Auckland Arts Festival: Blam! - review
One of the most effusive quotes in the programme notes for Blam! is a rave from comedy star Ricky Gervais. It’s no surprise the creator of The Office fell so hard for this Danish stage sensation, playing at the Civic as part of the Arts Festival. Blam! isn’t just a series of rollicking stunts, pitch-perfect movie reenactments and cartoonish violence, though there’s plenty of each. It’s also a wonderful addition to the modest genre of comedies focusing on office drudgery and despair, exemplified by Gervais’ sublime mockumentary, but also including The Apartment (1960) and Office Space (1999).
Blam! even features a David Brent-ish middle manager who, early on, alternates between bullying his subordinates and desperately trying to impress them. Where Brent had an acoustic guitar and some truly terrible dancing, the manager here (played by show creator Kristján Ingimarsson) shows off a series of over-the-top karate moves which his team must dutifully applaud.
This early section does some valuable character development – we’re introduced to the office’s cool-guy show-off, its put-upon nerd and its unassuming everyman – but the slow build could test the patience of an audience sold on the promise of a non-stop thrill ride. For a long initial stretch office tedium holds sway, punctured only by the regular burble of a water cooler and the (oddly anachronistic) squeal of a fax machine. To pass the time, the workers indulge in the kind of boyish hijinks that go on wherever smart, creative people are wasted on dull work.
And then, gradually, things turn surreal. What starts as pranks and play-acting morphs into a series of precisely choreographed action sequences woven together using acrobatics, parkour, slapstick comedy and mime. There’s even a bit of dance thrown in, in the form of a charming waltz featuring an alien robot fashioned out of desk lamps and a water bottle. The inventive use of standard office equipment is one of the great joys of Blam!: staplers and coat stands become pistols and Gatling guns, Post-It notes double as playing cards and roll-your-own cigarette papers, and a pair of date stamps are called into service as emergency defibrillators for a patient lying on an office-trolley gurney.
Like bored young men everywhere, the Blam! boys are enthralled by superheroes, action movies and video games. The show gallops through a series of increasingly ambitious cinematic parodies and set-pieces – highlights include a three-on-one kung fu fight straight out of a Jackie Chan movie and an ingenious recreation of the poker game in Goodfellas – culminating in a brilliantly bizarre mash-up of Rambo, Apocalypse Now and Wolverine vs Hulk. Some may find it too laddish for their taste, but this (female) pop-culture nut loved it, as did the crowd of excitable teens behind me. Blam! is a hugely entertaining celebration of the power of imagination – and a reminder that you’re never too old to play.
Blam!: The Civic, to March 10. aucklandfestival.co.nz