As we settle in Te Auaha, ‘Maria’ by Blondie is blasting. The stage is mostly bare, with steps leading up to a plinth, where a tall frame covered in stretched cloth catches projections of mouths, splatters, and text. When Atlas enters, my jaw drops; our persecuted Madonna, clad in long black robes and an ornate gold headpiece, stands in the shadow of the projection of Mother Mary. Throughout the show, projections (designed by Bekky Boyce) are used for changing the location and showing twisted imagery to match the mood and is a clever addition to transport the audience from scene to scene.
While GAG REFLEX is autobiographical and primarily consists of monologues, it is also in a sense a variety show, which is fitting for Atlas due to their presumably long and diverse CV. If you want sword swallowing, sex jokes, knife throwing, dance, mime (and more!) all to a hard rock soundtrack then you’ve picked the right show. In the programme Atlas acknowledges the hard work Martin put into bringing the story to life and it shows; Atlas’s words are beautiful and jarring, her transitions from scene to scene are clean and clear. One area I want more clarity on though is regarding the chronology; it isn’t always clear if we were following Atlas through their life chronologically, or through their career choices, or through their state of mind, which occasionally leaves me feeling a little lost on where the journey is headed.
Atlas is a natural on stage and threw herself wholeheartedly into each scene. At times, Atlas stumbled on her words, however she does not flinch and moves effortlessly into her next scene. I appreciate that her candid and relaxed performance made some of these triggering topics, such as regarding sexual assault, a little easier to swallow.
Sound design, by George Fowler and Bekky Boyce, overall is well timed, comical, and adds great value to the specific scenes projected onto the canvas behind Atlas. However, frequently the mic cuts out, making Atlas impossible to hear, and at times even at its loudest she is drowned out by the aggressive soundtrack. Hopefully, this is a specific issue on the night that will be rectified in future shows.
Costuming, by Go Go Amy, is a highlight for me; an outfit for every occasion, it seems, are procured from the corners of the room, with quick-changes behind curtains, or cleverly stripping into (and out of). I feel like every garment Atlas puts on is a transition into a new version of herself – the sexy Atlas, the vaudevillian Atlas, the goddess Atlas – and it works wonderfully.
I leave this show emotional – Atlas really touched me through opening up about their beautiful, romantic, depressing, dark, hilarious, and rather sexy life. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, GAG REFLEX runs from 8 March – 12 March at Te Auaha.