Even the show’s stage manager, Felix Crossley-Pritchard, get’s his own understated set-up, reminder, and payoff. During the first half we begin to spot him carrying things on stage, assisting in various set-ups. Just as we’re becoming familiar with him and starting to remember that he’s there, bam! He’s a scene-stealing back up dancer slaying in leather pants. This lends the show a rich, cohesive, familial feeling. Everyone truly feels indispensable, part of the team in that magic, the show must go on, kind of way. It also helps keep momentum up, reassuring us that it’s all building to something. And it is.
Without a doubt, the featured performer of the night is Aotearoa Kendama champion, Lisa Komatsubara. For the uninitiated, Kendama is essentially a fancy version of a ball-in-cup game. You have a wooden handle with various holes, and a ball attached to it via a string. When Komatsubara initially enters during the show's opening montage and does a Kendama trick, it’s met with somewhat enthusiastic confusion by the audience. It soon becomes clear what the narrative spine of Idiom 2023 is: Laser Kiwi think that Kendama is really cool. They don’t really understand it but they want to learn all about it, while simultaneously convincing us, the audience, that Kendama is not only really cool, it is in fact the coolest thing ever and equally as impressive as someone rolling around in a big hoop or dangling from a rope suspended in mid air. Personally, I feel they succeed in this. The stakes of the Kendama tricks raise gradually over the evening, culminating in a spectacular world-record setting feat of 100 Kendama Spikes in Five and a Half Minutes. It’s frantic, it’s impressive, and when two Kendama get tangled together near the end I nearly bite the tops of my fingers off alongside my nails.
Another high point of Idiom is a variety of strong pieces of crowd work. Laser Kiwi themselves have great rapport with the audience, culminating in a hysterical (and hugely painful, we as an audience really let them down) game of Pictionary. The Laser Kiwi team have done this as a standalone show in the past, but it fits snugly in Idiom, complimented by some great heckling from the evening’s king of crowd work, El Jaguar. Performer Derek Flores embodies the luchador with character work so intense it has me questioning whether or not he is actually a washed up, D-List, WWF wrestler. After a variety of gags about the Number 1 Bus and Taranaki Street, I’m shocked when Google reveals he’s based in Ōtautahi. His best line (and there’s stiff competition) may be when he calls on a concerned looking, red-beret-clad, man in the audience. “Who wears a red beret and wants to be ignored?” Red beret man’s wife thinks this is particularly funny.
On the circus end, local Jackson Cordery stuns with his silks routine and finds plenty of laughs with some extended air drumming. I’d heard great things about his show Heartstrings, and it’s exciting to see Wellingtonians featured alongside this mix of international talent. Speaking of which, globe-trotting Circus Superstar Rosita Hendry shines in the most sincere piece of the night, a moody Cyr wheel (or big hoop) piece set to Jeff Buckley’s cover of Hallejuah. Taking place right after the intermission, it catches me off guard in its beauty and depth of feeling. With all of the laughs leading into it, I'm shocked to be brought to the edge of tears.
The only performer I have left to shout out is drag superstar Hugo Grrl, who I wonder if I caught on an off night? Drag can live or die on audience enthusiasm, and I don’t think my crowd was really feeling Hugo Grrl’s various (immaculately costumed) lip-sync numbers. At least the night I went, Grrl’s numbers felt like the only places in the show that the momentum dipped.
The night I attend, there are many a moment where the ridiculously complex (and endlessly inventive) tech stumbles, and performers have to do some quick thinking to catch up. The energy of the show is so perfectly cultivated however, that this all just turns into more laughs, more excitement, and even more audience interaction as certain audience members are called on to help fix issues. Idiom is a remarkably large scale production. Running for an entire month in Wellington is a feat not to be sneezed at and they certainly haven’t skimped on any corner of the budget. The audience are absolutely buzzing walking out of it, and a day later writing this review, I’m still grinning at the memory of various highlights. Gorgeous show. Honestly could make for a great Christmas present. Hope you get to see it.