At The Wake
A dark comedy touching on dog shit, funeral-based sexual encounters, sodomy and racial issues.
At The Wake is latest work from acclaimed writer Victor Rodger, who previously pushed the cloth with award-winning play Black Faggot. Dealing with being young, brown and gay, the intimidatingly named work went on to clean up at the 2013 Auckland Fringe awards and toured across the ditch as well as Edinburgh. In this instance, At The Wake was inspired by Rodger’s own family background, when he asked the all-important question, “What if my estranged Samoan father, my Scottish grandmother and I were all in the same room?”
And, such is the premises for At The Wake. The play follows the journey of the obnoxious, says-it-how-she-sees-it grandmother Joan and her grandson Robert (Taofia Pelesasa) as they prepare for and attend the funeral of their respective daughter and mother, Olivia. With the introduction of estranged father and devoted Christian, Tofilau, drama erupts and no stone is left unturned. Before his arrival, the first five minutes of this dark comedy are filled with conversation that traverses dog shit and sexual encounters at funerals - naturally all between a grandmother and her grandson.
The main culprit of the filth is renowned screen actress Lisa Harrow, who steps remarkably well into the shoes of Joan. As the predominant vocal point of the show, Harrow works through emotions like a schizophrenic. The quick-fire pattern of funny, angry and sad between characters becomes all-too-familiar within the first act, however it manages to transition nicely with the increased alcohol consumption, plot twists and heightened dialogue from opposing characters in the second. They manage to delve into hilarious exchanges of sodomy and racial issues without taking too many pages out of the slapstick handbook. Robbie Magasiva plays his role with ease, and it's nice to see him step outside of the 'hunk' typecast.
The clever writing of Rodger and dynamic characters are what bring this piece to life. There's no need for a lavish and clever set, though the work of set designer Mark McEntyre is the ideal pairing with the lighting design of Phillip Dexter, comprising gobo templates projected on to the stage. My only qualm with the play is the seemingly unneccesary set change involving half a dozen chairs could perhaps be scratched.
At The Wake is a highly charged, schizophrenic play - $40 well spent for those who like watching plays that fit every genre into one bill.