On Tuesday a third play opened, Royals of Kihikihi. Two plays in one night is sort of doable. Three, not so much. So I pulled in my friend Sigourney Taylor.
Fall in love with her words, then go see the show. I know I want to now.
As anyone who knows me will say, I’m a sucker for raw and unapologetic portrayals of life in all mediums of art. The grittier the better, is my motto. I never really considered that I could watch something that was too raw, but Royals of Kihikihi certainly comes close.
My night started out innocuous enough; as is my custom, I sought out dinner to ensure I had the energy to sit through a whole 65 minutes of the play. I gorged on Jambalaya from Elliot Street Stables, and partook in a seriously delicious waffle from Waffle Supreme. (Side note: Seriously, you need to eat there. The guy who owns it is all kinds of lovely, and his waffles are crunchy on the outside, with doughy, fluffy innards speckled with granules of sugar and covered in delectable toppings, or, for the purists out there, a dusting of icing sugar.)
My stomach was happy, so I waddled and rolled up to Q theatre. Royals of Kihikihi is being held in the Vault of Q. It was a full house, which meant that we all overheated under the stage lights. However, I prefer heat stroke to hypothermia, so I simply sat back and prayed I had remembered to put deodorant on that morning.
I was extremely thankful that the set design, which was set in the middle of a filthy lounge room, did not include the stench of old alcohol and Big Macs. I’m all for authenticity, but I have my limit.
Royals of Kihikihi opens with Violet (Holly Shervey) engaged in one of my preferred past times: sprawled on the cough watching trashy television. Violet, as we quickly learn, preferred to watch “Keeping up with the Kardashians” to attending her mother’s funeral.
It’s an accepted fact of life that weddings and funerals are one of the few occasions where the whole family congregates. True to this adage, the Royal children return; Wolfe (Samuel Christopher), the recovering addict and alcoholic, the neurotic Patsy (Luci Hare) who got out of Kihikihi to the bright lights of Hamilton, and never looked back, and the spoilt little delinquent, Violet.
As tensions between siblings mounted, their tongues got sharper, and I found myself equal parts amused, and horrified. It was acerbic, lightening quick and irreverent; black comedy at its finest.
Each sibling was played with a delightful mix of the kind of immaturity one only regresses to when surrounded by siblings, and the gravity of people who have loved and lost.
Wolfe had a raffish charm and slickness that was cut with a boyish desperation for approval, and I found myself wanting to give him a hug! Patsy was a nightmare of neuroses held together by a thin veneer of calm. Her manic vacuuming accompanied by her vitriolic diatribe was the highlight of the play for me. Violet was every little girl who grew up with no self worth, no guidance, and no repercussions.
Finally, there was the delightfully interfering friend of their mum, played by Sylvia Rands with superb comedic timing. She was the small town joke; the probable alcoholic who worked at the TAB and bludged off Maggie Royal for fags. Our laughter was flecked with the arrogance of the city, but there was something honest and kind about her, that made me admire her simple joy in her mundane life.
Royals of Kihikihi took you on not so much a Rollercoaster, as a FearFall of emotion. The inter-sibling tension percolated through the play, the audience always aware that the rise to the top could not last. The free fall, when it came, was nothing short of brutal, fast, and left me feeling as though my organs had been re-arranged none too gently. The resolution of Royals of Kihikihi was abrupt and almost unsatisfying; I almost expected a second half. It left me to wobble from my seat and leave in a minor state of shock.
Although I felt cheated out of my nice little ending that I expect to be handed to me in a package, I know that there was no other way for Royals of Kihikihi to conclude without cheapening the truths and stories it told so brilliantly.
Anyway, I’ve always liked the FearFall.
In addition to it’s marvelous characterization and plot, the play challenged ideas around small town New Zealand, poverty, domestic violence, and alcoholism. Much fun was poked at their Mum’s alcohol problem, but there was no denying that it was a yoke around all their necks that they were still fighting to throw off. With 14% of New Zealanders with a diagnosable substance abuse disorder (Wells et al. 2007), bringing the damage that alcohol wrecks on a family into the unflattering spotlight was a timely reminder of the destructive effect it has on our society.
Ultimately, Royals of Kihikihi was a hilarious and heartbreaking look behind the closed doors of New Zealand life. It was not an easy experience, but I value theatre for its ability to expose me to stories and emotions that are not part of my everyday reality.
I highly recommend it, but I also recommend doing what I did straight after, and ringing Mum.
It’s on at Q until the 27th of September. More information and tickets are available here.