Performance tops Fringe pecking order

Samoan grandmother Mama is lonely, and things aren’t getting any better. Her never-satisfactory husband is becoming more useless and demanding, the kids and grandkids seldom visit, and she’s just buried the cat, Blackie the Second.

Into her Auckland backyard comes a chicken intent on eating Mama’s carefully tended vegetables. The two become unlikely friends; Mama names the chicken Moa, naturally, feeds it Kentucky Fried chips and proceeds to tell it her troubles, disappointments, hopes and dreams. Then one day Moa disappears.

As playwright D.F. Mamea asks in the programme, ‘‘Who wants to see an old woman talking to herself?’’

Well, you will if you go to Still Life with Chickens, as about 80 well-satisfied people did last night.

Mama is lovable and complicated, resilient and soft-centred, and she’s played with charm, humour and compassion by Goretti Chadwick. Although she’s the only human character we see, mental pictures of her family and multicultural neighbourhood quickly develop.

The realistic-looking chicken behaves just like any chicken you’ve ever observed, pecking, flapping and strutting with the skilful help and vocalisation of puppeteer Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson.

In 2017, the play won Playmarket’s Adam NZ Best Play award. Delicately constructed, it has the guilelessness, uncomplicated narrative and moral resonance of a fable and the end, when it comes, will reignite your faith in simple, surprising miracles.

Most of the Fringe events I’ve seen so far have been good, but this one is outstanding.

Directed by Fasitua Amosa and with production, lighting and sound design by John Parker, Marcus McCane and Khalid Parker, it has been brought to Dunedin by the Auckland Theatre Company.

As the festival programme advises, it’s suitable for everyone over 10.

See it before the short season ends tomorrow.

-By Barbara Frame

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