Reviewed by: Waikato Times/Theatreview
Date: 2nd May, 2012
Reviewer: Gail Pittaway
BOVINE ABSURDISM AND A TRAGEDY OF MANNERS
Imagine a farming family beset by unlikely visitors telling them that the daughter is deviant because she wants to make a cow out of leaves. Or a group of friends who celebrate each-others' birthdays in a hospital waiting room, then air their prejudices and underwear onstage.
Silly or true? Through the unpredictable action and laughs, which are many in Cow/Fold, runs a strong theme about caring and listening.
Carving in Ice company director Gaye Poole always comes up with something new and unusual for cast and audiences to get their heads around and these surrealist plays by New Zealand writer and comedian Jo Randerson are very much in that vein. But they're also performed very well and great fun, revealing people in awkward situations, or people who talk too much, or simply people talking a lot of rot while seeming to think they are not.
Upbeat, in crisp choreography and direction, the production delivers the stories with lively pace and comic timing.
Brendan West is at his mercurial best in both plays, but most fetchingly so in Cow when he plays a Dad who prefers cats to people and gradually takes on increasingly feline characteristics and gestures. Here he's well- supported by Stephanie Christian as his desperate wife, and Kendall Spence as their sweet-natured cow-friendly daughter.
Once Dad has got his medication sorted Mum thinks it fine to have visitors and so an unlikely crowd piles in, including a cop, a couple of bureaucrats, a mysterious laughing knitter and an American, played with outlandish deadpan by Brendan Theodore.
The rest of the company makes a great herd, milking the comedy and the scenes with their mooing and stamping.
The simple yet fantastical set for Cow features a colourful stage cloth (reportedly rescued from Auckland Theatre Company's throw-out bag) with a montage of pastoral and natural scenes patch-worked in strongly bovine shapes. Every now and then a part of the cloth is ripped for a surprise entry from yet another unexpected person, like the Cot Death collector.
Fold is a darker piece – more a tragedy of manners, from a well-matched bunch of actors and made more so by Michael Potts' sinister glittery showman, bookending the action with show-time tunes in a green spotlight.
In the core action, five friends meet regularly to celebrate each other's' birthdays, in a hospital waiting room, wearing little more than matching hospital gowns. We hear their clichéd stories one at a time, and watch their formulaic interactions with derision. These moments are reprieved by three or four cute little interludes featuring a jive dance to which all change their purple underwear, then peg up the removed ones upon onstage clothes lines. There's a colour scheme of orange and purple which lifts the mood, and identical orange boxed gifts wrapped with purple ribbons are exchanged but not opened.
When John (Michael Gaastra) falls on hard times and can't afford the orange box gift, he is frozen out of the party. He's not even included in the undies change dance. There are some nasty moments of cruelty, especially from Brendan West as Roger the joker, and Eileen, (in an appropriately pert and snappy performance by Natalie Forster) to her daughter (Tendai Sithole).
Once again it's a bold night from Carving in Ice, exploring the bizarre thread that lurks under our mundane routines.