The Royals of Kihikihi returns for a limited season this week at TAPAC. Royals tells the story of the three Royal siblings: Wolfe, Pats & Violet (Sam Christopher, Cherie Moore & Chelsea McEwan Millar), returning to the rural Waikato following the death of their estranged mother, Maggie. While twins Wolfe & Pats have escaped Kihikihi, Violet has remained, passing the time watching reruns of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and imbibing cheap wine. This reworked, recast and restaged production of Christopher’s vicious satire delves to the heart of family politics, revels in coarse Kiwi culture and reeks of booze and ciggies.
The playing space is transformed into a dishevelled lounge with the carpet-tiled floor littered with empty liquor bottles, plastic rubbish bags and a spectacular selection of tired kitten heels. Four white screens are used to separate the playing area from the remaining theatre space. While these screens effectively increase the sense of an intimate lounge scene, they resemble photography props, the stark white incongruous with the tired aesthetic of the production. Even more bizarre than the screens was the action which took place behind them; actors would linger there, in audience view, when retrieving something from the kitchen or bathroom. The action behind the screens didn’t appear to be choreographed in any way and failed to add the stylised nuance it felt that it was grasping for.
The large, somewhat overwhelming TAPAC theatre feels far more intimate than it is wont, courtesy of lighting guru Jaz Davis. This intimacy was imperative as the Royal siblings begin to deal with the historic traumas brought back to light by the departure of their mother. Having audience on three sides of the action made for some truly dynamic moments as these issues are resolved, although the blocking felt unsympathetic to the thrust style at times. Kudos to the cast for imbuing their movements with a sense of familiarity situating them in a family home.
Moore’s performance as tight-laced Hamilton housewife, Pats, complete with poorly straightened hair and the tags sticking out of her dress was simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. Her understanding of, and attention to, Pats’ journey carried the action of the play, with Christopher and McEwan Millar supporting beautifully. Renee Sheridan’s guest appearance as Diana from the TAB, come to pay her respects, was show-stealing. Sheridan lights up any stage she steps on and Royals is no exception – with a perfect understanding of character, comic timing and emotional complexity, I know that I won’t be the only one waiting for Diana’s one-woman show.
Having seen both the original production and this new version, it is clear that Christopher’s changes to the script allow for a more seamless and complex exploration of the emotional heart, without losing any wit along the way. The return season of The Royals of Kihikihi is sadly short, so go if you can, or just cross your fingers that the Royals will return soon.
The Royals of Kihikihi, February 25-27, The Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC), 1pm & 8pm