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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Review: Downstage's Pick of the Fringe

Posted in: Performance
By Steve Attwood - 19th March 2010

Pick of the Fringe at Downstage, Wellington. 18-27 March

Reviewed by Steve Attwood

Comprising: back/words

Performed by: Jackie Shaw, Catherine Wright, Victoria Abbott, Chris Dawson and Scott Ransom. Produced by Victoria Abbott, Jackie Shaw and Catherine Wright

And Wannabe

Performed by: Guy Langford. Directed by Erina Daniels and Jo Randerson


Two popular and very different productions to come out of the recent Wellington fringe festival are now together at Downstage.

One is a stunning piece of theatrical documentary: Poignant, full of pathos and humour; whimsical, hard edged… real.

The other is a piece of high camp Onanistic fluffery that had all the ingredients for great theatre - sharp, slick, clever - but, somehow, falling short; coming across as shallow, indulgent and as quickly forgettable as most of the boy bands that the play parodies.

Let's deal with back/words first. This was truly a masterful piece of theatre of the real. Capture 16 documentary interviews with real, everyday, common as muck, people. Then have five actors re-tell these stories, word for word, tone for tone, gesture for gesture. Guys playing guys, playing girls; girls playing girls, playing themselves, playing guys. That's back/words.

No room for improvisation here, no theatrical interpretation. The challenge, so ably met by this troupe of young actors, was to give voice to the stories exactly as they were told… same emotions, same gestures, same awkward pauses, same ums and ahs and unfinished, disjointed sentences.

Sounds like chaos, but it works – brilliantly!

Perhaps the best bit of this funny, happy, sad, emotional production is that these are stories of people who would not have made the headlines, not been hounded by autograph hunters or the paparazzi or paid thousands for a woman's magazine exclusive. And yet what spectacularly, bloody beautiful stories they are. Stories of childhood, first love, first kisses, coming out, family violence, deaths and sex, school yard scraps and being old.

Go see it, you'll find yourself in it, or your mates, or your family – or, most likely, all of them.

Love boy bands but hate to admit it? Still got Westlife, Backstreet Boys et el and ad nauseum secreted away in your music collection? Understand that it was often all terribly shallow and manufactured and choreographed to the enth degree, but still like it anyway?

Then go see Wannabe. But, just like the boy bands themselves, don't expect too much.

Guy Langford delivers a polished performance as all four surviving members of boyband Brotastik... that's Bro (fan)tastik.

There's Randy – the sex god (or thinks he is); Bradley the born again Christian who loves the Lord and everyone else (or tries to); TJ the boy from the Bronx/James Dean/West Side Story character who's not quite so tough as he makes out; and Alex, camper than the proverbial row of tents.

They're all on their third, or was that fourth? final comeback, absolutely final final reunion tour… you get the picture. But there's one missing. The ubiquitous Jason, never seen (though heard) who has left for a successful solo career and is in everyone's thoughts, all the time! Jealousy, scandal, and lust galore!

Potentially a great story and very clever parody yet, somehow it slips past the audience without really sticking around long enough to engage, let alone impinge on the memory.

The on-stage equivalent of an airport novel. Fun while it lasts, useful to pass the time and to mildly amuse, but you won't take it with you when you leave.

Steve Attwood - 19th March 2010

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