The cast of Blanc de Blanc. Photo / Rebekah Ryan
The Auckland Arts Festival is back for 2023, with dozens of events across Tamaki Makarau running until March 26. For reviews on the big theatre performances hitting the stages across the festival, check back here
for insights from the New Zealand Herald team – proud supporters of the Auckland Arts Festival.
Blanc de Blanc: Encore
The Spiegeltent is a staple of the Auckland Arts Festival, and one that’s been sorely missed during the years of Covid cancellations and disruptions. It is thankfully back dominating Aotea Square once again, with a wonderful spot of fun for this year’s residency.
Strut and Fret’s French-inspired cabaret, Blanc de Blanc, ruled the Spiegeltent during the 2019 festival, and they are back with their Encore performance.
There was a certain degree of trepidation on my part heading to the opening performance. The original performance is not one I remember fondly – in my 2019 review, I compared it to a cheap bottle of plonk over the champagne dreams the show was trying to invoke – so its return was not something I was rushing to the box office for.
Four years on though and Blanc de Blanc: Encore is a completely different experience. This refreshed sequel is a smoother, more structured and significantly sillier show that better sells the sexiness the first one tried for.
Our bumbling MC duo of Felix and Remi open the show with an extended wardrobe malfunction bit that sets the tone for the self-flagellation to come. The two are the glue that makes this show work – their willingness to put every part of their bodies (and I do mean every part) on the line ensures there’s a relaxed atmosphere throughout, and only serves to heighten the main performances when they come.
There are some stunning set pieces as part of the show, including breathtaking aerial stunts, a mesmerising hula hoop performance, and song and dance numbers that spotlight raw talent and daft comedy in a perfect blend.
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It’s the willingness to be self-deprecating that makes Blanc de Blanc: Encore such a success. Whereas its predecessor fixated on selling sexiness, Encore makes sexiness the butt of the joke – sometimes literally – for an entrancing mix of circus stunts and R-rated comedy that never fails to entertain.
Blanc de Blanc: Encore is on until March 26.
The Savage Coloniser Show
Every few years in New Zealand theatre, a show comes along that is a true must-see – a work that, if you miss it, you are going to endure years of people talking about how great it was while you kick yourself for not being part of that experience.
Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is the most recent example of that for me. The 2019 adaptation of Tusiata Avia’s poetry collection is spoken of with such awe and reverence that it’s impossible not to feel regret whenever it is mentioned. The reputation of its predecessor made The Savage Coloniser Show a can’t-miss experience as soon as it was announced for this year’s Auckland Arts Festival.
Adapting Avia’s 2020 collection, and reuniting with director Anapela Polata’ivao and producer Victor Rodger from Wild Dogs, this new work lives up to its name: a savage, unrelenting fight against racism, colonialism, and New Zealand’s selective approach to outrage and our history.
This show is all about its words and performance. The simple set features just seven chairs with pig hunting knives strapped to their backs, placed behind a white cloth curtain that serves as a screen for the show’s projections. The seven performers, including former Shortland Street-turned-Hollywood actress Frankie Adams, are the focus, taking turns addressing the audience as the play moves between Avia’s poems, commenting on everything from James Cook to Judith Collins, the New Zealand Wars through to the March 15 mosque massacres.
Each poem brings a different set-up, different tone, a different method of performance. Some discuss genocide before segueing into comedic critiques of being “othered” at parties. Whether the scene is comedic or confrontational, the actors beautifully deliver every subtly choreographed moment.
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The 2019 Christchurch terror attacks are as much at the heart of this work as colonialism is, using the country’s response to that tragedy to critique our unwillingness to address the crimes of our settlers and early politicians and their lasting legacy. It is a perspective that challenges you as a white audience member to reconsider your scope of New Zealand’s history. I did feel uncomfortable when the comparisons between historic and recent tragedies were first made, but Avia’s work has such an unflinching point of view, delivered with such bluntness in its words, such charm and emotion by the astounding cast, and so well-constructed by the creative team, that by the haunting final moments, the show’s argument is undeniable.
The Savage Coloniser Show was reduced to a political attack point before its premiere, picked over by the likes of Act leader David Seymour for its views on white people and James Cook’s legacy, but that surface-level, out-of-context reading does little to represent the full scope of this powerful, confronting, and often bleakly funny show from a viewpoint rarely given such a stage. By the end of the 70-minute runtime, Avia and the actors sell such a bold take on New Zealand’s past that if you walk away feeling offended by the content, you may have to accept that they are talking about you.
The Savage Coloniser Show was on at Q Theatre.
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