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Auckland Fringe 2013
THE ENIGMA BOX
Producer: James Wenley
presented by Theatre of Love

at THE EDGE Box Café, Auckland
From 20 Feb 2013 to 3 Mar 2013
[20 mins]

Reviewed by Reynald Castaneda, 21 Feb 2013


The Enigma Box is a fun house curiosity, a time machine and a confessional, all conveniently condensed in a tiny box that can only fit two audience members and an actor in the middle Aotea Square.  Talk about unusual.

Directed and produced by James Wenley for the Theatre of Love, it's a collection of five short skits delivered as if you were in a degustation restaurant. A maître d' welcomes you into the box, gives you the Enigma Menu and lets you choose which course you want to consume first. Or consume again.

Because life is short, I'd recommend you start with dessert. Fortune Telling by James Wenley, the last skit on the list, is an amusing little number. An audience member's palm, and other body parts, is read by a mystic. The script is cleverly written, featuring platitudes broad enough to make it feel personal – from wonderful things you want to hear to implied cringe-inducing revelations about your personality.

Of course, the experience is different between the audience participant and the audience observer, creating comedy from the uncanny. This is a parody of the cosmic and it works.

Participants Wanted by Haemia Foote brilliantly milks awkwardness between strangers trapped within a confined space. How? By proposing a threesome. Angela claims to be an insomniac and sex with strangers is next on her list of possible remedies (naturally).

Insomnia is clearly a McGuffin here as comedy transpires from Angela's neurosis about how the threesome will happen between herself and her two audience members.

Schrödinger's Curse by Andrew Parker is a metaphysical and existential look at being inside a box. Using Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger's thought experiment involving a cat, a box, a flask of poison and a radioactive source, the skit draws attention to its setting – being in a small wooden box isolated from the busy foot traffic outside.

Reminiscent of monologues from philosophical shows like Lost, who constantly bombard audience members with philosophical ideas and questions that don't necessarily have answers, Schrödinger's Curse brims with this kind of talk, which might require a huge amount of suspension of disbelief.

Renee Liang's Late-Night Confessions of a Paediatrician is undoubtedly the most personal offering of The Enigma Box. Audience members become willing participants to an on-going caesarean delivery and while waiting, the doctor tries to break the tension through small talk – from the banal to the personal. Although I appreciate how audience members also become actors in this piece, pathos here feels forced, with limitation of time solely to blame.

The last skit we opted for was Dear Santa by Ben Moore. Before it began, our 20 minutes inside the box was up. Just as well. Being with “a demon (that) begins an inappropriate relationship” is the last thing I want to experience in a confined space.

On The Enigma Box's opening night, Emmanuelle Bains, the actress, manages to carefully balance performance and reacting to her audience without totally invading their personal space. It's the perfect thing to do before dinner, before a movie, or before catching one of the other fabulous plays featured at the Auckland Fringe.

There's a new actor each night with a whole new menu on offer, successfully seducing repeated visits. 
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