It may seem cruel to “name and shame” what I thought were the worst shows of the year, but I don’t write this with the intention of stirring up provocation or hate towards the artists. Destructive criticism is not really my scene, nor is punching down, after all most artists create theatre with the best intentions. I have specifically chosen shows which I thought were, at their core, ill-conceived, as opposed to ones that did not fulfil their intention. Oh, and if you’re looking for any of the reviews for these shows some will be on The Wee Review website.
5. The Border. It was somewhat disappointing that the first show I saw at the New Zealand Fringe left me so baffled. Smoko Company’s story of an escaping migrant was spoiled by its direction and script, which had dialogue delivered at a thousand miles an hour and tension that remained sky-high throughout. Without giving its audience space to breathe, this was one of the few times where my anonymous quote from the “whispers of the crowd” section of my review wasn’t particularly positive, saying “I don't get it at all” which, if I were to be more concise, is exactly how I felt.
4. Romeo and Juliet. I went to see BoxLit on a whim, and was very surprised to see how barren the audience was, mostly sparsely distributed Fringe-veterans. Surely a downsized, brightly lit Shakespeare would appeal to that audience that wants to appear cultured without the commitment of a three-hour stocking-clad production (and who can blame them?). As soon as the star-struck lovers entered however the problems of the show became obvious – the challenge was set at the beginning without a clear idea of how it would look, or why was it needed in the first place. My mother recently commented that a duet or a solo was only worth doing if the artists was extremely talented, or was done purely for the love of entertaining, but that if it was performed for the sake of it, then it became indulgent. For Boxlit, I think that is exactly what happened, and I don’t think I’ll be racing to see any of their other shows in 2019.
3. Spring Awakening. Bring it musical-lovers, give me your worst. The production I saw at BATS Theatre in Wellington was on the whole pretty good, and I’d be lying if I said “Totally Fucked” wasn’t a top-notch musical number. That said, it endorses rape. There’s really no other way to say it, and the more I look back on it the more I can’t help but think that all of the show’s strengths and weaknesses are undermined by a show that is rotten at its heart. Maybe the play gives more depth, maybe the characters are fleshed out and the complexity of the situation given the scope it requires. As it is I’m kinda amazed it’s still as popular as it is.
2. La Maladie de la Mort. Perhaps it is cruel to highlight this show in particular, since I ended up writing an essay on it for my Theatre studies course and learnt that what I disliked most about it (the fact that it was filmed live and shown on a screen above as opposed to facing the audience) is the trademark style of director Katie Mitchell. For all my contempt, I think it is ground-breaking from a technical perspective. That is exactly its problem though; there’s a fine line between genius and pretence. I think it’s notable that among the reviews I have read, many say it will be divisive, but none were as negative as I was. I hold that as a mark that I am still, if only just, on the border between audience and critic, and I am proud of that.
1. Another One. About half an hour into the Belgian absurdist piece by Maxim Storm and Lobke Leiren I was confused, sure, but not particularly bothered. This summer for me has been partly about getting my head around absurdist theatre, a genre I hadn’t seen much of before and had underestimated how easy it would be to understand. But in any case, the tweed suits, heron-like movements, and occasional abuse were doing their job on the audience I was watching them with if not me. At about the half-way point it took a very different turn when they emerged from their tepee with what looked a great deal like a dead bird, before Storm ripped off its head an began to eat it. Perhaps I am showing my naivity here, but having heard of artists who are content with performing animal cruelty on stage I was horrified to think that I had just witnessed something real and vile that churned my stomach more than I thought possible. After it was over I asked one of the stage hands, and learnt it was in fact a beetroot covered in feathers. After taking some time to gather my wits, I churned out the review as fast as possible in an attempt to cleanse myself. I don’t know what Storm and Leiren were trying to do, I cannot honestly say whether the show is good or not, but I wish I hadn’t seen it.
Annnndddd breathe. I am pleased to say that, while my least favourite list was fairly easy to assemble, my favourites were so jam-packed with competing shows that I adored that it was tricky to narrow it down. It has been an amazing year for this blog and me personally. I got my first proper press ticket, started writing for The Wee Review, and I don’t doubt most if not all my readers heard that I won the Fringe Young Writers Award from the Scotsman, part of which means I will be writing professionally (like, for real actual money like a real actual critic) next August. Cheesy as it is thank you to everyone who reads this, it means a lot to know that people enjoy reading what I write. Happy New Year, and may 2019 hold many hilarious, dazzling, and moving shows for you.