It is very rare as an adult to feel childlike wonder.
It took the opening night of The Naked Samoans Do Magic at the Civic – as part of the Auckland Arts Festival- for our reviewer to succumb to the childlike joy of 90 minutes of cheers, swears, glee, magic and roaring laughter.
The 13th Floor’s Neesha Bremner bears witness to the boys’ stellar 20th Anniversary show.
The show opens with the dulcet tones of long -time Naked Samoan supporter, John Campbell, narrating the tale of ‘failure’ of 1998’s debut, after which the boys apparently went their separate ways.
There followed stints of being homeless (or as they would term it, ‘freedom camping’ in Myers Park), working at Bunnings, being a Palangi, working as a Ministry of Pacific Peoples’ civil servant and experiencing a weirdly co-dependant relationship. Now a golden ticket scenario has finally brought our Naked Samoans back together.
Their reunion, however, takes place in the waiting room of a lawyer’s office. Everyone is there: Mario, Robbie, Dave, Heto, Shim and Oscar. The waiting room is filled with their quick repartee, clever word play and self-deprecating humour.
A mysterious fan, the great Sionedini (Samoa’s answer to Houdini), has left our boys a villa in Ponsonby. With Auckland house prices soaring and money to be made, the boys gather to sell it off and then plan to continue with their separate lives. But the villa is not quite what it seems….
This theatre piece draws inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as we witness each of the boys having their own White Rabbit moment when they visit the villa that has been left to them. The whole story is told using illusion and magic as the villa seems to transform before our eyes in to a maze of moving hallways and disappearing and reappearing doors which would have made Houdini’s head spin. In fact the rapid scene changes give the whole set a sense of flow, with clever ideas so very well executed.
The Naked Samoans Do Magic is topical, touching on white privilege and the role of money in modern New Zealand. As well as the thought-provoking moments, it’s an endearing story on the importance of being true to oneself, of friendship and of prioritising family over money. All of these messages are conveyed with gut-busting humour and highly imaginative costumes changes (Dave Fane may well qualify as the stand out, dressed like a vision in his red sequined dress!). And all these disparate parts are woven together by the Carroll-esque White Rabbit, so nuanced and cheeky while he serves as an audience guide throughout.
But perhaps that childlike sense of joy I felt was largely due to the magic I mentioned earlier. Really it’s a full- on, fantastic, magic show in the old-fashioned sense, with music, outlandish outfits, people appearing and disappearing in and out of boxes, and objects being transformed before our eyes. I return to the magic because I want to underline that The Naked Samoans Do Magic is just so much fun.
I have never heard a theatre crowd roar in joy before. It’s a glorious thing to experience. No wonder there were whoops, spontaneous clapping and a gleeful standing ovation at the end of the show.
Highly recommended. The show runs at the Civic until March 25th.