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HIGH STANDARDS FEATURE IN COMIC ROMP

Print Version

LITTLE TOWN LIARS
written and directed by Joshua Hopton Stewart
presented by Fresh Dada

at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 7 Feb 2013 to 15 Feb 2013

Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist, 8 Feb 2013


Little Town Liars is the second musical created in the last two years by young composer Joshua Hopton-Stuart, a recent graduate of the New Zealand Music School. His first, Society Slump Superstars, had a depression era ‘they only shoot horses' theme of young people struggling to survive in a ruthless talent quest. This time around he focuses on McCarthy era southern United States, with alien abduction – together with the dreaded probe – providing a convenient cover for the antics of a group of little town liars. 

These are both strictly light, comic pieces. The first had some satirical bite in the context of the ‘recession' in New Zealand and elsewhere, and shows like NZ Idol. Little Town Liars takes place in a context far removed from our own and the nearest frame of reference we have is through other shows – most notably the Little Shop of Horrors, to which this work is partly an homage.

It is a more coherent piece than his first, however, and the production and performances are more polished. There are also more moments that provide evidence of the potential of this composer, whose competence in all respects is now established. Those factors combined suggest to me that while it is obviously a great thing to develop one's skills and confidence on lighter work, this composer is now ready, in his next musical, to try something more ambitious in terms of subject matter and treatment.

Fresh Dada, the team of performers and production crew are ready for it, that is certain. Working with a lyricist could be a way of advancing. Josh Hopton-Stuart is quite capable of doing both music and lyrics but like Sondheim, whose echoes we hear often in this work, maybe it would help to do one at a time for a little while. In any case, the ground is laid for him to step deeper into musical theatre and I hope he gains the support he deserves for such a venture.

There are moments in this romp where spoken dialogue moves effortlessly into strong, colloquial song – and there is lots of fun with rhymes and rhythm, together with deftness in the dialogue, economy in the exposition and rousing choruses. The large cast bring plenty of brio and energy to the opening number and never flag thereafter – and there is a commendable tightness in the overall story.

Performances are consistently good, with Angela Fitzharris, Rebecca Parker and Janelle Pollock bringing something extra to their respective roles as a “sexually active” (“and that's so attractive”) teenager, a vengeful spouse and a small town siren. Great ensemble work by Annabel Harris, Jared Pallesen and Ellie Neal as three wayward teenage children is also a feature.  

This high standard of performance is reflected in every aspect of the production, including the set, lighting and costume design. These are seamless – with the costumes bringing a pleasing, larger-than-life feel to the piece.

BATS new and apparently temporary premises are splendid, providing more room to mingle and move without losing the nocturnal, imaginative, surreal atmosphere that BATS has made so much its own. Indeed the shift seems to have been an occasion for the theatre to reaffirm its identity, which feels stronger than ever.

While I would like to see Fresh Dada get both their composing and performing teeth into something a little more substantial, anyone venturing up the stairs to the former Big Kumara to this show can be sure of an enjoyable night out.
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 Ewen Coleman (The Dominion Post);