INKY PINKY PONKY uses worn out cliches of the high school comedy genre to grapple with the complex realities faced by many young people throughout Auckland today.
INKY PINKY PONKY is broadly about being young and transgender in the pacific island community. That in itself is thrilling – the play is part of a vanishingly thin canon of work on that particular subject, and deserves support on those grounds alone. But the show also succeeds on its own grounds, as entertainment and as performance, more than earning the price of a ticket.
In structure, the play is broadly a love story – the most conventional narrative of the three plays on display during the festival. Moses (Hannz Jackson), Head lothario of Saint Valentine’s School and Captain of their championship winning First XV, is dared by his mates to romance new girl, Lisa (Khloe Lam Kam). Lisa is a fakaleiti – that is, she is a male to female transgender student – and none of Moses’ friends think he’ll go through with it.
What follows isn’t just a “Ten Things I Hate About You” style romance, but also an exploration of a wider community as it undergoes the first steps from bigotry towards acceptance. Lisa’s parents, teachers and classmates are all unsure with how to tactfully deal with her gender identity, and over the course of the play, a number of their questions and concerns get resolved.
Sometimes these character arcs get short changed due to the brisk running time – expect a couple of minor characters to reform themselves suddenly offstage with little explanation – but in general, the play tries as hard as it can to deal with as many issues facing the transgender community as possible. The play both deals with practical concerns – pronouns and school uniforms – and emotional ones – the conflict between a mother’s desire to protect her child and to let her develop freely as an individual, or Moses’ twin crises of sexual and personal identity.
There’s only a thirty minute turnaround between BED and INKY PINKY PONKY, meaning that he’s forced to work with a very similar, barebones set. As a result, lighting, props, and performances are used to sell transitions from location to location, and they do so effectively. Another highlight is the way that music and choreographed movement – not quite dance – are used throughout the production. The First XV’s championship final in particular is rendered in an entertaining and kinetic way on stage, despite the limitations put on the performers by the format.
The NEXT BIG THING festival, more than anything else, is an opportunity for young people to tell bracingly honest stories about themselves and their communities. INKY PINKY PONKY offers a very specific and nuanced exploration of too little heard a part of New Zealand life – and it’s that specificity and nuance that makes it valuable as a cultural work. But the charm and the flexibility of its performers, and their ability to create moments that are valuable and funny for their own sake, mean that it really is something special.