PSA: Election 2020
Direction: Gavin Rutherford (written by Thom Adams, Jamie McCaskill and Anya Tate-Manning)
Circa Theatre; Circa One (August 21 – September 12)
Public Service Announcements has been Wellington’s celebrated political satire series for the stage across the last decade. This was my first time attending. And of course Election 2020 has not only the upcoming (now a month delayed) election to consider. But Covid too. Our lives have changed. Theatre has changed!
PSA: Election 2020 is being responsibly staged in a purposely half-booked theatre, observing social distancing. You and your bubble get to sit together but there are spaces in-between.
The downer of Covid is alluded to without being any sort of dark overhang. This is about the personalities and political satire. And it’s thoughtfully not hiding from the virus as much as it is providing momentary escape.
The set for this PSA is a giant rubbish heap, recycling bins and old scrap metal, a junk pile – the mountain to climb in politics. The visual metaphor is obvious but the set is magnificent, providing innovative solutions for quick changes and clever walk-ons from the cast of rotating characters. In total there are six actors portraying up to 15 New Zealand political personalities. The actors not only dance the tightrope wire of costume changes and wig placements but also transform themselves from female to male, from demure to hulking, from thoughtful and balanced to a giant, absurd lampoon. This is part-pantomime and we know this from the opening musical number, ABBA’s Mama Mia reworded as “MMP – Here We Go Again”.
That opening announcement gives the audience license to sit back and enjoy; gives the cast the wiggle-room they need to occasionally go full ham. Gloriously so.
It’s truly a brilliant ensemble cast – Hannah Kelly, Sepelini Mua’au, Matu Ngaropo, Simon Leary, Johanna Cosgrove and Neenah Dekkers-Reihana. They are skilled. Super funny. And nimble. This show flies by with brilliant gags and a decent stab at lampooning both sides (all sides) of the political football game.
Granted it’s a lot easier to laugh at the loonies on the right, and I’m sure most theatre patrons (and performers) would agree. So special mention does have to go to Johanna Cosgrove for her turn as Judith Collins. She is the Cruella de Vil of the piece. And Cosgrove delights in chewing up vowel sounds, rolling them in her mouth, outright crushing them.
Cosgrove will appear between those scenes as Chlöe Swarbrick, showing of course a completely different set of mannerisms.
But that’s true of all the performers. The occasional wig doesn’t fit quite right, or look exactly the part (even falling off on one occasion during opening night) but we’re in part-panto/full-satire mode. The chance to laugh was relief. There are some biting lines. Brilliantly timed and delivered.
PSA: Election 2020 should keep the arguments at home brewing and burning and it provides much needed levity in these very trying times. Hugely recommended.
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