Fringe in the ‘Stings

14 October 2016 /
Common Room, Hastings /
By Bridie Freeman

I spent last night laughing in the Common Room on the first, inaugural evening of the Fringe Festival in Hastings. At the injunction to save the event from being “just a few weirdos dressing up and talking to themselves”, I scootered at breakneck speed across town like a 12-year-old, grazing my knee on the railway crossing and scuffing my glasses, but arriving triumphant and punctual!

The vibe in this much-loved locale and funky, reformed art deco space was warm and easy. The set-up with its retractable stage, rows of old-school wood and plastic chairs, and the velvet curtains that sectioned off the theatre from the bar, created an ingeniously improvised feel that spurred on a buzz of excitement. I cosied up for all three consecutive shows with a glass of plum cider (on tap) and a tasty doorstop cheese and chutney toastie, lounging, in the breaks between, on plush sofas in the communal living room or wandering out to the garden bar which was filled til late with chattering, chilled-out punters.

The Famous Five minus 2 and the case of Aunt Fanny’s missing ginger nuts

A ridiculously silly, but perfectly spot-on, parody of Enid Blyton’s best-loved mystery tales in the form of a ham radio play, written and directed by Andrea Vernik-Taafe.

The four local actors stood at microphones, reading from scripts in immaculate powder-blue, three-piece, tail-coat tuxedos (in authentic “so sweaty” synthetic, with velcro attachments even). Except Aunt Fanny (played by Neil McCorkell) who rocked fishnets and a bosomy blouse underneath the coat, and a hideous, over-massive beehive that concealed a dog, and who knows what else—I’ll make no mention of her back passage…

The narrator (possibly Enid herself?), played with disarming distaste by Kim Wright, together with an alcoholic Aunt Fanny, Lynda Corner’s increasingly incensed, lisping Anne and Clair Rochester’s splendidly awful George, plus Timmy the dog – woof, woof – luridly coloured in the unconscious sexual innuendo and omissions, teasing out closeted subtexts and notching up the overt, outdated (we hope) gender assumptions, while delighting in all the tricks and turns of the Blyton genre.

The audience was suitably impressed: “Very accomplished”, they said, and “Ha ha ha!”

So So Gangsta

Oh my gosh, this was belly-achingly brilliant! James Nokise, back from his acclaimed overseas tour, took us on a hilarious spin through youth gangs, politics and people’s perceptions, playing on his Samoan-Welsh roots and 1980s, 1990s NZ childhood and youth. Dictionary definitions, contemporary observations and illuminations on patches, rituals and gang origins, as well as tips on what to do when confronted with a badass gangsta, were craftily woven in as he moved us through the depths and layers of his journey from tough to wannabe to finally the ‘soso gangsta’ (“the bro who laughs at everything, especially gangstas”). Included in the show, with impromptu dexterity, were a couple of raucous, misbehaving aunties in the front row, who disclosed in, surely, classic Hawke’s Bay form, that they worked for the local council.

You can’t really summarise stand-up comedy, it is a case of you having to have been there. But. I just want to say Nokise was very funny, very clever and very humane – so so good.

Common Cinders

I first watched this homegrown pantomime when it burst magnanimously onto the Hastings scene one weekend in July. The subversive romp through the classic Cinderella fairy tale was massively appreciated then by those of us who craved colour and frivolity in the earnest winter months of a usually unobtrusive town. And such fun, especially with the ‘pick who’s who’ array of local personalities – one cannot order paella at the Farmers’ Market with quite the same polite naivety again.

At last night’s brushed-up performance (scripted by the wonderful Jess Soutar Barron), I felt the audience was a little slow in warming up to the boisterous panto repartee required, but some fine overblown acting, witty lines, crazy costumes, props and ad lib spontaneity brought them round.

Marvellous character delights included Cinderella’s awful sisters, Asphyxia and Angina, embodied with riotous exuberance by some strong-armed men (beautiful to behold); the refined, androgynous Dandini; an endearing spiky-haired fairy godmother on work placement from WINZ; the techno-savvy, fag-quitting, hysterical Cinders herself who chooses to ride off on her own horse, and who maybe likes girls; the Harry Potter lookalike Prince Charming, a rugby fanatic and blond-ogling narcissist; an unassuming but insistent cow; a drunk, granny cougar who gets the boy (what a catch!); and poor unrequited Buttons (Zip, Laces, Fastener, who cares?).

While there were a few rather longish pauses, a song that didn’t quite lift off, and the show came across rather more improvised than polished, Common Cinders was certainly a bundle of rollicking fun and entertaining high jinks.

The fringe festival is on until Saturday late, with affordable evening shows at the Common Room tonight and tomorrow, free lunchtime music events at Albert Square (why not combine with a visit to The Cube by the Hastings’ clock tower?),circus street performers and the unmissable Giant Jam Sandwich – a kids’ participatory theatre extravaganza.

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