To Be Frank is a clown-ish character piece created by Hockey. The delight of this show lies in its surprises so I shall endeavor to give you a flavour of the show without giving too much away.
The crux of the work is watching Frankenstein's Monster (re)discover human experiences. From how to use his own legs to discovering love and fear, watching Frank exist in a world not built for monsters is joyous and rewarding.
Hockey's embodiment of the monster is sensational. His own naturally unusual height combined with a heavily padded suit and expert stiff-legged movement makes for a truly believable monster. When Hockey runs at the audience yelling it’s genuinely a bit unsettling. This makes it all the more enthralling when Hockey engages with the audience. Frank appears to be somewhat mesmerised by us and often surprised and excited by our response. This along with the innocent air Hockey brings to the character makes this performance utterly enthralling.
The show is at its best when Frank relishes on discovery. Working out what his legs can do, how to blow up a balloon (word of warning, there is lots of balloon-based content in this show) and how to hold hands are laugh-inducing highlights of the show. These largely take place in the first third and as Frank becomes less of a discoverer and more of a performer, an element of joy is lost.
Directors Logan Cole and Sean Rivera appear to have worked hard to give To Be Frank some arcs for the audience to hold onto, but for me the highlights of the show are when Frank is as surprised by what happens as we are. I'd encourage the team to lean into the organic sense of play which exists in the first third of the show and carry it throughout. By the end we see Frank sing, but we don't get to enjoy him discovering that he can or learning how his voice works. I want to live that journey with this loveable monster.
Another highlight of the show is Francis-Dear's live score and balloon foli which is a significant driver for the tension of the show. With an effects pedal put to excellent use, the musician creates ominous atmospheres, creaking bones and often controls the storytelling with just one instrument and a balloon…of course.
The lighting design is simple but effective. Intentionally garish and intense it perfectly matches the absurdity of the action onstage. A downstage turtle is a simple but brilliant touch which creates a beaming lowlight on Frank and casts his shadow across the back of the stage. Gorgeous!
Apart from a rigid structure which seems to fight against the fun and fluid nature of Hockey's performance, To Be Frank is a simple concept well-executed and has the audience in awkward and delighted giggles throughout. It's a wonderful ode to an iconic character and bound to be one of those fringe shows that sticks in people's minds.
You can catch To Be Frank at Te Auaha until March 4th. Tickets available via the fringe website.