Regulars of Auckland and Wellington’s theatre scene will be well versed with the annual efforts of Young and Hungry. Created for New Zealand’s fresher actors, the 2015 Auckland Festival of New Theatre offers up some dual talent this October in the form of The 21st Narcissus and The Presentation of Findings from My Scientific Survey of the First 7500 Days of My Life, Done in the Interest of Showing You How to Live Better Lives.
A newbie to this festival, I attended Saturday night’s opening with a lack of knowledge but sizable expectations. Comprising the first half of the night was The 21st Narcissus. Written by Sam Brooks and directed by Anapela Polataivao, the social media commentary features an exploration of modern online personas. Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter interactions are broadcasted through clever but clunky wall projections. At the heart of this web-based world is Kyle (Geordie Holibar), a Greek myth and Cheryl Cole loving introvert, who starts a blog and slowly learns to “#loveyourself”. Kyle’s story appears to be the attempted main focus of the show, but it is the budding romance between Julia (Kelly Taylor) and Jordan (Jacob Pitcher) that steals the spotlight. Consisting of squarely a verbal Facebook chat between the two college teens, Julia and Jordan periodically share banter and flirtation across the stage. Comedic through their honesty, the characters talk in outdated text speak and open-ended questions. Leaving me both uncomfortable and in stitches, they serve as a humorous reminder of past online crush interactions. Other notable performances come from the three twitter users, Harriet (Abigail Laurent), Jean (Faith Tapsell), and Freya (Chika Adeosun). Seated on fixed neon swings, the sassy bunch are immobile throughout the show. Despite this limitation, they provide comedic one-liners, that while at times are indecipherable, generally gain generous laughter.
The swing seats that these three are restricted to, are part of the aesthetically pleasing set design of the show, created by Christine Urquhart with Sarah Kirk, Shiloh Dobie and Lizzie Morris. They hang in front of a white backdrop, and below are three white panels, shadowing various cords and coils. These features look amazing upon arrival, but possibly negatively affect the viewing of The 21st Narcissus, as the shallow stage leaves me craning my neck despite our front row spot.
The 21st Narcissus functions as a relatable and hilarious play. At times the action seems awkward, with the plot unclear in a questionably unintentional way, but overall the laughter regularly generating from the audience is hard to deny. When the jokes first started rolling I found myself grinning from ear to ear, however those surrounding me seemed of a largely older age bracket, and I wondered about the resulting receptiveness. This proved not to be a problem, and debatably serves as a true evaluation of the show.
A quick half-hour after The 21st Narcissus comes The Presentation of Findings from My Scientific Survey of the First 7500 Days of My Life, Done in the Interest of Showing You How to Live Better Lives. Written by Uther Dean, this comedy is brought to life by a stellar cast and director Nisha Madhan.
The First 7500 Days of My Life features curious Max Addison (Saraid Cameron) presenting an in-depth study of her last 21 years. Helping her is shy younger brother, Ash Hilary Addison (Ravi Gurunathan), and friends, Rory Robin Rankin (Anthony Crum) and Elliot Hempel (Arlo Gibson). Upon entry, audience members are also met with the enthusiastic and musically-talented Jay Thornby (Doug Grant), assisted by stressing tech-guy Bill Hyde (Andrew Gunn). The First 7500 Days of My Life is more of an experience than a performance. An experiment in the boundaries of theatre, it’s hard to gauge what’s acting and what’s reality. Max acts as a humorous but honest host for the evening, stating facts and asking questions that advance both laughter and thought. As the chaos of the show intensifies, Max and her friends reveal more and more layers. What starts as a seemingly whacky comedy, shifts into a still hilarious but also heartfelt drama.
The performer’s efforts are once again aided by set design. Utilising the previous set sans swings, The First 7500 Days of My Life also features a raised wooden stage with numerous trap doors that offer many comedic opportunities.
The First 7500 Days of My Life deals with the clunky nature of the first play, but in a far more skilful sense. The awkwardness becomes part of the story and humour, and in turn creates one of the funniest plays I’ve seen this year. The entire cast is standout, making it hard to highlight just one actor. Gunn deserves special mention, if for nothing else than the brutal beating he takes to his padded knees throughout the continuing amendments to set.
This season’s Young and Hungry offerings are a dual delight. The latter play arguably outshines the first, but by no means deems it redundant. With both shows offered for a combined price of $15, it’s easy to justify a doubled night of entertainment. The 21st Narcissus and The First 7500 Days of My Life run until October 24th, giving you no excuse to miss the madness. Tickets for both productions are available separately or together here.
image source: Alex Plumb