs the audience's sympathy fully.
Under Colin's direction that physicality, well matched by Alison's, makes for a brilliantly-choreographed and acted pensioner sex-scene involving a smartwatch that had the audience in hysterics as it played out on stage.
The action and emotion on stage is given an added level of sophistication with Sean Lynch's sound design that has the audience ambling down memory lane as they are treated to well-chosen snippets of easily recognisable pop classics, while Roger's script also has plenty of nods of recognition and the trials and tribulations of ageing are discussed.
The topics can be tough at times, cancer, estranged children, friends dying, but there is plenty of humour as well. Roger cleverly reminds us that big challenges are one thing, but often the smaller, everyday challenges can be just as tough in life. From throwing out old clothes in an attempt at downsizing, to discovering no one wants to inherit your book collection when you die, the script has the audience laughing at not just the characters on stage, but at themselves as well.
In an audience Q&A after the show, Mark said the play is about many things, but at it's heart is one thing.
"It's all about love. Despite their niggles and their arguing, they love each other, and that is what it is all about."
Live theatre, said Alison, was all about community and love, and the play reflected that.
"When we put on a play like this, we show the audience they are not alone. Theatre helps up build a community."
Alison and Mark are undoubtedly right, this play will have you laughing, maybe even crying at times, as it navigates through tricky topics, but it will leave you with an absolute sense of love. Love for live theatre, love for the talent we have in New Zealand, and maybe even a little bit of love for those old, favourite T-shirts you can't bear to part with and the books you can't give away.