Getting on a bus armed with colour-coded wireless headset and a troupe of actors almost guarantees a good time. It’s even better, when you’re promised a meander down memory lane to Ponsonby way before it was ‘hip and gay’.
The evening, which takes two hours via a dedicated bus from the moment of departure to return, allows you to hear two different stories as you wander through the neighbourhood that experienced one of the quickest gentrifications in the city.
David Fane’s narrative is led by director Stephen Bain who takes half the group past the highly polished Ponsonby road to the backstreets of the once largely Islander neighbourhood, allowing us to appreciate the antics of Italia Hunt and Troy Tu’ua. The performers snoop around people’s front yards, sneak a quick tap at an expensive Audi and usher us to have a look in through some of the locals’ living rooms. And of course there’s slap dancing mixed in with some chillaxed hang out time.
It suits Fane’s mellow narratives; he does have an extraordinary voice whether he’s impersonating his stoic mum, or his dad who refused to recognize him in front of a cop (just as a joke), or recalling the sight of a palangi woman who decided to wash her car in a bikini on a Sunday! The parade of covert onlookers as they head for church is not hard to imagine, nor is the swatting of heads with the ever ready ili (Samoan fan).
Not having grown up in Ponsonby, some of the references clearly go over my head but it is easy to see beneath the fresh paint and the ridiculous prices of second hand clothes that there was a time when Ponsonby wasn’t so posh.
Interval is held at St John Methodist’s church hall and is a fitting opportunity to look around the pop up historic museum while munching on a bikkie ‘n’ a cuppa tea. (Interestingly at that time only the English services were held in the morning; the Samoan one in the evening: one of the rules that man, not God, had decided as to what thou shall not do)
The second half follows the events in the lives of two young girls as narrated by Tessa Mitchell who also performs alongside Phoebe Heyhoe. Their performances are more directly related to what we see, from the decision to steal bright pink stockings with flowers up the side to wandering through back alleys, watching the two girls down shots and a take a rather bizarre wander through a Japanese restaurant. One of the most perfect moments is when Mitchell narrates how Ponsonby was filled with bohemian artists and at exactly the same moment our guide lets us take a moment to rest next to a young artist with a sketch pad. His eyes open wide at seeing a dozen or so punters with earphones sit down next to him but it is just one of those beautiful coincidences – and from his non-appearance at The Basement after the show, he’s definitely not an actor.
There is a period though (and this may be a reflection of age and not having grown up in Ponsonby; I look forward to a West Auckland version at some point) where it feels all very disconnected. We are animated by stories of the past and yet all around us there are closed doors and fences; the only party we see (and I really hope we will be heading there) is fully laid out with drinks but there is no one there – it’s almost like a ghost town.
Hunt and Tu’ua are our spirit guides into a past that existed in some twilight hour as the sun skids to allow a last flush of orange and pink to be left before the artificial glows of street lights and bar tables light up the streets. Mitchell and Heyhoe take us into a grittier part of their everyday world, sodden with tales of gentlemen’s clubs and limited work options for women – and when abortions might have to be done in Australia.
The writing is beautiful, engaging and fluid – and yet as we snake our way through the growing crowds on the streets it feels like the present doesn’t want to remember the past. We have old tunes and snatches of nostalgia but all around us is the crispness of the now.
It is a memorable experience but somehow it still leaves me a tad sad at how incomplete the history is when we know so little about the many narratives that make up what we choose to acknowledge or remember.
#ponsonby #fringe #headset #theatre