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NZ International Comedy Festival: Trygve Wakenshaw - review

Apr 30, 2015 Theatre

Trygve Wakenshaw – Nautilus
Herald Theatre, Auckland


It would be easy to criticise Trygve Wakenshaw for not bringing much thematic heft to his excellent new show Nautilus, but it would also be silly. It’s true that man’s search for meaning founders and sinks irretrievably not far into the show, but should we care?

What is the purpose of comedy? Does it need to deliver as art? These are big questions, interesting questions, stupid questions.

Nautilus consists of a series of largely unrelated scenes, performed solely in mime. Some of the scenes are jokes without words: set ups and punchlines played out through multiple characters. Some of the scenes are long, some incredibly short, some are character studies or stories of the absurd and some are silent knock knock jokes.

They are funny. They are so funny that it’s hard to not attempt to re-enact them later, even just for your own benefit in the mirror, but you really shouldn’t. That’s embarrassing.

Comedy is an absurd conglomeration of unrelated things. At this year’s festival there are the postmodern musings of stand up demigod Daniel Kitson in play form, and there are naked magicians. There are talky observational stand ups and there is a show called Perverts.

Some of the scenes in Nautilus are obscene or brutal, and part of Wakenshaw’s talent is to neutralise your conditioned reaction to those things and override it with hilarity deriving only from his movement and / or his incredible face. He’s so loveable that he could mime killing a small animal live on stage and that act would almost certainly leave you wiping shameful tears of laughter from your eyes. Would there be some greater meaning in that? Probably yes, but you wouldn’t want to think too hard about it.

Set up and payoff and repeat, with interludes for lip synching and non-sequiturs and non-sequitur lip synching. Some scenes recur throughout the show, working toward narrative closure, but mostly Nautilus is a shambolic collection of unspecifiable madness.

The show is like a high wire act. How long, Wakenshaw asks himself, can I sustain an audience’s laughter without props or even much of a costume, purveying a comedic form that nobody has found particularly funny for decades, if ever?

I never really knew what the hell was going on but the show is about 90 minutes and if I stopped laughing at all, it was only really for survival breathing and it was not for long, and I was not alone.

To May 2.


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