Written and directed by: Conor Maxwell
Brought to you by: Boil Up.
At The Meteor www.themeteor.co.nz, September 22 to 25.
Reviewed by Cate Prestidge, September 22.
It's a good feeling to be heading out again and into the familiarity of The Meteor theatre where we grab a drink and say hi to some familiar faces - we've missed you!
I'm here to see Junior, the first in a series of original shows emerging from arts initiative Boil Up which aims to foster new, original performing arts work. http://themeteor.co.nz/event/boil-up/
Written by local playwright and teacher Conor Maxwell, Junior has at its core, a sudden death in the family. A coffin centre stage contains the departed - Jackson Eden Snr, patriarch to five children and husband to Rose (Julia Watkins).
We join his family on the morning of the funeral, meeting them by degrees as the time approaches for the service. It is quickly apparent that Jackson Snr's passing is not lamented by some of his children, especially his namesake, Junior (Antony Aiono), who has been estranged from his father since leaving the police force.
Junior's reluctance is palpable as he questions why he's even there and hints to the difficulties they faced.
When Junior's sister Willow 'Bill' (Stephanie Christian) arrives, he says: "This is the last time we have to pretend to this community that we loved dad. After today, all bets are off." She doesn't disagree.
Maxwell has a flair for dialogue and the script contains a lot of quick-fire banter. This is very successful in the early scenes between Aiono and Watkins as Rose urges him to behave himself and 'put on a good show'.
Their relationship is believable with plenty of humour and I particularly like the way the hugely experienced Watkins embodies the sort of understanding and resignation that only an exasperated, loving mother can muster.
Aiono is a strong performer and is on stage throughout, providing the central point for multiple interactions with his siblings, mother and his brother's ex-wife. He is believable as Junior, somewhat bruised, proud, funny and a little defiant.
As Willow, Stephanie Christian has a natural warmth on stage and brings energy to every scene she's in. The busy script has lots of overlapping dialogue to establish sibling relationships which requires spot on timing and projection. While Christian's skill and style as a performer is undeniable, in places I found her voice a little low and fast to catch all the words.
Late arriving is outgoing younger brother Basil/Patrick (Kauri Tearaura), a comedian. Tearaura brings a light touch to the likeable Basil, who is in full force in his enthusiasm to write a good send off for his father and please his mother. Tearaura is a lively and engaging performer with a good stage presence.
A key role in the plot is Basil airing his suspicions about their father's death to Junior - and herein lies the mystery which builds over the next hour.
This suspicion and hints about the behaviour of their oldest brother Thyme (Benny Marama) contribute to a build-up of tension so by the time the imposing figure of Benny Marama enters, there's an air of expectation and a crackle of aggression which Marama fully embodies. He and Aiono are exceptional in their scenes together.
Joining the family is Basil's ex-wife Divina (Chanelle Harrison) played as spiky, lascivious and slightly brittle. Divina progresses a sub-plot alongside the central family relationship and the mystery of Jackson Snr's death.
There's tonnes of humour in this black comedy, which considers relationships, forgiveness, redemption, and the permanent bond of family alongside the mystery of the sudden death.
The simple set and lighting provide a backdrop for the relationships while the small photo on the coffin gives added symbolism as it is picked up, turned over, placed face down and propped up multiple times.
This is a new work and it's wonderful to see such talent emerging. For me, there was enough rich material with old sibling rivalries, past harms and the 'whodunnit' in the main plot to drive this story without the sub-plot relationships, which felt less resolved. I feel this could be edited out with no loss to the overall theme and drama, or perhaps for the play to be expanded to show it more fully?
It's a good play, with an excellent cast who deserve your attention. The long applause from the opening night audience clearly showed appreciation for this first outing.
There's some mature themes and language so its R16 and level 2 protocols are in place for the audience. Check the website for details.