Reviews, News and Commentary

ATC’s Heartbreak Choir: smart dialogue, engaging entertainment and classy acting

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Image: Andi Crown

The Heartbreak Choir

By Aidan Fennessy

Auckland Theatre Company

ASB Waterfront Theatre

Until March 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Directed by Lara Macgregor with a fine sense of pacing and drama, the entire action of The Heartbreak Choir is set in a Country Fire Association hall in an Australian country town. It looks as though it’s the 1950’s complete with old Zip water heater, clunky old piano and a wonky wall heater But the Australian and the Australian Aboriginal flags on either side of the stage tell us the play is set today.

Here five women and one man of varying ages and backgrounds get together to share food, give updates about  their lives and to rehearse for  a future concert.

It’s a small breakaway group from the larger one which rehearses at the local Catholic Church. They are led by choirmaster Barbara (Alison Quigan) and feature a range of voices and personalities. There’s the loudmouthed Mack (Kate Louise Elliott) and her seemingly shy daughter Savannah (Esmay August), the pregnant Zimbabwean Anesu (Munashe Tapfuya), a doctor waiting for her certification to come through, the rich focussed and aggressive Totty (Jodie Dorday) and the local policeman Peter (David Fane).

Quigan as choirmaster Barbara hold the play together linking the various aspects of the choir and their lives together. She is an astute actor within the group as well as providing some brief cameos at the beginning of each act with her opening few minutes of the play a fine silent comic display.

It’s a delightful feel good play about people connecting within small communities and the choir becomes something of a metaphor for wider aspects of human interactions.

There are many brilliant songs / vignettes particularly a Zimbabwean song complete with elaborate African dance moves which initially challenge the flat footed Peter

Interval comes and that feel good feeling seemed to beguile the audience (and this reviewer), looking forward to the possible tiff with the old (Catholic) choir and a sing-off between the two groups.

But no. There has been a unspoken secret about one of the former choir members who has committed suicide and the issues around moral pacifity and religious hypocrisy loom large.

Because of this much of the second part of the play has a darker undertone but it does end with some glorious music.

The company interact brilliantly, moving from their speaking roles to those as choristers with a dance-like quality which is a pleasure to observe. While they make valiant attempts at Australian accents the play feels very much like a portrait of a rural New Zealand settlement filled with people we all know dealing with issues we all face. It’s a play which offers smart dialogue, engaging entertainment and classy acting.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s