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Saturday 08 April 2017

Review: Auckland Pride Festival 2017 Gala

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 11th February 2017

Last night's sampler Gala show opening the Auckland Pride Festival 2017 was, as might be expected, a mixed bag.

Broadly intended to shine a spotlight on some of the festival events of the next two weeks it was instead, perhaps unintentionally, a showcase for a luminous talent from years gone by. But more of that later.


After a spirited powhiri by Ahakoa Te Aha and rousing introductions by Mika, MC Georgina Beyer and Pride co-Chair Kirsten Sibbett the mood of the Q Theatre space changed in an instant to one of soulful reflection as Cole Meyer presented an at times agonising but always defiant piece of prose voicing the hurdles, physical and psychological, that need to be cleared as a person transitions.

While some observations were specific to trans people, many, such as “I hate that it took me so long to find myself” reflected the coming out paths of many glbti people. As a vocalised climb towards self-acceptance this was powerful, personal and deeply emotional. It augurs well for the Same Same but Different LGBTIQ Writers Festival which is one of Pride's omnibus events.

Callum in the Aftermath was less powerful and somehow unfocused, hindered by lack of vocal projection which wasn't helped by the stage being placed between two stands of face-to-face audience. Like most of the bijou original pieces which make up the Legacy Project each year this was a small but compelling aspect of glbti life brought to the stage. A young man articulates to a woman, perhaps his mother, his frustrations with being a non-stereotypical hot gay young man. For instance, reminded by her that lots of people love him, he responds “I know people love me, but I want them to want to have sex with me too.” Last night it felt a little under-rehearsed and it is, of course, only one of several pieces presented for Legacy Project 4.

From the Aroha Festival of Ideas, another Pride omnibus mini-festival within a festival, Eddie Elliott and Kosta Bogoievski danced Intuition with energy, precision and passion. Two young men, seemingly alone and isolated find another and become one, in tempos and rhythms ranging from the frenetic to the languorous. This was spellbinding stuff and perhaps signals the talent coming through in a new generation of glbti dancers.

Billed as “a solo genderqueer, kinky, femmesexual, polyminded, gay divorcee on a comedic odyssey” Michelle/Ryan's excerpt from ZE: Queer as Fuck explored the meaning and, more importantly, the feeling of Pride. This was an intense and personal exploration of coming out, of finding identity and realising you can be part of something greater than yourself. A celebration of aggressive glbti pride, and of the rule-breakers past and present who always come to define and redefine the concept of pride, this was a compelling and wonderfully satisfying performance.

Eli Matthewson, as seen on TV and appearing during Pride at the Bear New Zealand Week (yes, another omnibus mini-festival within etc...) Comedy Night and at the Great Auckland Pride Debate, was a hoot as he rattled through subversive takes on dating, gay babies, and the likelihood and dangers of lesbian sex in the Frozen movie sequel. Mathewson was, as always, professional, light, bright and unpredictable, just the attributes a good comedian needs.

Sometimes it's hard to know what to make of Sir Dame Judy Ginger, an over-the-top, genderfuck-ish, cheesy, lounge act kind of persona which grabs your eyeballs and ears and won't let go. This time he/she/they/it paid brutal and self-absorbed homage to a classic Barbra Streisand movie song, Don't Rain On My Parade. In the end I wasn't sure exactly what was going on but it was heaps of razzle-dazzle fun.

The first part of the Gala ended on a manicly sassy note with a full-on showstopper from the all-woman Hot Brown Honey team. This was a hip-hop mashup of urban beats and raps, pulling in moments of heavy metal and acid rock. Sharp, slickly choreographed and outrageously talented, the Honeys powered their way through a sample performance that left everyone wanting more.

In fact more was to come as the audience reassembled after interval. From up in the gods Honeys performer Mateharere 'Hope One' Haami stunned and awed the almost capacity audience with a beat box performance that was pure power and virtuosity. Summed up best in the repeated line “We all need to stand the fuck up” this was jaw-droppingly good and if it's truly representative of the talent, creativity and energy of the Hot Brown Honeys show this could be one of the best things of the whole Auckland Pride Festival.

Sweet Dreams, an excerpt from Coco for Rococo, danced by Chris Olwage and Cameron Mason was perhaps more baroque than rococo, a blend of the physical and the sultry. In essence a series of athletic and acrobatic set pieces linked by balletic moves, this was sweetly homoerotic and hot, hot, hot.

The next two performances seemed a little under-cooked but the team from Camping, a lightly sex-diverse romp loosely in the style of the of the classicly crass old Carry On movies, seemed a little forced and, in the admittedly tricky Gala staging where the two halves of the audience sit either side of the 'stage', lacking cohesion. But it's an excerpt and we'll be reviewing Camping as a whole so let's hold serious judgement until then. Likewise uber-dykes Cissy Rock and Anne Speir's vignette of two out-there Ponsonby gay boys of a certain age had some delicious insights and captured the self-centredly pompous mindset of the sort of couple who would sign up for a TV cooking contest show. Rock, in particular, was a revelation but overall it was a little patchy in writing and performance.

Patrick Graham is one of our community's 'auteur' directors who can work wonders with difficult and often contentious material that other writers and directors rate as 'too hard to pull off'. But last night's excerpt from Pardon Me Alan Turing left me wondering what was going on. There was some excellent talent amongst the three men and a woman of the cast but somehow it didn't gel into a stand-alone moment. Perhaps as a sample it was not well chosen, or maybe the show as a whole doesn't lend itself to excerpting but we'll reserve judgment on this one too.


Then, out of the blue, it was Georgina's moment. A little pale and gaunt from what now seems to have been years of horrible kidney treatments, Beyer had from the Gala's start been an MC par excellence. From the comfort and security of a big queenly leather armchair she quickly established a sincere and self-deprecating relationship with the audience. As she settled in and let fly with some of those sly, slightly waspish asides she excels at, she was the audience's darling.

But when she unplugged her microphone, stepped down onto the stage and signaled the sound engineer we realised something special was about to happen.

And wow, how once-in-a-lifetime special it was.

Lip-syncing The Greatest Love of All, in a throwback to “the way we used to do drag shows at Alfies back in the '70s and '80s when singing in our own voices was considered undignified!”, Beyer became once again the captivating showgirl she was when in her youthful prime as a performer. This was an object lesson in how to perfectly judge a piece, to 'sell' it to an audience, to eschew lazy, cheap, stock moves and grimaces and instead give a vocal track life, heart, soul, pathos and courage.

No wonder the cellphone lights spontaneously flashed on and waved back and forth at arms-length above the audience, arena-style, embracing her from both sides as she strode, and completely owned, the stage. This was a bravura performance and the standing, cheering, teary ovation she received, and so deserved, from everyone in the theatre went on and on and on.

Sadly for the next performers Georgina's moment was not the ultimate scheduled performance. She was an impossible act to follow. GALS performed Pompei with class but a little loose to begin with, and Jason Chasland's channeling of various divas was an impressive solo – with GALS in support – displaying a remarkable vocal range and considerable talent.

And then it was over. There were some excellent performances and some helpful indications of the goodies strewn through the Auckland Pride Festival 2017.

But the overriding memory, nearly eclipsing all else at every level, was the phenomenal talent that was Georgina Beyer in full flight.

- Jay Bennie

Jay Bennie - 11th February 2017

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