“The Older the Better” – a triumph of age and experience at Circa Theatre

Circa Theatre and Hens’ Teeth presents:
(Part of WTF! 2020)

MC – Kate JasonSmith
Starring: Coral Trimmer, Sunny Amey, Dame Kate Harcourt. Linn Lorkin, Helen Moulder, Rose Beauchamp, Jan Bolwell and Margaret Austin

Producer – Kate JasonSmith
Lighting – Lisa Maule
Stage Manager – Johanna Sanders
Technical Operator – Niamh Campbell-Smith
Illustration and Graphic Design – Emma Cook

Circa Theatre, Taranaki St., Wellington
Thursday, 3rd December 2020

(until 20th December)

A footnote to the show’s title above the cast list in the programme reads: “The performers you may or may not see, tonight….”. When putting the show together around the talents of three ninety-plus performers, Dame Kate Harcourt, Coral Trimmer and Sunny Amey, the producer of “The Older, the Better” Kate JasonSmith found so many willing participants among what she called “a fabulous collection of Gold Card performers” that she was able to devise a “revolving support cast”, one whose membership would change for every performance.

It would be hard to imagine this, the opening night, being bettered, given that the show ostensibly and spectacularly revolved around the three performance “dames” (one of whom, of course, already has that official title), the rest being the “glittering gold-carders” who made up the “supporting” roles – though the beauty of the presentation was that there were no seams or lessenings of inspirational flow as turn followed star turn, with each of the “acts” offering its own characterfully-contrasted cache of distinctive delights (excuse the alliteration! – it just slipped out!)….

In keeping with the inclusive spirit which had gravitationally drawn this galaxy of heavenly bodies together, we in the audience were promptly invited to also audition for the show – as an audience! – and after agreeing, were put through our paces, demonstrating “audience behaviours” (clapping, laughing, dancing – someone even suggested “paying”!)….. I thought our “murmuring in sympathy” efforts creditable , but needing more conviction, more FEELING! – however, then, when we laughed uproariously at one of the MC Kate JasonSmith’s jokes, we clinched the role – “This audience is fine! – don’t bother to bring that other one in!” she promptly carolled towards the entranceway! – and so the show began, introduced by Kate JasonSmith, most interestingly as “Nine lovely women, and eight lovely costumes!” Oo-er!!

It would be churlish to self-indulgently “give the show away” by describing too many of the delights that followed in detail – but when “the talent” was summoned with the cry, “Talent! – Talent ON THE SET!” – the uproar that greeted the appearance of Dame Kate Harcourt to begin things in earnest was heart-warming! We got from her a vividly- coloured picture of a sassy character called Maud, who was enjoying life at ninety-three, insisting at one point that this was the oldest she had been! Putting it like that made for pandemonium in the aisles!

We had no sooner recovered when the fabulous Linn Lorkin was at the piano weaving bluesy magic with a song she wrote inspired by home thoughts from abroad while she was visiting a US beach, a number “Family at the beach” which undulated from rhythmic patter-song to dreamy, nostalgia-filled relivings of iconic childhood memories of being a child at a beach somewhere in New Zealand, capturing it all so unerringly for me, and somewhat redolently, for others as well. She morphed from this into a jazzy rhythm which brought the equally charismatic Coral Trimmer to the stage with her harmonica, aptly launching into Gershwin’s “I got rhythm” with terrific choreographic energy, then disarming us completely and utterly with “Londonderry Air”, a tune better known as “Danny Boy”, the duo’s playing milking the song’s ascending second part for all it was worth (juicy chordings from the pianist, and a glissando to boot!) before raptly delivering the piece’s concluding, lump-in-throat “water come in me eye” pay-off.

The arrival of eminent theatre administrator, producer and comedienne Sunny Amey then completed the trio of nonagenarians, Amey joining with Coral Trimmer to sing some parodies (the first of which (to the tune of “Colonel Bogey”) we all knew and joined in with the bawdy words!), then musing further on the process of ageing with gorgeous sendups of classics like “Shuffle off to Buffalo”, her gently self-deprecating forgetfulness-parables forging empathetic, belly-rumbling links with her listeners! And it was into this haze of opaque evocation that the ever-astounding diva Cynthia Fortescue and her accompanist Gertrude Rallentando (Helen Moulder and Rose Beauchamp respectively) burst to relive their triumph of “Going for Baroque” with the tried-and-truly-astounding “condensed and updated” version of Henry Purcell‘s celebrated opera “Dido and Aeneas”, here searingly and fearlessly revamped as “Diane and Andy”.

Cynthia’s unashamedly Boris Christoff-like assertion when introducing the work to us, ”I play all the characters”, seemed to me to more than adequately sum up the – well, some might think of them as “liberties” while others would unhesitatingly use the word “inspirations” – which abounded in the pair’s realisation of the age-old tale of love and betrayal – during which we as a proper “performing audience” had an infernally risible part to play as well, goaded into a frenzy by the leader of a coven of “wayward sisters”, a witch called Jacinda!  One excerpt only will I reveal from the adaptation to again convey something of the flavour of the whole – “Hear my plan/to rid Aotearoa/ of this dreadful man” –  (something involving a “Trojan virus” sent to the hapless Andy’s laptop)  – but that’s quite enough info to be going on with!….

We heard former dancer and performance-poet Margaret Austin’s wryly entertaining  “Should I lie about my age” dissertation, one which turned into a cautionary tale of association on her part with an impresario and a drink-besotted choreographer on tour throughout Europe, with its bitter-sweet conclusion; and, following further music-making from Linn Lorkin and Coral Trimmer, we were introduced to Jan Bolwell, performer, choreographer and playwright, and founder of the Crows Feet Dance Collective, whose stories touched on her father’s experiences in Italy during World War Two, when he was hidden by an Italian family from the Germans, of her own experiences in Italy when re-exploring her father’s “haunts” while a prisoner, including dealing with her sexual harassment by various Italian men, and of her defiance of the “women’s ageing” stigma in society, as expressed in a country and western song she had appropriated, whose yodelling choruses could be rewritten to fit the words “Older Ladies”. No prizes for guessing who were able to “try out” the song at a glorious full-throttle!

Not to be outdone, Helen Moulder’s Cynthia Fortescue made a plea to be allowed a final “scene” with “Dame Kate”, consisting of a single song, a delicious duet from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” opera depicting the meeting of two lovers the bird-man Papageno and his long looked-for mate Papagena, piquantly accompanied by Rose Beauchamp’s Gertrude! – had we not acquiesced we would have missed out on minutes and minutes of pure delight as the two “Pa-pa-ge-no/ge-na-‘d” themselves contentedly into the throes of connubial bliss. And then, seemingly as soon as it had all begun, it was over, with a rousing “all-for-one” rendition of a tune to which the words “The Older the Better” gave resonant ambiences for the rest of the evening. In all, it’s a heart-warming, unmissable affair, an inspirational initiative by Kate JasonSmith, a magical coming-together of past and present which will cause much amusement and delight!


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