Writers Pinky Agnew and Lorae Parry have outdone themselves. The pair add to the script each night based on current events. It creates an immediacy that pulls the audience in, making us truly feel like a studio audience. Their political recap/update show framing device helps keep the plot progression in check, and provides the newscasters (Pinky Agnew, Lorae Parry, and Tom Knowles) the platform to critique the colourful cast of politicians. Their evaluation of the parties’ public relations nightmares, think National’s scandal with Eminem, had me rolling around in my set laughing – literally. What makes the comedy and satire in their script work is how it analyses the decisions and actions of our leaders, proving once again how efficient comedy is at making us think about wider issues.
While Destination Beehive focuses on New Zealand politics and politicians, it doesn’t ignore the political discourse of the wider world. Helen Clark (Lorae Parry), Angela Merkel (Pinky Agnew), Donald Trump (Tom Knowles), as well as Labour’s secret weapon (also Pinky Agnew), are among the other political figures to grace our stage. The cast manifest the candidates one by one where we learn about their policies and opinions; spliced between these, we’re treated to musical numbers and returns to the political Q&A show framing device. The framing device brings up a “read up on politics and don’t forget to vote” lesson, but it never detracts or pulls focus from the show’s comedy and fun. We start with NZ First, moving through the Greens, the Maori party, United Future, National, ACT, the Opportunities Party, and ending Labour before the show diverges into its wider context, where Bill English (Shauwn Keil) and Mr President have a candid convo about what makes a “great” leader.
The show incorporates several parodic musical numbers, which highlight the differing perspectives of each candidate, whether utterly ridiculous or ludicrously serious. With the tutelage and care of musical director Clinton Zerf, every song is absolute perfection doused in on-point humour. Anyone Who Had a Brain is one such example, where Labour MP Jacinda Ardern (Molly Weaver) and the surprise Labour candidate duet about why they’re not in charge already. Another is United Future candidate Celine Milford-Smith (Alexandra Taylor) in her sultry Celine Dion parody: Your Hair Will Go On. Her choreography (courtesy of director Jan Bolwell) has her writhing across platforms and flailing up against walls, all in awe of the one, the only, Peter Dunne. The obsession she exhibits leaves her audience in a constant uproar. The musical interludes offer much in reinforcing the statements each candidate and character make, and when paired with Jan Bolwell’s choreography, they heighten the details and ideas of each character, showing how ridiculous the figures and political opinions are.
Each cast member characterises the multiple politicians they’re playing clearly and effectively. Carrie Green shifts through countless characters, but each is so well developed and characterised they all stand out. She serves up a ‘cool mom’-esque Metiria Turei, switches to a severe and bored Paula Bennett, and even steps in as a fellow millennial to assist the Whitireia interns in their Sorry parody. She breathes such an electrifying, invigorating energy into the production, it’s no wonder I find myself drawn to her whenever she graces the stage.
Dame Kate Harcourt becomes Maude Hornby, the NZ First electoral candidate; mobility scooter bound, she wheels centre-stage before aggressively cuing the musical director to cease her entrance song. Harcourt’s mannerisms as Maude oppose her sometimes frank but always hilarious dialogue; she’s a gentle creature with her contented aura and relaxed posture, but a sharp-tongued vixen with how she verbalises her idolisation of Winston Peters. The juxtaposition deepens Harcourt’s character and makes the parody even more engaging.
Tom Knowles explores characters who seem to interact with others the most. He has solid chemistry when working with the other newscasters, and Knowles really, really shines when he enters the spotlight as Dick Webster, the National candidate. He and campaign manager Ben Brown (Shauwn Keil) are an absolute force, especially as they overhype the audience for their waterway promises… that won’t come for another twenty years. The same is true when he becomes Gareth Morgan of The Opportunities Party, and paired with cat-loving and clearly smitten candidate Jilly Caro-Cant (Molly Weaver), the slapstick floods with a partially literal cat and mouse chase (featuring Jilly’s cat, or Alexandra Taylor in a cat suit).
Destination Beehive: 2017 will leave you rolling around in fits of hysterics well after the show’s finished. The creative humour and entertaining musical moments make Destination Beehive one hilarious riot, but there’s also much to learn politically from the satire the production serves its audience. Their programme promised that I’d never laugh harder, and honestly, I don’t think I have in a show for a long time.
Destination Beehive: 2017 runs until Saturday 5 August at Circa Theatre; you can find information about the show and book tickets through Circa Theatre’s website.