The wheels of fortune are constantly turning, and whether or not we are on the up is unbeknown to most; at least that’s what Christchurch-born comedian Joseph Harper will tell you through his 55 minute comedy exploration ‘I Am a Cat’. Taking place in the Basement Theatre as part of the NZICF, Harper has created a dense, anxiety-ridden satire that varies from okay to truly outstanding.
For a large group of young people in New Zealand, the 2014 general elections created a sense of disillusion within the nation. Seven months on and for many the election still feels like a bitter loss. ‘I Am a Cat’ taps into this feeling, working as both a politically charged satire and as a cleansing experience for anyone still reeling from the defeat. Harper aims to contextualise these events into a larger picture, by introducing the audience to the theme of rota fortune early on, a sense of optimism is brought into the show which might otherwise be lost.
‘I Am a Cat’ is broken up into two major areas, one being the monologues Harper delivers out of character; the other a swan song from a down-on-her-luck alley cat. The two sections aim to work in harmony, with Harper’s monologues adding definition to the satire delivered from the cat’s perspective. The character change also marks a major shift in comedic style - from anti-humor to caricature - the differing styles of comedy work well separately but don’t transition into one another as well as one might hope. This shake-up of comedy stylings stalls the performance, and I feel Harper never really manages to regain the momentum felt in the opening minutes.
The monologues themselves are delivered with a mixture of self-deprecation and anti-humor that manage to retain a sweet-hearted warmth. Causing some discomfort in the more feeble audience members, Harper is able to find his stride in his self-aware stories of youth, working as parables for the caricatures to come. Once in character, Harper quickly switches over to a more hard-hitting satirical styling. Harper’s Cat spends the majority of the show reminiscing about time spent living with Bill English. Themes of social and financial inequality bubble below, but fail to make enough of a statement to really demand outrage.
‘I Am a Cat’ finds firm ground when Harper successfully mixes his parables of youth with satirical caricatures; unfortunately, these two elements often form a dichotomy dismantling the momentum of the show. But for any shortcomings, true originality can be found in the peak of Joseph Harper’s voice, living somewhere between Samuel Becket and Louis CK. Although not always on-point, glimpses of genius can be found.