My colleague, Reuben, has been more-than-usually busy of late, preparing for the opening night of his first ever turn as stage manager at Wanganui* Repertory Theatre. The play was ‘Stir Crazy’, by New Zealand comedy duo David McPhail and the late John Gadsby. As a teenager in the late 90’s I watched their political satire show ‘McPhail and Gadsby’ with my family, so when Reuben offered me a complimentary ticket I was keen to take him up on the offer.
All the action takes place in a single set: the interior of ‘Starvation Hut’, so named, we are told because in the early 1900s four surveyors descending from nearby Mt. Horror were stranded there when heavy rain caused the river to swell. First they ate their supplies. Then they ate the packhorse. Then… well, four men went up the mountain, but only three left the hut.
Cut to modern times, and four good Kiwi blokes arrive at Starvation Hut for a few days fishing. There’s Ray, who passed School Certificate (the school qualification that one used to take in New Zealand at aged 15) in only two subjects: mechanics and peace studies; his bombastic accountant brother-in-law, Derek; Barry, who thinks he knows a lot more about the great outdoors than he actually does; and incontinent Col, whose endless anecdotes about the horses he’s trained are punctuated by frequent trips to the ‘dunny’.
When the river floods, trapping them in the hut, the four quickly succumb to boredom, with every attempt at diversion ending in conflict. Find a draughts board, and cut up a carrot and parsnip to use as pieces? Brilliant, until Derek puts them in his stew. Get up a game of poker, with river stones for chips? Perfect, until Ray takes economic theory into his own hands and, having lost all his pebbles, heads outside to find more. Find a book, and tear it up so everyone can read each page in turn? Col’s vocabulary doesn’t stretch to the likes of ‘foreplay’ and ‘tumescence’, leading to some hilarious (mis-)translations by the other characters.
The term ‘laugh-out-loud funny’ often signifies that something wasn’t really funny at all, but in this case we really did laugh out loud at the often distinctly Kiwi humour, so a huge thank-you to Reuben for the opportunity to head along and check it out.
*When European settlers introduced written language to New Zealand variations in the local dialects of the indigenous people led to inconsistencies in spelling. As a result, the name of my town and its associated was rendered ‘Wanganui’, whereas in most other dialects it would more correctly have been ‘Whanganui’ (or possibly ‘Fonganui’). Fast forward a century and ‘the ‘h’ debate’ is a contentious local issue. In general, I render it ‘Whanganui’, but the local Repertory Theatre omits the ‘h’, and I’ve followed their lead.