Wheel of Experience - review
The Loft at Q Theatre
September 9, 2014
Extremely flash finger-picking, lovely male harmonies and great facial hair: Wheel of Experience, playing in Auckland this week, is a most entertaining 90 minutes.
You think you’re in for a night of folk music, shanties and the like, but it’s much more inventive than that. Peter Daube, an accomplished actor as well as singer and musician, has taken a clutch of songs, poems and stories from the colonial past, and with the help of musicians David Ward and Dave Khan, created a highly theatrical experience. It’s whimsical (“That’s Dave and that’s Dave,” he says), it’s crammed with bits of subcultural history (the Opium Wars and why the first Chinese immigrants came to New Zealand; the origins of the independent Westie spirit), and the songs themselves are composed with a disciplined originality and performed with great accomplished flair.
Between them, these three guys play several guitars, banjos and mandolins, a pedal steel, a trombone, a fiddle and a powerfully effective four-stringed electric cigar-box. They sing forcefully and plaintively, and Daube fiddles his moustaches too. They take you to the races and the goldfields, into the badlands with the trickster Amy Bock and wide-boy Francesco Rodriguez Figuero, better known in Massey as Don Buck. They give you the despair of sealers abandoned on an island and the cruelty of murderous thieves. They give you hope and longing and quite a lot of loneliness. “I never could love,” says the criminal Dick Burgess, bluntly matter of fact as he confronts the prospect of the gallows.
Wheel of Experience has grown out of a smaller touring show, in which the audience was asked to spin a wheel to determine the order of songs. That wheel is still on the set, along with leather bags and a horse head and other male-world paraphernalia, but it’s not referenced, so the title of the show remains somewhat cryptic. But it doesn’t matter.
This is a sortie into male history and Pakeha history too, and we don’t have enough of both. Daube and co are not trying to make big statements, and you do wonder from time to time what a female voice might add to those harmonies, but the work is engaging, exuberant, sly and fiercely well performed. Quality entertainment.
To September 13.
Photo by Paul L Marcroft.