GOOD FOR A LAUGH AND A THINK
Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2013
Smackbang Theatre Company
at Medici Court, Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton
From 25 Feb 2013 to 27 Feb 2013
Reviewed by Julianne Boyle, 27 Feb 2013
Entering the Medici Court, the show may not have technically started but, already, it's pandemonium in the performance space. The year is 1972. This is a big day in small town New Zealand as the fictional Waikato village of Tutairua prepares to welcome home its one and only success story.
With lots of yelling and frantic activity, everyone – including the local police officer (Josh Harriman), school mistress (Jay Saussey), priest (Nick Foo) and store owner (Mark Scott) – is trying to do their bit to create a good impression. Even the audience has its own small part to play in the celebrations. I am handed a pennant, cleverly doubling as a programme, to be deployed upon request.
The Mayor (Ascia Maybury), resplendent in a vivid blue jacket and barking out orders, is clearly the man in charge. Or, maybe not. Wearing an obvious wig and fake moustache, she is fooling no-one at all with her repeated refrain, “I am a man.” As she contemplates crafting a rousing welcoming speech for a woman who, at school, only excelled in Physical Education and Home Economics, this scripted gender confusion provides the first indication that things may not be all they seem in this little town.
Tutairua is about to reveal a much darker underbelly. The town is in desperate need of money because of its serious unemployment problem and the fact that, so far, God has proved reticent when it comes to doling out funds. Sarah Parkinson (Amanda Rees), however, is returning home with her own agenda and a singularly unorthodox proposition. There may, indeed, still be a chance for the community to get their cash injection but at what cost? Events that happened in the past are definitely not going to stay buried and the relationship between Albert, the store owner and Sarah is confounding expectations.
The Million, written and directed by Tainui Tukiwaho, is loosely based on Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Visit. While many of the plot devices remain similar, the source material has been given a Kiwi makeover and the ending has been significantly changed. For me, the trajectory of the original work seems superior. It raises far more interesting questions about the nature of justice and the corrupting influence of wealth, while also getting an audience more actively grappling with the moral conundrum of what they would do in the same situation.
That being said, there is still much that is thought-provoking in this work and the introduction of a lion in a cathedral in New Zealand makes me chuckle.
The cast, as an ensemble, brings pace, energy and enthusiasm to the performance. I especially enjoy Kayleigh Haworth's sensitive and believable portrayal of Briar/Mouse and the scenes between Sarah and Albert. Many of the other parts seem to have been written more as caricature than character and this limits opportunities for real development. It does, however, provide a constant source of humour and it's fun watching different members of the cast running round in their ‘stubbies'.
One final word about the venue. Medici Court is stunningly beautiful on a summer's evening, with green and blue light imbuing the vines with an otherworldly lushness. Not particularly realistic as the backdrop for a town with a name that translates as ‘shithole' but who cares.
Go and see The Million for a lively theatre experience in a wonderful venue. Have a laugh and think about what you might be prepared to do to get the cash.
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