11-12 March 2020 / Auckland Theatre Company / Opera House, Toitoi, Hastings / By Jess Soutar Barron
In the last year I’ve seen theatre in auditoria in London, Dublin, Wellington and Auckland. Big audiences dressed up, concession stands, glitz and glamour.
Walking into the Opera House in Hastings to see the latest Roger Hall felt just as special. Packed stalls, crowds flocking up to the circle, hub-bub at the bar, buzz in the air. Smart ushers, efficient and polite in crisp collars. Polish and shine, spotless conveniences. Wine glasses you can take into the show – such luxury and style!
The stage tonight is dominated by a sweep of half arctic and a panorama of Rangitoto…we are in Auckland, (in Takapuna to be precise, high above that End of the Golden Weather beach), in a new apartment with minimalist styling (a cactus for him, an orchid for her) but for the piles of books.
What comes is a tight and tidy two-hander with two of New Zealand’s favourite lovies, from New Zealand’s favourite dramatist.
There’s a heartfelt and dynamic chemistry between the three, words gifted by the playwright are sensitively and generously played out on stage by Alison Quigan and Mark Hadlow. As with all Hall it feels so familiar.
He knows us well; his observational skills masterful. In his dissection of the domestic he delivers universal truths that hit all, especially anyone born between The War and The Bed-In. Boomer-chic boatshoes and capri pants, jute totes and a Wine Society membership – Classy Whites “can’t say things like that now days” – we know he’s poking fun, but he’s laughing with us not at us so it’s okay.
The mob-laughs are so huge in places they dominate dialogue. At other times the pop of giggles bursting like bubble-wrap through the crowd reflects the self-realisation that’s hit just one, a moment so poignant for that individual it erupts out of them uninhibited.
There’re sight gags and slap stick and terrific schtik with endless phone business: those invisible, silent characters just as real through our heroes’ reaction to them. But there’s poignancy too, that soft heart Hall brings to his work that hits right here.
The physical comedy, especially from Hadlow but at the show’s climax from Quigan too, is hilarious. There’s sentimental nostalgia – choc bombs from the Nibble Nook and the unifying effect of having one TV channel – and chiding of contemporary life with its Apple watches, eco-warriors and carpet samples.
Costuming cleverly echoes narrative arc as Barry moves from a jaunty suit to his rugby ugly to muted old-man-grey. He’s fading while Gen in bright tunics and satin jim-jams seems to get younger (thanks to yoga and endless ‘quality time’ with grandkids) splendid in pashmina and bedazzled denim then dazzling in sequins by the end.
The play celebrates and commiserates with us as we experience those big gaps in our lives: the distance between our children and our selves; who we are and who we were; here and the rest of the world; right now and way back when. It honours inevitable change as we step through those chasms, and lets us know it’s all surmountable as long as you’ve got your best mate by your side.
The curtain call feels as though the playwright is waving goodbye through Quigan and Hadlow, through Gen and Barry. ls the Crown Lynn swan cushion foreshadowing the inevitable: Is this a swan song? Sir Roger has watched us through the ins and outs, and ups and downs of our middle-class selves for decades, almost for generations. Perhaps as we get older he’s ready to wind down. But, surely not Mr Hall. How about just one more, for old times’ sake?
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