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I am Rachel Chu; Long Distance Phone Calls; Tide Waits for No Man; (on) Whatipu | Auckland Fringe 2019 Highlights

Nathan Joe’s I am Rachel Chu was a smart, funny and layered parody of blockbuster film, Crazy Rich Asians. Joe drew attention to the distinct personalities of different people who have been carelessly lumped under the vast continental frame of Asian. Laced with insights and witticisms, I am Rachel Chu interrogated the deliberate and damaging tropes that, when embedded into Hollywood rhetoric, quickly become taken-for-granted stereotypes. With Joe in the background as narrator, Amanda Grace Leo, Ravi Lloyd Gurunathan and Angela Zhang performed different characters with rapid-fire costume changes creating a touching, humorous and genuinely hilarious hour of theatre.

Life, love and the various experiences we encounter as children of difference were some of the themes of Long Distance Phone Calls, a beautiful sonic experience in the Auckland Town Hall that brought together poets under the helm of director (and poet) Vanessa Crofskey. Led by MC Grace Teuila Taylor, the poets shared stories, from ancestors to first world problems to family, heartbreak and language. The audience was seated in the balcony and while this supported the titular concept, the distance itself wasn’t necessary.

From words to the body, Tide Waits for No Man was one of the most exquisite works seen on our stages. Taiwanese-New Zealand artist Nikita Tu-Bryant is the tour-de-force who wrote, directed and performed in Tide Waits for No Man: Episode Grace. Shadow puppetry, movement, traditional chants and calligraphy tools came together to create a stirring and quietly profound performance. Irrespective of language barriers, this was a thoughtful elegy to the past, one’s ancestors and her[story]. Crafted with love, care and thoughtfulness, the non-verbal performance reflected Tu-Bryant’s dedication and the rich textures provided by her collaborators and performers Chye-Ling Huang and Marianne Infante.

From the body to the soul, (on) Whatipu was also deeply personal. The multi-media production traced grieving Nina’s (Dawn Glover) decision to face her past. A migrant to Aotearoa from the United States, she has suffered immense loss and finds solace on one of Auckland’s western beaches and in the murmurings of a whale. Haunted by a range of dead relatives, Nina continually waded into the past, glimpses of which flitted across the backdrop. Matt Smith and Courtney Eggleton also gave notable performances but it was Glover (lead performer and also creator, co-writer and director) who was the soul of the work – especially when she unleashed her magnificent voice. The production itself is still in development and with further pruning the drama of (on) Whatipu will sweep us up into its poetic trans-Atlantic story.