Auckland Arts Festival is rolling around again and there’s so much to choose from this year. Sam Brooks picks the six shows everyone will be talking about – the ones you’ll kick yourself for missing.
Festival time can be stressful, especially once you pick up that pretty brochure with dozens of shows to choose from across countless artforms. Do you see the local kids show that’s been here a hundred times, do you see the internationally acclaimed French dance show or do you try and hustle as many free events as is possible?
Unless you’re an absolute culture nerd-slash-snob like me, you’re probably not going to know what to see. Thankfully, that’s why I exist. These six shows are the clichéd ‘hot tickets’. These are the shows that you’ll see, brag about seeing, and make everybody jealous because they didn’t see them themselves. Most importantly, these are the shows you’ll think of when it comes to the end of the year and you’re trying to remember what the heck you did that was worthwhile in 2019. It was this. You saw these shows, and it was worthwhile.
Wild Dogs Under My Skirt
I had the fortune to see Wild Dogs Under My Skirt a few years ago at the Māngere Arts Centre, and was so overwhelmed that I found myself unable to even write a review of it. It dislodged something inside me that I didn’t even realise was there – the subsumption of one culture into another, and all the private, personal, sometimes self-made aggressions that occur within that subsumption. Formed from a series of poems told by an all-female cast of six world-class Pasifika actors, the show confirmed Tusiata Avia’s place as one of our most important poets and Anapela Polata’ivao as one of theatre’s foremost firebrands.
Since then, the show has won awards nationwide, and it’s kind of a no-brainer for Auckland Arts Festival to programme this year. Wild Dogs Under My Skirt is a forward-thinking and deeply meaningful piece of theatre that aims to challenge those who need to be challenged, and comfort those who need to be comforted – those who need to be heard, who need to be seen. It was one of the best pieces of theatre I saw in 2016, and with Polata’ivao taking the stage in this production as a performer as well, it promises to be one of the must-sees of 2019 as well.
The Magic Flute
Look, I’m a culture editor. I’m going to tell you something no other culture editor is going to tell you, because I’m not afraid to admit my own limitations and proclivity for the lower brow: opera can be really goddamn hard to watch. Of all the artforms available to us, it’s one of the least accessible. You need to train yourself to watch opera, and you also have to train yourself to save enough to buy what are usually very expensive tickets.
So take this into account when I say that this production of The Magic Flute is as accessible an entry point into the opera as you’re ever going to get.
Not only does this production come from the world-acclaimed opera company Komische Oper Berlin (and trust me, being a world-acclaimed opera company means you’ve met a very high bar), it’s made in conjunction with British theatre group 1927 who are famous on the cabaret circuit for their genre-blending mix of animation and performance. The result: a fun, irreverent opera that moves the form forward.
This is opera that wants you to enjoy it. So if you have yet to go to an opera but have even the slightest interest in the form, this is the right one to cut your teeth on.
Also, The Magic Flute is the opera with the aria with the super high-note, and if you’ve never seen a world-class soprano hit that high F live, you’re missing out on one of music’s most sublime combinations of artistry and athleticism.
I was a wee lad of 15 when I heard Neko Case’s foghorn belt for the first time – on a second-hand copy of her album Blacklisted thatmy mother bought me from Real Groovy – and she hasn’t disappointed me once since. It’s not just her voice, equally capable of featherlight softness and roof-lifting power, but her complete disregard for the dull boundaries of genre. She shifts from folk to country to pop to rock without missing a step, often within the same album. Just take her cover of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Runnin’ Out of Fools’, howling with self-righteous pain, and compare it to ‘I Wish I Was The Moon’ where she sounds like she might be serenading you from your backyard treehouse.
Twenty-one years later her latest album Hell-On is an album-length feminist poem that draws from the likes of Kate McGarrigle and Suzi Quatro at their finest. ‘Halls of Sarah’ is a particular highlight, a love letter to all the Sarahs in our lives – the women who live, the women who sacrifice, the forgotten women who don’t get songs written about them.
All this to say: Neko Case is coming here, she’s bringing her voice, she’s bringing her 25 years of songs, and if you miss the chance to see her live then you’re missing out on not just one of music’s best vocalists, but one of our most vital artists.
China does great theatre, and, even better, they do great theatre on a massive scale. Like, The Civic scale, you guys. The Dreamer comes from the internationally-acclaimed (you’re seeing that phrase a lot, because Auckland Arts Festival doesn’t fuck around) Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre in collaboration with British physical theatre legends Gecko. If you want to know what physical theatre is, it combines the most understandable parts of dance with the most visual parts of theatre, and it’s really fun to watch.
The Dreamer is inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the most fun of the Shakespeares – and Tang Xianzu’s fairytale romance The Peony Pavilion. The show itself is a 65 minute confetti-stuffed glitter-bomb of movement, melodrama, comedy and live music. Basically, The Dreamer is doing the absolute most, and as one of the few shows at The Civic – AKA New Zealand’s Hogwarts – it promises to be a full on five-course meal of a theatre experience.
Sometimes you see a show for the show itself, and sometimes you see a show for the conversations you have in the bar, on the way home, or at work the next day. Ulster American is the rare show that you can see for both.
Ulster American has a simple set-up: There’s the Oscar-winning actor who wants to get back to his Irish roots, the new-but-not-new-enough British actor who wants his first big success, and a Northern Irish playwright who is just as hungry for success as she is to be heard. Put them together in a house, let the drama unfold.
But Ulster American isn’t just your average talky drama – it’s a cutthroat, current-to-the-second satire on the way men treat women and how an older generation needs to realise that the rules of engagement have changed. The ways in which we engage with art, and with each other, are no longer the same. And if you don’t adapt, you die.
Come for the show, hang around for the debate afterwards, is what I’m saying.
A Man of Good Hope
Look, another collaboration – it’s almost like great art is the result of great collaboration, who would’ve thought – between two internationally acclaimed companies. A Man of Good Hope comes from South African company Isango Ensemble working with the UK’s Young Vic, and tells the story of eight year old Asad escaping the ravages of civil war in Ethiopia and starting his journey towards the metaphorical bright lights, big city of Johannesburg, South Africa. Oh, also, it’s a musical.
A Man of Good Hope arrives here fresh from rave-review runs in both London and New York, you know, those small theatre hamlets. It goes further than the often empty feelings of uplift and inspiration to dig into this globally important and deeply personal tale. Theatre that does that is rare, musical theatre that does that is even rarer; grab your chance to see it while you can.
This content was created in paid partnership with the Auckland Arts Festival. Learn more about our partnerships here.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the days' best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.