Destination Beehive 2017 at Circa Theatre – too serious to be taken seriously

Circa Theatre presents:

Written by Pinky Agnew and Lorae Parry
Directed and choreographed by Jan Bolwell
Music played and directed by Clinton Zerf
Lighting and Set Design by Lisa Maule

Circa Two
Circa Theatre, Wellington

Saturday 9th July 2017
(until 5th August)

Legend has it that American songwriter and political satirist Tom Lehrer gave up satire when American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s perhaps just as tempting for any present-day satirist to take a similar stance in the face of the antics of those real-life dodgers, shysters, con-artists and masters of illusion we know as politicians – why bother, she or he might argue, drawing attention to their absurdities when they themselves do it so much better simply by BEING themselves?

Fortunately for us here in Godzone, that intrepid duo of Pinky Agnew and Lorae Parry, having tasted blood in the run-up to the 2014 election with their expose of the goings-on in the “swinging seat” of Port Nicholson give these personalities even MORE rope with which to hang themselves from various vantage points on the brand-new electorate of “Tinakori Heights”. By way of the “Kiwi Media” Show, driven (flailed?) along at a great lick by personalities Katrina Coleman (Lorae Parry), Tina Fisher (Pinky Agnew) and Bryce Allen (Tom Knowles), we are brought close-up and personal to this year’s power-hungry hopefuls, ready and willing to try and fool all of the people all of the time!

The authors themselves seemed well aware of the danger of being outflanked, at any given moment, by their moving targets’ next unscripted moves – a case of “expect the unexpected” thus prevailed, both onstage and out there in cloud-cuckoo Beehiveland, a flux which kept our ears pricked, our toes stretched and (thanks to newly-developed rear-end surveilance methods installed, so we were informed, in our audience seats) our buttocks ready for lateral activation – left, or alternatively right, for you-know-who, blurring ideological divisions and all! Like the redoubtable election-night coverage “worm” of a few rounds ago, one was mesmerised by the process, whatever the outcomes!

After the cinematoscopic hype of introduction from Katrina, Tina and Bryce, the whole cast launched into a bubbling, energetic “Hokey-Tokey” – sorry, make that a “Votey-Votey”! – giving the well-worn adage “turning the other cheek” a whole new lease of theatrical and political life. Throughout the show music and movement was a constant delight, with old, seemingly played-out numbers (eg., “I will follow Him”, “Anyone who had a Heart”, “I got you, Babe” and “Santa Baby”) springing back to life with freshly-worked words , messages delivered with dangerous feistiness that delightfully belied the original banalities.

This was just part of a show which featured nine singers/actors (with stage Manager Neal Barber sometimes roped into the goings-on) playing over thirty characters between them and delivering over a dozen songs, the whole co-ordinated by director/choreographer Jan Bolwell with tremendous energy, vision and authority, and backed up by musical director Clinton Zerf’s brilliant and fluid keyboard realisations. Together with co-authors Pinky Agnew’s and Lorae Parry’s effervescent and outrageously provocative dialogues and song-lyrics, it makes for an “everything you wanted to hear” entertainment package which ticks all the appropriately risible boxes.

Of the actors, the doyen is of course Dame Kate Harcourt, celebrating her real-life status as a nonagenarian by conjuring up a populist tide of electoral enthusiasm (motorised chair “bestriding” the stage) as the Tinakori Heights NZ First Candidate, Maude Hornby. In what seems a remarkable “coup”, she was introduced by none other than a pre-recorded Winston Peters, appropriately scripted, and joining in the fun with a will, – with such advocacy, one was prepared to surrender all to the visceral jungle-drum rhythms of an updated “I will follow Him”, sung by Harcourt and her entourage with Messianic conviction!

Dame Kate’s fellow-thespians are a mixture of familiar and new, the former including the show’s two aforementioned writers, both of whom assume the trappings of a bewildering array of personalities in very different ways – Pinky Agnew is the shapeshifter of the two, effecting breath-catching transformations from TV show host to none other than the resplendently red-clad Hillary Clinton, adroitly re-aligning her geographical surroundings with the help of flash-card prompting , before morphing into the Mrs.Mopp-like Faye McFee, who’s the ACT Party candidate’s campaign manager, and then (most stunningly of all) reclaiming the international limelight as Angela Merkel, complete with anti-Trumpery antennae.

By comparison, Lorae Parry’s no less able assumptions involve relative micromanagement of appearances, mannerisms and pronouncements enabling simple, strongly-etched portrayals of personalities such as her alter ego Helen Clark (here to introduce a “surprise” Labour candidate, who’s already been mentioned), a co-anchor of Foxy TV, Parris la Touche, the “gnat-in-a-bottle” Lynette Scott who’s the Tinakori Heights ACT candidate , and then none other than Theresa May, still a force to be reckoned with, and here with Angela Merkel to help further the cause of the local pussy-hat brigade by confronting the actual cause célèbre in person.

Carrie Green’s another election veteran with a couple of long-(self?)serving characterisations such as “born-again centrist” Metiria Tureia, along with a somewhat addled-value Paula Bennett with resplendently fluid thigh-support, a sequence that Green herself wrote. She also gave us a scary Marama Fox (who scatters the National sympathisers like chaff in the wind), as well as partnering Lorae Parry as the “other” Foxy TV anchor, Felicia Fanning, and is the centre of focus for the Justin Bieber take-off “Youth Song” – high energy input, here, with exhilarating results.

Similarly traversing the spectrums of ideology and character with versatility and elan was Tom Knowles, one of the three “Kiwi Media” presenters (Bryce Allen) at the start, and then by turns an opportunistic Grant Robertson (I’ve got you, Labour”), a platitudinous National candidate Dick Webster (“We aim to make our rivers WATERSKIABLE! – by 2040!), a feline-phobic Gareth Morgan with a feline-phobic moustache, and (Trumping everything else!) the world’s No.1 pussy-predator on a fake-news-finding visit to Godzone, involving “your President English!”, with riotous outcomes!

And then, there were the newbies, four student actors from the “genius tutelary” of Whitireia, whose song-and-dance skills added considerable “schwung” to the proceedings and whose characters all hit the ground running! – Molly Weaver relished both her TOP candidate Jilly Caro-Cant and a starry-eyed Jacinda Ardern in thrall to Labour’s latest “recruit” with style and surety, while Alexandra Taylor’s alarmingly abandoned Jekyll-and-Hyde take on United Future candidate Celine Smith rivalled in effect the legendary Salome’s besottment with the head of John the Baptist in her all-but-visceral orgasmic reaction to images of a bemused-looking Peter Dunne!

Shawn Keil traversed the interchangeable credibility gap between Green (“May the Forest be with you”) and ACT party personalities with schizoid skill, drawing from both Bizet’s “Carmen” and the late, lamented Trevor Rupe, in a rose-between-teeth realisation of David Seymour as a fantasy figure to Habanera accompaniment, augmented by Agnew and Parry in their vociferously operatic “Seymour!” – an equally far cry to Keil’s “always-going-somewhere” Bill English take, bouncing between put-downs by various world leaders. And the elegant Charles Masina as Dr.Riki Te Rapa, the Māori Party candidate, made the most of his advocacy from Carrie Green’s Marama Fox and his expedient coming-out reaction of “I’m bi!” to questions regarding ethnicity.

In all, a show which elevates politics to the status of love in terms of its sufferers – a tragedy to the heart and a comedy to the intellect! Those who saw the 2014 version of the show and enjoyed it (and how could anybody not?) can take heart that it’s more of the same but very different. And for those who are first-timers – well, along with everything else one expects from entertainment, it’s also something of a healing experience!

See also reviews by Ewen Coleman (The Dominion Post)
and John Smythe (Theatre Review)

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