The first play from Black Creatives Aotearoa is a triumph
By Naomii Seah (she/they) and Madeleine Crutchley (she/her)
Po’ Boys and Oysters was a long time coming. Twice postponed due to Covid, the award winning play written by Estelle Chout, proved to be well worth the wait.
“I rarely see someone like myself—a proud Black queer mother represented on stage,” says Chout. “I wrote Po’ Boys and Oysters to give these characters a voice and provide a platform to a group that have rarely been seen or represented in our theatre.”
It’s the first theatre piece produced by Black Creatives Aotearoa, and Chout achieves everything she set out to do and more in her stage debut. The lines sparkled with wit, and had the whole audience stifling their laughter. The tension between the siblings Flo, played by Chout herself, and Marie, Flo’s conservative older sister, felt raw, honest, and utterly real. The two women quibbled like children, and at times almost came to blows, yet Chout manages to navigate their friction with good humour and grace. The love between the two sisters is strongly felt, as well as the very real tension stemming from the sisters’ class divides, their political ideologies, and their upbringing as immigrants. Their dialogue addresses those messy conversations one has during holiday dinners, and explores the question of how we can reconcile differences to understand our underlying connections.
The writing was helped by the stellar performance of Sanda Zvenyika, who plays Marie. Her chemistry with Chout was undeniable, and she delivers many of the show’s killer punchlines with perfect comedic timing.
Director and Dramaturg Dione Joseph builds on the stellar chemistry of the cast and the clever dialogue with interesting set design and costuming that brings new layers to the story. Walking into the Basement Theatre amidst an electric crowd on opening night, one could see the stage had been laid out in an approximation of a lush Mission Bay home. There were no set changes, yet the play never felt claustrophobic or boring: the actors both filled and demarcated the set to create distinct scenes and spaces.
Though the play is full of family conflict and drama, there’s a feeling of lightness that comes as the metaphorical curtain closes. The piece seems to pull from sitcom tropes to navigate those more serious dynamics. There’s the consistency of a single set, an impressive amount of jokes packed into each minute, a three-act structure, surprise reveals, the emotional satisfying wrap up, and a dedication to building out laughs based on familiarity to character. The costumes also felt referential to 80s and 90s television, with bright bold colours, denim, and distinctive character-dressing. Those elements all worked to build a closeness to the cast, and created a sense of security while navigating the different disputes.
By the end of the show, the shortest one-liners or smallest eyerolls from particular characters could elicit loud chuckles. The affection for the lead characters was clear in the room. It’s an impressive sense of intimacy to build over an 80-minute show, and a real testament to Chout’s writing.
Po’ Boys and Oysters is hilarious and familiar, yet original. It’s a masterclass in writing character and creating comedy, and explores dynamics and subject matter that are urgent and overdue on stage.
Joseph recalls the difficulty of working through the postponements, saying it was extremely hard for cast and crew.
“For all of us, I cried. But each time, I knew we would get there.”
They certainly delivered on opening night, and it’s a sense of familiarity and fun not to be missed.
Photo supplied by Black Creatives Aotearoa