by Laura Ferguson
This election cycle has been, as Thom Adams says in the programme, ‘a weird one’. The writers James Nokise and Thom Adams have capitalised (how National-istic!) on that weirdness. Sitting in the theatre with a whole bunch of other young politicos, it is a delight to revel in the collaboration of Adams and Nokise’s writing again. The wit, the relevance, and insight culminates into one freaking hilarious show. This is no wonder with such a powerhouse duo steering the helm with their pens (or, let’s be honest, keyboards). Adams is a favourite guest writer of mine on The Spinoff and Nokise has just come off a 5-star Edinburgh Fringe show. You know these guys are good before you even walk into the theatre. And Holy Mother Turei do they deliver.
We begin with an effusive Gareth Morgan talking POLICY, POLICY, POLICY without ever enlightening us to what exactly they are. Michael Trigg does an amazing job with the character, hunching over as if Morgan feels he has all the answers to the world weighing on his back, the aggression protruding out of his mouth as his moustache does his face. Hayden Frost comes out as Geoff Simmonds to placate us as if they are the split personalities of Jeremy Corbyn: new direction policies and passion on one side, niceties and charm on the other.
I encounter many such riven behaviours in the show. Judith Collins is portrayed as Gollum to David Seymour’s Sméagol (cleverly played by the same actor, Hayden Frost) and Chloe Swarbrick, Julie Ann Genter and Marama Davidson recreating the goddesses of the Green Party Fates with James Shaw calling upon them for wisdom. I love these intertwining combinations of literature and mythology. They add layers of sculpted artifice, the pretence being that the parties know what they are doing.
There is much talk of policy running through the show and director, Isobel MacKinnon makes sure that there is always a sense of confusion and an amorphous feel to these statements. Instead, there is a higher focus on the values of each party, a strategy I greatly admire.
I recently went to a talk with the New Zealand economist Shamubeel Eaqub at my workplace (my workplace, by lateral nature, is very political). He encouraged us to vote with empathy and the best way to do that is to align yourself with the values of a party, not their policies. It was a worthy sentiment and one I took to heart. Here, The No Fefe Collective appear to do the same and this message makes me bounce giddily in that way you do when you find a way to love something even more.
Surprisingly, I find myself laughing at the more crude jokes, the ‘fart of change’ quote from an exquisite Bronwyn Turei as Marama Fox absolutely slaying me. These jokes that I usually roll my eyes at for their lowest-common-denominator-Luddite fashion are here used to highlight the incompetency we are experiencing this election campaign. A stroke of simple genius.
Alongside Turei, the rest of the cast shines and brings to life the satire in wondrous ways. Michael Trigg relives his role as John Campbell with the same hilarity as the last time I saw PSA. Matthew Staijen-Leach is again, an excellent Te Ururoa Flavell and Kelvin Davies. I am saddened by Te Ururoa’s lessening of hope in this iteration, his ‘being at the table’ political metaphor as strong as ever, though.
The ascension of Jacinda Adern is played to Colgate-dazzling effect by Heather O’Carroll. I love the way the show plays both sides of Labour and National, particularly Patrick Davies’ version of a good ol’ Bill English. Adams and Nokise’s writing works together with Isobel MacKinnon’s direction to show us ‘You want some of the same? The stable? Well, that’s how it really looks! Oh, but here, you want the new? The change? Take a gander and see how you like it!’ I get to see the good and the bad melding together, making the cesspit sludge that is political campaigning. It is so good.
Allan Henry’s appearance as Winston Peters was especially incredible. Henry has an amazing gravitas that did the stalwart of New Zealand First proud. I particularly love the Tsukkomi and Boke classic Japanese comic routine Peters has with Bronwyn Turei’s uproariously funny Shane Jones. The winking nod of the Asian theatre trope applied to Winston Peters makes me clutch my sides as Adams and Nokise’s wit squeezes the breath from my lungs in a comedy version of universal health care.
The end, as ever with Public Service Announcements, is ridiculous, entertaining and as funny as if you saw lipstick on a pig. I left BATS feeling happy and fulfilled, emotions not usually associated with politics. What I value and what’s important to me came out clearer than ever while I watched Public Service Announcements: Stranger Politics. I noted my sighs, my annoyances and my moments of defiant pride. With the election coming up, such insights into my personal motivations are a necessary tool. Public Service Announcements: Stranger Politics continued to keep its special brand of political fervour alive and no matter what happens come election day, I now have some brilliant drinking game rules for our results party get-together. Cheers, PSA!
Public Service Announcements: Stranger Politics is playing at BATS until Saturday the 16th of September. You can book tickets through the BATS website.