Burn Her is an absolutely explosive political thriller and I loved every single minute of it. The latest work by Playwright Sam Brooks represents a departure from his previous work and a move into an Aaron Sorkin style of political drama, however the wit and essence of Brooks’ writing is still very present within the piece. Burn Her opens on election night. Aria is the leader of the Aroha Party, a new minor party that has stolen a seat in its first election. The celebrations however are cut short by a shocking revelation from a party intern that throws the Aria and the Aroha Party into crisis.
Miriama McDowell is perfect as Aria, conveying the moral obligation that Aria weighs against her political obligations as she navigates the changing crisis. It is however Bree Peters who really shines in Burn Her. Peter’s portrayal of George, the Public Relations Secretary for the Aroha Party is a standout and Burn Her is effectively her show. She exudes energy in her role and her presence in every scene is one that provides all the laughs, pulls all the action and provides all the attitude of the entire play. The whole cast are truly excellent, each bringing their own talent to the ensemble.
Brooks’ staging provides a strong backdrop for the play, the set design is simplistic however hints at the layers of deception and hidden meaning within the narrative. The use of sound is the most prominent feature, creating tension that builds through the piece to a climax right before the intermission.
Brooks’, while presenting the narrative of a political crisis, also presents commentary on women, not only in a political workplace, but also in the workplace in general. In certain scenes, George and Aria, both women of colour, denounce the fact that they have to work so much harder to be recognized, purely based on societal circumstance. As an LGBT+ playwright, Brooks has also been an advocate for writing relatable queer characters; writing real female characters is a challenge that Brooks’ has taken on and succeeded wholeheartedly at, his women are not just caricatures, they are both flawed, real individuals who struggle with the decisions they make as the crisis adapts and they are forced to confront consequences they do not expect. Burn Her is sharp, intelligent and fierce writing with big hits of humour. It is a triumph for political theatre in New Zealand.