WORD Christchurch 2020 – Word Up Cabaret

To add that touch of Halloween to the WORD Christchurch Spring Festival 2020, we open on a solitary violinist alone on the stage of Little Andromeda Theatre bathed in a red light which invokes a vision of Hell.

Then our host for the evening, The Unicorn, appears. According to the Festival publicity, The Unicorn is "the last of a noble bacchanalian race of unicorns charged with preserving the storytelling tradition".  The Unicorn begins a friendly interrogation of the audience. Like the Australian comedian, Dame Edna Everage, it pays not to be tardy when attending The Unicorn's performance although The Unicorn is a kinder, gentler teaser of latecomers. Latecomers will face a barrage of questions about their names, occupations and any other pertinent facts that The Unicorn cares to know. One audience member, whom we shall refer to as "Tim", is determined to enjoy himself fully, clutching an entire bottle of red wine to accompany him on this magical journey. Tim, shall we say, is vociferous, but not obnoxious. Behind him sits the taciturn Tom, only a letter and a wide gulf of personality traits separates him from Tim. Tim and Tom don't know it yet, but they will come to feature later in the performance.

The first guest is well-known Aotearoa crime writer, Vanda Symon, who has an affectionate jab at The Unicorn for pronouncing her name wrongly. Vanda reads the Prologue to her novel, The Ringmaster. The Prologue tells how a young university student, Rosie, is lured by her older lover to a remote part of Dunedin's Botanic Gardens then murdered and her body is dumped into the Water of Leith.

Lil O'Brien followed with an extract from her memoir, Not That I'd Kiss a Girl. She explained that this extract was the most horrifying in her book, not horrifying in a deadly sense, but horrifying in an excruciatingly embarrassing sense. This extract was about Lil and her girlfriend, Jade, shopping for a strap-on dildo and then the disappointing trial of said dildo in various positions, none of which were comfortable or even vaguely erotic. Lil does a great line in description and she painted a rather unnerving but hilarious portrait of this ultimately dissatisfying purchase. However, with some Number Eight Wire Kiwi ingenuity, Lil and Jade were able to render their acquisition into a user-friendly sex toy. This extract segued into an account of Lil and Jade's visit to the temporarily vacated home of Lil's parents in Ōtautahi where the matter of clean sheets and made or unmade guest beds became a metaphor for the degree of anger Lil's mother was still feeling about her coming out as a lesbian.

Juanita Hepi (another acquaintance from my other life as an actor) told a very funny story, which may or may not been rooted in autobiography. "Manu's on the rag" was a tale about an eleven-year-old girl whose first period comes on in the school playground. The story was steeped in an era of Catholic education which, hopefully, has receded into history. Juanita had the audience in stitches as she described the exchange of biblical passages between Manu and her love interest, Shaun de Vere.  Trading passages from Leviticus and Genesis in an attempt to out-shame each other, Manu finally triumphs over Shaun by quoting a passage about the religious uncleanliness of semen.

Then, with the guests tales all wrapped up, it remained for The Unicorn to weave a spontaneous story, one never to be repeated, involving a cat called Shadow, a hero called Tim, a villain called Tom and a horse-riding heroine called Melissa whose dashing equine companion was named prosaically "Horse". As we reached the denouement of this lurid tale which found our hero, Tim, in his local village hall jigging like an Irish dervish, perhaps to compensate for the absence of more than seventy of his fellow villagers, the flesh-and-blood inspiration for our hero descended from his seat onto the stage to do his best Michael Flatley impersonation. Clearly, the Malbec had been from a spirited vintage that year.

And so, as we sauntered out into the calm and windless evening of All Hallows' Eve, we were all glad for Tim and also glad not to be Tim.

All photos by Andrew M. Bell

WORD Christchurch