by Laura Ferguson
That leads me straight into the writing. Oh, the writing! So quick! So witty! So full of belly-busting laughs! With jokes springing to life in every sentence, Adams and Nokise turn this show into a field filled with blooming buds of comedy. With some of the lines referencing instances that only happened a few days ago, the script plants seeds of laughter at every turn. Adams and Nokise’s writing reminds me of the layered genius of Charlie Brooker’s work with remarks not only hilarious, but cutting to the heart of how each party identifies themselves. I also adore the Atlanta heights of cultural scope they inject, such wit combined with the fast-talking nature of Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal, allows Public Service Announcement Election Day to have repeatability. Going again, I would laugh at my favourite moments, but there would also be a slew of new jokes I missed the first time around. It is utterly brilliant.
I am completely enthralled, not only by the writing, but the way the actors portray the lines. The satire comes through strongly and the timing is phenomenal. The ensemble is strong and the co-operation the actors achieve is something all politicians could take notes on. Bronwyn Turei’s stellar performances as Paula Bennett and, in particular, her portrayal of Marama Fox, absolutely slayed me. She sang, she grimaced, she side-eyed and I drank her in like giggle juice. Another favourite, Anya Tate-Manning, gave an incredible Jacinda Adern. Her cackling making me lasciviously grin along with her. Hayden Frost’s David Seymour was as twisted as his tie (a rather hilarious wardrobe malfunction) causing me to laugh hard in disgust at the oral bile he regurgitated. Frost’s take on Judith Collins, though, had me laughing so hard the vibrations knocked my wine glass over. He absolutely killed it. Carrie Green and Andrew Paterson representing the Green party’s Metiria Turei and James Shaw was a match made in liberal atheist heaven. And if that sounds like an oxymoronic cliché, it is, and only the red-hot tip of the iceberg.
Oxymorons epitomised the characters of the Green party. Under the clever direction of Simon Leary and Anya Tate-Manning, we get characters that are the manifestation of two combative adjectives. We have a cool dad-joker, a fiscally responsible millennial and a non-aggressive American. The Green party also has a running gag of being posers, something that never fails to make me laugh. It brilliantly showcases that the Green party are focused on the commercial appeal of how their brand “looks”, but posing is also very Vogue. With the hipster uprising and the Green party appeal to younger generations, they are very ‘in vogue’. Particularly in Wellington culture, it is so lit to like the world-issues/problem-solving that the Green party presents. They’re as trendy as a vegan soy latte, while promising that the baristas who make them will be paid the same, no matter their gender, sexuality or creed.
Such intelligent showcasing of how New Zealand politics is perceived by the public permeates throughout the show. The Māori party, for example, take on the properties of ancient Greek theatre. Turei’s Marama Fox playing the eternal pessimist, while Matthew Steijan-Leach’s Te Ururoa Flavell opposes her as the eternal optimist. The ongoing metaphor of ‘being at the table’ was important and continually brought us back to the essence of what politics should be. Different voices all being heard in one place. The Māori party are impressively portrayed as never wavering from what their goals are. As other parties come to wheedle their favour, they do not bend and epitomise the saying Kia kaha.
As party members visit each other, the lighting and costuming are helpfully illuminating. The operator, Jennifer Lal, did an excellent job of quickly and subtly changing the lighting so that the colours reflected nuances of the characters associated with each party. Red and blue effects filter through when Labour and National are together, and yellow trickles into the white stage light for ACT. Sasha Tilly’s styling also plays into this, ensuring the actors are able to switch out for the different characters they play. This also helps the audience identify who is being represented at any given moment. I had brought along a Canadian friend of mine, who is not as aware of New Zealand politics. I greatly appreciated the costuming as she was able to keep track and understand easily through the entire performance.
Now, as a reviewer, I am generally (as is right) ignored when any kind of audience participation is introduced in a show. To properly observe any piece, you cannot actively participate. However, Public Service Announcements Election Day ignores this. And I LOVED it. I had a pelvis thrust in my face, a sycophantic David Seymour crept way too close, and Andrew Little pointed right at my nose. The cast’s interaction with those of us in the front row reiterates the politicians’ relationship with the media and how they pander to them. It was genius.
peaking of the media, I will make special mention of Michael Trigg’s performance as John Campbell. His vocal inflections of the iconic broadcaster were impeccable and his mannerisms jovial, forgoing the more formal postures of his colleagues. It was a thing of beauty. My friend and I were in hysterics every time he came on. Trigg represented the citizens of New Zealand as he commented on the public reaction to the results of the election as they came in. Trigg’s performance helped ground the hectic nature of the show. I love his presence so much, it was a fantastic addition to the show.
Aside from a couple of first-night nervous line flubs, the only criticism I had was that sometimes the jokes went by so fast that we missed them. We were all laughing so much that the next line, which was also undoubtedly hilarious, flew past without us being able to catch our breath long enough to take it in. However, as the show had to start ten minutes late, it is likely that the lack of pauses can be attributed to this. And really, if the only bad thing I can say is that the timeframe wasn’t long enough for me to laugh even more, then it’s hardly a criticism at all.
Public Service Announcements Election Day made me laugh so much my entire body hurt. I left BATS with my friend and while walking down the street, we squealed and overzealously dissected everything about the show. I haven’t laughed that hard in a really long time, and I was on a high (am I right, Greens?) for the rest of the night. Not only did this show make me laugh outrageously, it makes me optimistic for the upcoming election. As Steijan-Leach’s character, Te Ururoa Flavell articulates, I need to vote and make sure a voice I want representing me is at the table.
Public Service Announcements Election Day is playing at BATS Theatre from Tuesday 16th - Saturday 20th of May. You can find tickets here.