Feb 17, 2015 Theatre
The pleasures and perils of not knowing what you’re getting in for: Beast and Robin Goblin.
The best thing about Fringe is when you go to a show without knowing anything much about it, and you discover something unexpected that totally works for you. On the other hand, it can be the pits when you try something and you find it’s not really your thing.
That was my experience on Monday night at The Basement seeing two shows back to back for Auckland Fringe: Beast and Robin Goblin.
Going in, my expectations were wide open. Both titles suggest something sub-human. Both posters feature attractive hand-drawn illustrations. Both originate in Wellington. Playwright Paul Rothwell is a Wellington theatre institution, but his new work Robin Goblin marks his Auckland debut. Creator and performer Taylor Hall’s Beast was originally developed as part of his Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School graduation performance.
The description of Robin Goblin says the title character is “plagued by the notion that she’s taken somebody else’s life and is on the verge of being unmasked as an impostor. It’s time for her to learn the truth about who she really is.” Perhaps something like Kafka’s Metamorphosis? Or maybe more Jareth the Goblin King?
Unfortunately, it’s more like kids television hour. Frith Horan’s Robin is a stereotypical mega-successful businesswoman, but secretly thinks herself a fraud. So it’s not such a leap of faith for her when Blodred the Goblin (Felix Becroft) appears in her bed and announces she was switched at birth and is really a Goblin princess. Once underground, Robin has buyer’s remorse (there’s lots of gold to covet, however, the main item on the dinner menu is spiders), and wants to return to her old life. But with another goblin, Yester (Morgn Cliff) having taken over her life, and Blodred’s fatherly affections taking a turn towards the the incestuous, putting things right will not be simple.
So an imaginative premise with further complications yet to come. The problem is neither Rothwell’s script, nor Jackson Coe’s direction can decide who this play is for. The characters are acted broadly, but the scenarios aren’t comic enough to sustain laughter. Neither is the darkness mined for its potential, and the potentially very creepy Blodred is played more as a Smeagol than a Gollum. This could be poetic, nightmarish, ghastly, but instead it exists between two worlds as a light-weight Labyrinth. Despite its genre ambitions, Robin Goblin is the most conventional thing I’ve seen so far in the Fringe. What is most disappointing is how its narration treats its audience like idiots, spelling out every thought and plot development. Is it too much to want sophisticated adult fantasy?
Beast, meanwhile, calls itself an “interactive comedy” and its synopsis really gives the ticket buyer no real clues: “a physical and comedic exploration around themes of empathy, delusion, pressure and the power of influence”.
Beast’s dirty secret is that it’s a clowning show. Hall wants to engage us, get reactions out of us, and get us to laugh at him, and each other. His main text is a drawn out “mmmm” and a demonic chant. The “mmmm” often takes on a sexual dimension as he responds to our touch or enjoys the response of an audience member. I’m the first that he picks on physically, grabbing my ears and letting out a burst of pleasure. By the end of the evening we’ve all been touched, kissed on the cheek, and bought up on stage. For Hall, personal space is for sissies.
Weird? Yes. Wonderful? Absolutely. Hall’s character is like the anti-Christ of clowns. If you’ve enjoyed Squidboy and Kraken from Trygve Wakenshaw, as I have, you’ll get a kick out of Beast. Hall plays with power and control and what he can get an audience to do. It’s never scary, and he’s very attuned to our comfort level, able to prod us just a little bit further. He takes his time, and the collective results are supremely entertaining. Hall’s a bit of a rarity as he is also a very good looking clown. With his perfect hair and chiselled chin, he’s a regular Jamie Lannister with a bisexual edge.
Hall knows exactly who his show is for – whoever happens to be seated in his audience. To say any more will spoil it completely. Off-the-wall and brilliant, and only on for two more nights at The Basement. Such a good find.
Robin Goblin: Until February 19, The Basement. aucklandfringe.co.nz/robin-goblin
Beast: Until February 18, The Basement. aucklandfringe.co.nz/beast