Directed by Kerryn Palmer
As we take shelter from the erratic Wellington weather on Sunday evening, we are greeted with a warmth that reverberates within the walls of the famed Thistle Inn, New Zealand’s oldest surviving tavern. This warmth comes not only from the lights and heaters but from the friendly faces of the THEA 311 students who welcome us with smiles, drinks, song and laughter. The Cheers theme is playing on the piano and a distinct feeling overcomes me: comfort. It is a feeling that would only grow stronger as the show progressed, with the company taking us on a journey of how this historic establishment has provided hope, solace and comfort over many a strife in the course of its one hundred seventy-six-year history.
Greatest hits may seem like a reductive term but the company cycle through these key moments with wonderful alacrity and insight. Each vignette, ingeniously titled like an alcoholic beverage off a menu, is for the most part well thought-out and lovingly made. The highlights involve the ones wherein characters we met earlier in the tour have their stories pay off in surprising, satisfying and in the case of the women waiting for their husbands to return from the war, devastating ways. In the penultimate sketch, they tackle drinking culture by going subtle. The result is something that will haunt far longer than any didactic scare tactic can. However, as with most collections of stories, this one is not devoid of filler. For one, a comically played beer vs. wine drinking contest adds little to the rich tapestry woven. Thankfully, these sections are usually accompanied by playful ditties both traditional and original that keep the piece humming along.
The biggest star here is of course, the ensemble, whose unity and chemistry provide for an excellent tribute to the historic venue which hosts them. Individually, each one is committed to their various roles. As a collective, they are tightly focused, alert and exude a warmth and reverence that’s just infectious. Of special note are Tippet, who imbues her Mansfield with a haunting soulfulness; Nick Rowell, who portrays William Cooper, the man behind the Inn itself, with wondrous idealism; and the multi-talented Liam Kelly, Joel Rudolph and Felicity Newberry, who all take part in scoring the show, giving it that extra kick on top of their solid acting contributions (the latter also writing the show’s multiple original songs).
Like its sister Victoria University show Much Ado About Nothing, My Shout boasts an already sell-out season. Kudos to director and site-specific theatre maven Kerryn Palmer, cast and crew for mounting this moving love letter. For those fortunate enough to see it, remember that you’re experiencing a Wellington landmark like it’s never been manifested before or maybe even ever again. Just like a good, responsible drink, make sure to take it all in nice and slow. It’ll keep you warm, comfortable and hopefully feeling a bit better by the end.