Duncan Greive watches Rose Matafeo grow up really fast at the Basement.
Last year, Rose Matafeo ordered pizza. This year she staged her funeral. The gulf between the enormity of those events aptly illustrates the swelling of her ambitions as a comic in the past 12 months. Everything about this year’s show was so much bigger, bolder and slicker than anything she’s attempted prior, to the point when you were sometimes distracted by the thought: “can this really be Rose?”
But it was and is still Matafeo, over-sharing about her obsessions – ‘50s Hollywood, ‘90s R&B, death-by-plane – as engaging and intimate a comedian as any we have. But now she’s put her performance on blast: the set that looks like it cost ten grand, easy, with neon lights and polished wood and a little male minion she haughtily orders about, in a neat upending of traditional gender roles.
The show opens with her playing Gail, a sweet, culturally over-sensitive camp mother to the funeral, self-consciously bundling her entire Te Reo vocab into the the welcome. It’s cute, but essentially functions as a bait-and-switch, lulling you into thinking this will be a twee, character-driven set. Then Matafeo-as-Matafeo arrives, with more energy and confidence than ever before, and commences a set which is almost exhausting in its breadth and pace.
There are commercial breaks, musical breaks, crowd invasions, new companies founded, incest poetry – an explosion of creative expression. Sometimes it’s more amusing than hilarious, perhaps the lingering shock of seeing a show this big in a room this small.
Gender and ethnicity recur as themes throughout, but without the vaguely self-congratulatory air it can have through its deployment, however well-intentioned, by our white male comedians. She wears a tux, in sarcastic tribute to every male comedian’s recent photo shoot, and there’s a strong sense of what it must be like to often be both the only Polynesian and the only women in so many rooms.
Similarly, her 18 months on Jono and Ben are very present. The show feels less like a funeral, more of an exorcism. For all the jokes she couldn’t get on TV, all the times she felt like a token prop in an energy drink-led sketch, for all the times she was the fourth wheel.
That’s not a criticism of Jono and Ben – the show is working and growing and deserves its every success. But Matafeo is way too idiosyncratically talented to remain a sidekick to a sidekick. Her singing alone is almost distractingly great, and the combination of skills deployed here is intimidatingly complex.
Watching this show’s ludicrous conclusion, shambling dramatically through the carpark, you were very conscious that she had outgrown a certain era. Like hearing your favourite band get produced by Butch Vig, this show was a signal that Matafeo is shooting for the big time. Based on what we saw tonight, anything’s in play if she wants it badly enough.
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