Throughout the July school holidays, the Auckland Theatre Company teamed up with Basement Theatre to bring young theatre-makers to the forefront of Tāmaki Makaurau’s drama scene. These two leading pieces, Yang/Young/杨 and Fleshies 2.0, explored anxieties, jokes, and themes all intensely familiar (occasionally too familiar), providing an opportunity to discuss issues the theatre oldies might not be clued into.
I haven’t been to see a play in a while, so when I heard about the Here & Now Festival this July, I knew I was going to at least one show. Like many other people who attended, it seemed the majority of the Yang/Young/杨 audience knew at least one member of the cast or crew, and the atmosphere was buzzing with apprehension upon entering the theatre for this sold out show. Writers Sherry Zhang and Nuanzhi Zheng started working on this play four years ago, and it has slowly turned into what audiences got to see this past week.
Yang/Young/杨 is a wonderfully written piece by two young Chinese New Zealanders, and as someone who technically isn’t within that classification, I initially wondered if the play would be something I found easy to understand or relatable. However, it definitely was. I mean, who doesn’t love Timothee Chalamet in a contemporary NZ high school setting right? It provided peak amusement, to be honest.
The diverse cast covered a range of themes. From the exploration of sexuality, to the familial relationships of young people, to the divides that can come from attempting to bridge cultural gaps, Yang/Young/杨 not only elicited many audience laughs, but also provided the basis for multiple moments of personal introspection throughout the play. By the end, more than one tear was being fought back (at least from me). Many almost tears, many thoughts.
The play itself took around an hour, and for those unfamiliar, follows Qiu Ju Yang and Poppy Young, two contrasting young women navigating complex, vastly different yet eerily similar problems. Writer Sherry Zhang described the play as “your classic coming of age story” and there are definitely familiar elements within the plot, but again as she noted, in a recent Spinoff piece, it’s filled with “surreal fantasy elements.” One of the most amusing moments for me was the incorporation of Qiu Ju effectively zoning out of the situation she’s in, with the other actors turning into puppet masters who speak to her, giving advice on what to do going forward. It’s the kind of play that would be easily hilarious if it was a TV adaptation or ongoing series. The characters were also so easy to become invested in during that short period.
As for the level of reliability, I was definitely torn on which of the mains I related to most but then settled on another character entirely, we love bisexual representation! @a_bi_girl on instagram come thru! Truly though, all the characters felt like I could in some way draw a parallel between them and myself which is partially probably why the play was so popular. It echoes more than just one universal trait and experiences. Maybe not Timothee Chalamet though. Can’t QUITE relate. Maybe in another life.
Admittedly, watching Yang/Young/杨 made me want to go see the other play featured in Here & Now Fest — which you can find a review of! Like, just next to this! — and was kinda gutted that I couldn’t make the time. Basically, this play goes hard. Whether you like live theatre or not, it’s definitely something you would regret missing if you didn’t go, but the Here & Now Festival will be back next year, with some more gems to light up the stage of Tāmaki Makaurau. Brilliant job, guys.
The first thing to understand about Fleshies 2.0 is that no-one ever goes to the Basement Theatre because they want some conventional comedy. You go for a laugh, or to learn something new, or to feel distinctly cool, but not because you’re wanting to see a serious rendition of Shakespeare or Arthur Miller. My friend and I were well aware of this when we arrived to see Fleshies 2.0, skulking to the back of the room to take our seats in case those in the front row were called up for some audience participation.
While there was no audience participation, Fleshies 2.0 certainly lived up to what you’d expect from the Basement Theatre. It was different, it was bold, but, most excitingly, it was entirely fronted by young actors. The play features a series of sketches about body positivity all loosely tied to a central narrative about auditioning for a high school play.
The body positivity messages were refreshingly unique. Fleshies 2.0 managed to move beyond formulaic messages and towards young people’s more specific and raw insecurities about their physicality. It leans into the fact that we live in a gendered world (the sketch on ‘How to Be a Man’ was a highlight), and explores how gender expression influences our self-confidence. The low-grade humour at times detracted from one of the strengths of the show, which was the diversity of opinions on an issue (body positivity) that has long been usurped by white, able-bodied, women.
The large cast was delightfully managed. The writing allowed for everyone to have a turn to shine, and the dialogue did not favour one character’s arc over another. The show found its apex in the individual young actors and their final soul-bearing confessions about their bodies and their lives. The small venue complemented the tension that many of the performers artfully held when discussing, for example, how they are learning to feel comfortable taking up space while using a wheelchair, because that space was always meant for them anyway.
Perhaps designed for a slightly younger audience than your typical university student, Fleshies 2.0 would be a great pick if you wanted to take your high school aged sibling out for the evening. Or, go yourself. And sit for 50 minutes to learn about how people that don’t look like you travel through the world in a different way. About how our bodies are political, and how the younger generation is seeking to shake free of that.