Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. Hallowed training ground for actors such as Cliff Curtis, Marton Czokas and a whole bunch of people from Shortland Street. For the first time ever (well since I can remember anyway), patrons won’t have to trek to Newtown for the graduation production for Toi Whakaari’s third year acting students.
If you head down to Courtenay Place and to Downstage Theatre from Saturday onwards you can catch this year’s hottest new actors performing in the world famous Angels in America, directed by one of the most ‘daring and exciting’ directors in the Capital. A heady combination.
That director is Willem Wassenaar, and his company Almost a Bird Theatre Collective is producing the play alongside Toi Whakaari. Willem first came to my attention in 2004, when he dressed a third of our Theatre 204 class in nude underwear and wrapped them in glad wrap.
Granted it was for a production of German expressionistic play Masses and Man, but it’s not an image I’ll forget easily. He first came to capital-wide attention with his Fringe award winning production of Delicates (2004). Set in a Newtown dry-cleaners it featured Toi Whakaari actors such as Matt Whelan (who some of you may recognise from C4’s My Story – I know I will (man I was obsessed with that show)), Dan Musgrove and Sophie Roberts. All of these kids are again working with him on Angels. A surrealist production of The Glass Menagerie followed, along with Antigone in this year’s Fringe Festival. Earlier this year, the company headed to the Netherlands to perform at the Oerol International Arts Festival. All very cool for Willem who is originally from the Netherlands and came to New Zealand to study for the Masters in Directing from Toi Whakaari and Victoria University.
Tony Kushner’s Angels in America Part I: Millennium Approaches (to use it’s full title) was the winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for best drama and Tony Award for best play. Kushner mixes reality with fantasy, politics with humour, and managed to make having a giant angel in a serious play not seem ridiculous. It’s 1980s conservative New York, and through a raft of characters, the play tackles huge issues including, most famously, the AIDS crisis. And yes, it was made into a TV series awhile back.
Finally, we get to see an awesome, culturally relevant play at Downstage. Let’s hope these future theatre-makers continue to…well, make this kind of theatre. Willem agrees, “There is no other play than Angels in America that reflects so deeply the huge identity crisis that we as the world, a society and as individuals are experiencing at this very moment.”
29 Sept – 6 Oct
$18 for students (2 hour standby)
Bookings: 04 801 6946 or http://www.downstage.co.nz/