Happy
May 27-31 | Reviewed by Melody Nixon

Songs of Hollow Hill is a musical romp through old-style faerie land. The short, cutesy piece, written and conceived by Toi Whakaari graduate Natalie Medlock, picks up on the fantasy fairy genre and narrates the sad, gruff and sometimes humorous story of two outcast fairytale characters and their love-hate relationship.

The songs of the hollow hill in which Pickle Shoe Key (Medlock) and The King (Asalemo Tafete) dwell are diverse and very enthusiastic although lyrically not always clear and comprehensive. While the first song of night is powerful and well enounced, the second song came across as garbled on opening night, and this tended to be the case for the remainder of the score. The storyline was hard to discern and I found myself having to be content with the spectacle and physicality of the piece rather than enjoying its narrative or engagement with character.

However, the power of Medlock and Tafete’s voices was often enough to carry my attention, and there were a couple of standout songs that were alternately gleeful and heart-felt, such as ‘True Tom’s a Bastard’ and ‘Forgive me, but I will I will.’

Natalie Medlock and Asalemo Tafete performed their parts with ease, and there was a level of theatrical chemistry between them that made their interactions seem unrehearsed in parts. Medlock as the wee Pixie-Fairy cross, Piskie, danced and leapt freely around the space of Happy, interacting with the audience, putting her feelings on display and pining for the attentions of The King. The goblin king kept Piskie bound to him by a rope attached to her leg, and he alternated between wildly abusing her and allowing her to comfort him for his sorrows. The combination of Medlock’s costume and the rope around her leg was slightly disturbing, in the sense of its reminiscence of fantasy fairy porn and the sexualising of fairies as women-with-wings that exists in some modern books on the genre. (See any works by Brian Froud, for example.)

In a mode that is consistent with the traditions of Happy bar Songs of Hollow Hill’s musical ensemble was as delightful and impressive as ever. The double bass player, trombonist, pianist and percussionist were all given fairy characters and assumed vocally interactive roles from the beginning. The majority of the score was composed by Lob (Erika Grant), who had a range of unusual and haunting instruments at her disposal. Hob the trombonist (Isaac Smith) composed one of the broodiest, most jolting pieces of the night, ‘Ravens Keep the Gates to Hell,’ and in all pieces the range, breadth and originality of the music was scintillating.

Songs of Hollow Hill marked an interesting creative endeavour between actors and musicians, and its shift away from the overused conventions of realist theatre was inspiring. What it lacked in clarity it made up for in gusto, and perhaps through an examination of the show’s intentions, the creators could work to bring viewers further into the narrative and drama of the piece.