Theatre Review: The Ugly Noo Noo,

Posted: May 17, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Tags: , ,

Review:  The Ugly Noo Noo, Between the Teeth, and Mistero Buffo.

Directed by:  Janice Buckland

Cast – Andrew Buckland

Review:   Astrid Stark

First published in Sunday Independent 16 May

Master of mime and transformation not to be missed.

As soon as Andrew Buckland returned from performing in Las Vegas with the Cirque du Soleil, he said to his wife Janice, ‘I am going to do five shows; concurrently!’  Janice did manage to talk him out of it – to a degree.  Buckland played the role of St Pepper in the Cirque du Soleil’s production of Love. 

He is currently performing two of his own works, The Ugly Noo Noo and Between the Teeth, as well as the Nobel Prize-winning Italian theatre maker Dario Fo’s Mistero Buffo, in repertory. All three pieces are one-man handlers and are presented as a combination of comedic clowning, political satire, and physical theatre.  His wife directs all three. Buckland says his experience in Las Vegas has left him invigorated and inspired, he felt ‘invincible’.

Andrew Buckland in The Ugly Noo Noo photo by Bevan Davis

The Ugly Noo Noo was performed for the first time in 1988 and it has since received 17 national and international awards for the script, direction and the performance.  In this play Buckland explores the mythology of fear; our own terrifying battle with irrational and crippling fear.  At the time when he wrote the play he raged with his own personal fears, which included the struggle against a bigoted Government, which he illustrates as a life size battle between a man and a Parktown Prawn.  

The Parktown Prawn, which is actually a type of small pink cricket, inspires fear in people because of its creepy appearance and its aggressive self-defense methods.  During the play a man discovers a fleshy, living underworld, underneath his lawn whilst mowing it.  He starts exploring this otherworld and soon finds himself battling against being sucked into it; which symbolizes man’s inner and outer struggles.  Buckland’s character eventually tumbles down into this world with an act of physical theatre that suspends belief.  The man finds himself trapped in a glass jar with the Parktown Prawn and this is where things get really weird and interesting.   Buckland takes on the role of a grown man trying to kill the Parktown Prawn out of his irrational fear. Meanwhile the poor creature had been elected by his own kind to find ways to communicate better understanding and harmony amongst different species.   The man cannot understand the creature and he sprays it with insecticide, which only gets the Parktown Prawn ‘high.’  He whacks the critter with a shoe and a leg goes flying. It sounds funny, and it really is.  We were screeching with laughter.  However, underneath the surface the message is clear; miscommunication, irrational fear of little understood cultures and intolerance, breeds hatred and destruction. Buckland is a master of transformation as he slips in and out of the various characters. The stage is bare and he is only dressed in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt – allowing his body to freely communicate his ideas through movements and clowning.  

Between the Teeth continues this exploration of fear, and adds to it the power and consequences of distorted truth, and the relationships, and disparities, between gesture and word.  Again Buckland masterfully creates believable characters on stage and showcases his phenomenal technical skill.  A dodgy insurance salesman convinces a young couple that their newly born baby has a good chance of its arms and legs falling off.  He offers the distraught couple an insurance deal which is obviously corrupt.  Buckland sets the mood of the play so well that you can almost see the dark brown balding furniture and the cheap wallpaper of the poor white couple’s home which has been invaded by the sleazy salesman. 

It is the third production, Mistero Buffo, which is set to ruffle religious feathers.  The work was written around the mystery plays and it combines social and political satire with the burlesque comedy of Italian medieval plays.  It was first staged in 1969, and televised in 1977 amongst great controversy – think Monty Python’s Life of Brian.  It is a no holds barred onslaught against religious fervour and oppression between the upper classes.  The references to the baby Jesus, his parents, and the peasants are filled with satirical humour and scathing social commentary.  On the surface it may appear to the easily offended as an outright attack on Christianity but the multiple layers are far more complex than that.  Buckland’s character as a young Jesus is an outcast. All he wants is to play with the other boys, but he is rejected until he turns a clay bird into a real creature. The kids demand that he animates their clumsy versions of clay birds.  There is a snake bird, a turd bird and even a cat cake bird; it has the body of a cake with a cat’s head and several wings.  Under pressure Jesus makes all the birds fly and of course the cat cake bird eats all the other birds.  Does this not illustrate the greedy and destructive nature of mankind rather than attack the nature or character of Jesus?  It would be shame to avoid this powerful and brilliant performance if you are religious and are afraid of being offended as it appears to be able to offer so much more.

The only problem with Buckland’s three plays is deciding which ones to go and see.  I would suggest taking time out of your social schedule and reserving your seat for all three performances of this multiple award winning actor.

Astrid Stark

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