Polo - review

A leftie playwright misses his chance to fight the good fight.

 

Dean Parker is one of the few New Zealand playwrights willing to hoist his political colours on the flagpole. A left-wing battler, he has written about the founding of the Labour Party, and adapted Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men, from a Brasher era in politics, for the stage.

So what is Parker doing writing a play that looks like a fluffy summer comedy set in a Clevedon polo club? ATC even released a spoof video featuring society royalty Colin Mathura-Jeffree spanking actor Harry McNaughton with a riding crop while eating oysters.
Polo ends up as more of a sell-out than satire. The replacement SkyCity venue is appropriate.

This could have all been leading up to a bait and switch, luring us in only to eviscerate the rich and powerful, but Polo ends up as more of a sell-out than satire. The replacement SkyCity venue is appropriate.

Oh, there is still politics. Lisa Chappell plays Gillian Hancock, a National Cabinet minister with designs on the top job. Out to reclaim the colour red for the right, she argues “National Party values are New Zealand values”.

Her partner (Adam Gardiner) is a property developer who uses his blue-ribbon links to swing deals. When a reporter gets hold of the story and starts quoting the Cabinet Manual in the paper, Hancock must decide how to ride out this conflict of interest.

You don’t have to look far to see where Parker got his inspiration, but the commentary is ho-hum. There’s nothing to cause ripples for card-carrying members of any political persuasion.

McNaughton’s visiting South African polo player gives an excuse for a tirade against Jacob Zuma and the ANC, the only time Polo takes much of a stand against anything. McNaughton consistently enlivens the stage, his character a man who has clearly spent too long with his horses.

Parker indulges in wish-fulfilment in writing the dialogue for the younger generation; they articulately drop cultural talking points between selfies. Even event planner Sally Hunt (JJ Fong), who never reads the papers, ably keeps up. Gillian’s daughter Harper (Hannah Patterson) is a wannabe Stephie Key, but the society circuit seems more alluring than bohemian creativity.

The Ya Ya Club types are contrasted with wait-staff Matiu (James Mavea) and flatmate Amber (Kalyani Nagarajan), who live overlooking the body of water next to the Northwestern Motorway. Amber waxes lyrical about Auckland’s locations, but sometimes this is more Navman than Grace Taylor.

There is little at stake and few surprises — Roger Hall-style comedy is not Parker’s strength. The ending offers a vision of an alternate play focused on Parker’s response to the values of the millennial generation, as they navigate adulthood and urban Auckland. I’d watch that.

Or we could have more clearly had the rise and fall of the Cabinet minister: Chappell’s Hancock deals with an ineffectual husband and political enemies to gain her rightful front seat in the debating chamber. I’d watch that, too. Though I suspect the real political theatre is more compelling than any of this.

 

Polo, SKYCITY, until February 28. atc.co.nz