AUNTY constantly comes back to a message about whānau. Even in times of anger, drunkenness, and sorrow, the show teaches us that friends and family help us navigate through the downs and help us discover the ups because whānau is about being there for one another.
The character of Aunty is bold, brassy, and bodacious; both a caricature of a massive bogan, and a very real portrayal of at least three members of my extended family. Clad in socks and jandals, a white bathrobe, green towel wrapped around her hair, and a pair of glasses, Aunty is as ready for the reunion as she’s going to get. Simultaneously put together and a right mess, Aunty’s is a metaphor for how she’s feeling; she’s trying to put on a brave face and host a family get-together, yet her own daughter is AWOL. Aunty wants to impress the rest of her family with her reunion so she has the relationship with us she doesn’t have with her daughter. AUNTY makes us aware of the implicit importance of family, but the character never has to breakdown, the comedy never has to take a backseat, and this idea never has to become explicit.
Cosgrove’s performance is uproarious; her comedic timing and quick wit truly make the show. She tailors her jokes and humour to the audience and whatever has happened on that day. For opening, she references Bill English’s resignation, swinging between feeling sorry for the students in Wellington because of their damp flats at the hands of National, and proclaiming that Bill English “can flood her basement anytime.” It’s impressive to watch Cosgrove work the crowd, too; Aunty always makes the audience feel safe and wanted, even if our answers to her questions aren’t the ones she was looking for. The game is joining in with her storytelling rather than trying to answer anything correctly; she’ll ask us to guess what happens next or ask where we think she found the rugs in her living room, mulling through the crowd, seeking for the right response that she doesn’t get. it reminds me of family reunions: it’s safe to say whatever you wish, but someone’s always ready to call it shit.
The show’s simple but bright design perfectly encapsulates a classic Kiwi get-together in a relative’s home. Before us are three thin rugs, two tables decorated with Pams Ready Salted chips, saveloys straight from my five-year-old self’s birthday party, and of course, Aunty’s cheeky vino, in both cask and bottle form. It’s a simple layout, one that leaves a large amount of open space in BATS’ Propeller stage to give Aunty a lot of room to roam and play with, which is the main appeal and selling point of the experience. The lights, courtesy of Jason Longstaff, help transform Aunty’s quaint little living room into different spaces. The bright, coloured LEDs gives a 2:00am rave vibe when she invites some of her whānau, and the moving spotlights that track Aunty’s entrance makes it feel like we’re sitting in an awards show, waiting for her to grace the stage and make her speech.
AUNTY had me on the floor with laughter. Literally. I was laughing so hard I had to hold on to my partner to keep from falling onto the stage. And I almost wish I had fallen, just to see what Aunty would have done! AUNTY doesn’t consciously address its theme of togetherness, aside from feeling involved from the get-go, but afterwards, I wanted to call my mum and organise a dinner or something, just to relish in a similar, albeit maybe less raucous, experience with the whānau I love. AUNTY is ravishing, exceptionally Kiwi; a full-tilt laugh riot. And everyone’s invited.
NB: AUNTY's 2018 Return Season to BATS Theatre ran Tuesday 13 February through until Saturday 18 February. Due to several technical issues and illness, the publishing of this review was delayed severely. We hope AUNTY accepts our apologies, and that we're still invited to her future reunions <3