20-29 July, Theatre HB Playhouse
I buy free range eggs with almost religious zeal. On the few past occasions I’ve brought cage eggs I’ve scuttled out of the supermarket burning with shame. I regularly toy with the idea of going vegan, before I remember there’s nothing in this world quite like bacon. I worry frequently about the dairy industry, but drink copious amounts of deliciously milky coffee while doing it. So I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy an evening of anthropomorphism. I set out on a cold blustery night with some trepidation, but returned home glad I’d been. Theatre Hawke’s Bay’s performance of Menagerie a Trois certainly has the sad uncomfortable moments I was expecting, but it’s also uproariously funny and engaging.
The performance consists of three one act plays, all from the perspective of various animals. The show begins with A Dog’s Life, by Pam Valentine, a play depicting an evening at the pound where four dogs receive a surprise visit by a potential owner. The script oscillates between giggle inducing banter and forlorn memories of life with a family. The costumes are simple and the actors do a wonderful job of transforming themselves into canine characters by performance alone. Bobbie Seymour makes an entertaining Fifi, a previously pampered poodle with a penchant for doggy treats, and I can almost see Jack Garvey the puppy as he frolics around his ‘cage’ as Ginger.
The best part of the evening is the short, sweet and side splitting Threatened Panda Fights Back, by Rex McGregor. Ali Beal morphs into an hilarious Ling – WWF’s poster boy for endangered animals, and Peter Berry a very whiskery and believable Yan, Ling’s amorous mate. When the pandas discover they are about to be usurped by a miraculously now un-extinct pair of dodos, they swiftly hatch a plan to dispatch of the couple. Jack Garvey and Nathalie Van Egten are wonderfully awkward dodos as they totter around the stage, and the play is so absorbing I was surprised, and disappointed, when it ended.
Chook Chook, by Fiona Farrell, as expected makes me glad I buy free range. I luxuriated in a little self-satisfied glow as I watched it and conveniently forgot about the conventionally raised chicken I cooked for dinner the night before. All four ‘chooks’ cleverly portray life as battery hens as more than just plain abysmal. Wendy Beauchamp is a very funny Valmai, ever optimistic as she chirps along to her ukulele and encourages her neighbour to use ‘creative visualisation.’ Maisie Bromfield does an excellent impression of an agitated chicken, and although the play drags a little, it is revived by the loud entrance of Rach Keith as Bron, the karate kicking, potty mouthed rebel chicken from the outside world. All in all it’s a surprisingly funny and moving performance.
I didn’t expect to enjoy this production as much as I did, or to be so moved by its quiet poignant moments. Directors Sandra Alsleben, Cam Lithgow and Ali Beal have brought these plays to life, and I would encourage anyone seeking an evening of laughs to brave the cold and venture along to Menagerie a Trois.