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Thursday 10 November 2016


Review: People Like Us

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 17th February 2016


People Like Us

Produced by Fabulosity Productions for the Auckland Pride Festival.

Starring Cindy of Samoa, Ramon Te Wake, Luke Bird and Zakk D'Larte.

Written by Joanna Jayne St John, additional lyrics and music by Jed Town, Ezra Williams, Jack Barnard and Lavina Williams. Director: Borni Te Rongopai Tukiwhaho. Musical Director: Lavina Williams. Choreographer Taiaroa Royal.

Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna, Auckland, February 16 - 21.


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Set in a stage representation of the once-iconic and now fondly-remembered Dot's Bar, People Like Us brings together a group of disparate people for whom the venue is one of the few places they can be themselves, or their emerging selves.

Trans woman Sheena, a street-wise ex-working girl, and Bianca, who's caught somewhere between male cross-dresser and and trans woman, meet up on a night when each of their lives is getting a whole lot harder to deal with. Sheena's pimp is out of prison and wants her back on the game. Bianca's daughter has discovered her father's secret female alter-ego. They fall in love.

It takes a little while to swallow that improbability but it is to the credit of the cast of People Like Us that we eventually do and instead embrace these vulnerable people and their complicated lives.

As Dot's owner and presiding mama, Cindy of Samoa in her first theatrical outing, channels Mae West, Eartha Kitt and the real Dot's owner, the late Peter Taylor. She's brassy, queen of her domain and fiercely protective of her 'family.' Her best moments are when she hectors and cajoles the audience, breaking the fourth wall and drawing us into the improbabilities on stage.

Her off-sider is an uber-androgynous barperson, lightly and flippantly played by Zakk D'Larte, who fearlessly and tactlessly meddles in the lives of Dot's habituees and who also draws us in, taking us into his confidence. It's a good trick which perhaps could have been used more. These two are excellently cast and do justice to their roles.

Luke Bird as the conflicted Bianca is a big bloke with a wonderful singing voice and, though perhaps not so well cast and with a part that seems less-well written, is credible and a suitable foil for the more complex and nuanced Sheena.

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Ramon Te Wake
It's in the performance of Sheena by Ramon Te Wake that the magic of this production primarily takes flight. Te Wake is a revelation. Given her long and proven song-writing and singing history her ability to carry a song was a given. But, denied her usual stool and guitar format and let loose on a full theatrical stage with a good part and some exceptional original songs, she is riveting and stunning.

Not for a moment missing a beat or dropping her focus, totally and convincingly inhabiting the wounded yet determined Sheena, Te Wake is the heart and soul of People Like Us. Her fears, passions, conflicts and joys are delicately but effectively portrayed, she's so real you want to reach out and hug her, to cry with her when things get bad and when others come to her rescue you'll cheer them on. Ramon Te Wake, actress of star quality, may well be the unexpected discovery of the 2016 Auckland Pride Festival.

The rest of the supporting cast performed well last night, though Johnny Aukusitino as the pimp waited far too long (nearly the end of the show) to hint at the violent menace lurking behind his character's seductive bad-boy charm. Maryanne Rushton, saddled with an awkward drag-queen helmet hairdo, is rather funny as Bianca's bitchy, wine-swigging wife.

The songs, all original by the show's writer Joanna Jayne St John, Jed Town, Jack Barnard and Lavinia Williams are never less than good and in some cases magnificent. Black Lace Prison, Darlin Lady and the wonderfully anthemic People Like Us are just a few of the numbers that had last night's guest audience singing and clapping along. Each and every song was a gift to the performers who were all up to the task of doing them justice. The well-judged choreography of the musical numbers is carefully kept within the capabilities of the cast and therefore extremely effective.

The costuming is excellent and the staging just fine. The music track occasionally and momentarily overpowered the singers last night but the musical arrangements and performances are very well executed.

Last night was the first public outing of this new trans-musical, in fact it was the final run-through before tonight's formal opening night. There are a few plot oddities, overly-polemic moments and the occasional cheesy script and lyric moments. Andt there were some slow cues and the energy was a little low – which might be expected of a cast exhausted by weeks of intensive rehearsals.

But with a chance to rest today, a pre-show pep talk about tightening things up from the director and a couple of short blacks all round everything we experienced last night augurs well for a good opening tonight and a successful run.

- Jay Bennie


Jay Bennie - 17th February 2016

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