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Sunday 12 April 2015


Review: Room 1334

Posted in: Events
By Lexie Matheson - 16th February 2015

Produced by Mika Haka Foundation
Text and original music by Mika

Musical director: Siche Zhang
Choreographer: Eddie Elliot

Sound and light design: Jay Tewake
Sound mastering: Alan Jansson

Costume and set: Cherry Cherrington and Amelia Unufe
Basement Theatre, Greys Avenue, Auckland


Room_1334_1.jpg
It’s difficult to put a tag on Mika and, really, why would you try?

Even finding words to describe what he is – and does – is difficult. He’s mercurial, unpredictable, impulsive, intuitive, capricious, eccentric – and all in a good way. He’s the consummate professional but try to praise him to his face for his artistry, his tireless work with young people and his development of emerging (primarily) Maori and Polynesian artists and he’ll wave you away with a flick of his hand and talk about the work. The work, it’s always the work. He’s exhaustingly tireless, his output prodigious, but never, like some, at the expense of his unique artistry. Most of all, he’s queer, and he has developed a performance vocabulary that reflects his queerness and many have unknowingly attached themselves to his flowing robes and evolved the style even further.

‘Room 1334’ is no different to everything I’ve seen him do before in that, what I’d imagined I’d see, was wildly dissimilar from what I actually experienced. It’s a stage show, for sure, but it’s filmic too, a new direction, and one – I know I’ll regret saying this - of the few ways left to be charted. As always it’s collaborative – Chairman Siche, Megan Alatini, Red West, the Sandhu Brothers and Rosanna Raymond are all named as co-conspirators and the brilliant Jay Tewake is never far from the source – but it’s Mika who is the driving force and, in this case, it’s principal performer. He dances (a bit), the sings (a lot), he wears costumes (glam plus) but most of all he delivers some of the best, and most raw, poetry I’ve heard for many a moon. It’s fabulous stuff and justifies the claim, published elsewhere, that it’s ‘spoken word, art-pop, a musical marriage lost in the hallway of your mind’. It’s all of those things, and it’s as disturbing as all get out! Asked why he’s so forthright, Mika responds ‘the answer is simple; the truth is more dangerous than anything I could ever make up’ and so it proves to be.

The Basement is at floor level, the audience gently raked, and the only disruption to the wall-to-wall bare stage comes in the form of a number of tapa covered boxes, large, rectangular and easy to move pieces of some psychic jigsaw that gets constructed, collapsed and rebuilt many times over the ensuing 60 minutes.

Tewake, as is so often the case, is driving the light and sound and, at floor lever there’s keyboards (Chairman Siche) with which Mika interacts throughout, and from which emanate the most exotic of sounds.

The lights come up and Mika is seated on top of the structure, a king on his throne. No-one takes the mickey out of himself better than Mika and the message is not lost on the full house. What follows is risqué, of course, rude at times, and always, always the truth in action.

‘Room 1334’ is established early as a compilation of all those evocative places that we try not to remember – the sleazy drive-in, the love hotel that books by the hour, the room where you contemplate – and often achieve – the unmentionable. The visuals have all the style of a Roxy Music (circa 1972) album cover – sleek, snake-like, erotic and sensuous – and they go straight for the heart.

The text is free-form poetry – blunt, beautiful, evocative of lost love, missed opportunity – and most of it is performed by Mika but with excellent help from his performer friends, some of whom seem very new to this strange thing called ‘the theatre’. I’m reminded – as I struggle to get a handle on what it is I’m experiencing – of JP Donleavy, ‘Fairy Tales of New York’, the 40’s and ‘50’s in the Big Apple and the advent of the great beat poets Gregory Corso, Ferlingetti, Alan Ginsberg, and the literary giantsKerouac, Burroughs and Neal Cassady who forged the consciousness of an age and laid the foundations for what came next. The music is jazz-influenced, a ‘spontaneous, jazz-inspired rapping’ as Cassady would have called it, and Mika reinvents it and makes it his own. It’s redolent of the subterranean and as natural as jam on bread. The beat poets blurred ‘the distinction between life and literature’ and shattered the 19th century academic mindset of the time, and Mika – alongside better known contemporaries like Tom Waits and Patti Smith – are hell-bent on doing the same. They’re not anti-intellectual but they unashamedly pick the scabs of life just to see them bleed.

Words make up the fundamental essence of ‘Room 1334’ to the degree that Mika’s elegant smock in the opening is covered in them, evocative words like ‘schizophrenia’ ‘normalite’, ‘difference’ and the fascinatingly obscure ‘made in Belgium’. Flamboyant costumes are a feature of the Mika repertoire and there are some wee beauties in this show. There’s also a bit of semi-nudity – Mika appears bare-chested and so does Rosanna Raymond – which evokes foyer debate about it being OK for a guy to flash his boobs but somehow questionable for a woman to do the same. Clearly there’s still work to do in some quarters when it comes to gender equality.

‘Room 1334’ has great production values and excellent performances. Set objects are manipulated to great effect and hearts – the actors and ours - are both hung out and wrung out. Suicide is a constant theme and I especially liked the narrative piece which ends with the Rasta-boy saving the rich businessman’s life. ‘Who’s the richer’ we are asked to ponder, though for me the answer is, and will always be, as clear as crystal.

There’s socio-political reflection that dreams of a day when ‘the suits’ no longer rule, when ‘we’ are no longer underneath. There’s more than a ripple of understanding in the audience. It’s powerful stuff, that’s for sure, and liberally laced with anger, but the truly memorable material dissects relationships – the couple who hate each other but who reconnect in a low-rent hotel room – and illustrates them with sung lines like ‘’we he call, will he remember me at all’ and it’s almost inevitable coda ‘will he even remember my fucking name’. It’s bitter sweet – ‘so many men, so many one night stands’ – but, as so often happens with queer theatre, just when it borders on the maudlin and there’s a risk of self-pity, Mika breaks the spell with a new costume, a new wig, and the tart observation that ‘I look like fucking Beyonce’.

It’s worth remembering that Mika has, for years, been at the forefront of developing a powerful and unique queer voice. It has its own comic style, its own delivery mechanics, its own tools for facing the world when you’re a minority within a minority and you can’t walk away from it, and it has its very own, inimitable anger. Victor Rodger has it, Chris Malloy too, as do all the fine young artists pouring out of the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts. It’s no longer enough to mimic 19th century Eurocentric style and form and this relatively new voice is exciting, funny, authentic and very, very queer. That’s not to say this has happened overnight, it hasn’t, it’s been in the melting pot for decades and Mika has been in and around this evolution from day one, stirring it up, adding ingredients, commenting, leading, observing.

As has become customary, Mika leads the way in this work and, while the reference points I’ve connected with earlier are all from New York in the 1940’s and 50’s, the comparison lies in the contemporaneous nature of the change, not in its ethnicity.

To sum up: Mika was great, the show was great – funny and gut-wrenching – the supporting cast were excellent with Megan Alatini and Rosanna Raymond absolute stand-outs. The boys were fine too, with big ups to the divine Jay Tewake for the technicals and Siche Zhang for the music, both of which were outstanding.

Mika had his own ‘thank yous’ at the end of the performance, acknowledging the support of the Auckland Fringe Festival.

This performance of ‘Room 1334’ was a one-off and an opening night so, in true Mika fashion, the entire audience was invited to the after party at 286 K Road. If it was half as good as the show, it would have been a beauty!


Lexie Matheson - 16th February 2015

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