Auckland Festival, Herald Theatre
March 18-April 11 | Reviewed by Renee Liang

WHAT HAPPENS when you send actors out into the city to collect stories? Backstory is an illustration of the idea that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s a weaving together of stories that are not quite Auckland and not quite not Auckland, if you get what I mean. The result is a play that easily and deliciously embraces the universal.

The eight handpicked members of the Ensemble really hit their stride in this piece. Tight changes, an engaging storyline and multiple characters kept me alternately laughing and (almost) crying. Musgrove again shows his talent for playing lovable losers in his characterisation of persistent lover Alan, while Snedden makes his character of Ivan, a gay Swedish mathematician sex beast (got all that?) believable. Medlock, who plays a glamorous princess on the alternate nights(in Life is a Dream), does a credible job of Clive, a 60-year-old businessman who has to confront an unexpected loss, while Peters likewise crosses the gender divide to play Pita, a Pacific migrant with a firm belief in God despite what life has thrown at him. Her solid performance shows an ability to really find the humanity in her characters. Sutherland is a sweet librarian searching for true love in all the wrong places. Lyons contrasts with a standout comedic performance as Alison, a frustrated, OTT marketing manager. Forman plays the elderly Jan who discovers a wild side of herself after 40 years of marriage. And finally Bright plays Rex, a quiet call centre attendant who nonetheless is in tune with his dreams. Of course each member of the cast also plays many other roles, taking turns to support each other as each takes centre stage for a few minutes.

It's a crazy mosiac, then, and all credit to the actors who not only keep the stories moving but also make following the multiple storylines easy. Lighting changes (designed by Silo stalwart Jeremy Fern) and a soundscape rooted in popular culture also help to signal the changes. Singer/songwriter Tama Waipara along with actor Cameron Rhodes was involved in vocal coaching, and this shows in the confident, clear (and at times musical) delivery. The set by John Verryt transforms the space of the Herald into a much more intimate setting, and innovations such as a perspex screen allow the introduction of a visual (drawn) component to the action.

So what is this play about? What starts as a seemingly random medley of stories is slowly drawn together, weaving a web which captures ideas about love and the interconnectedness of stories. For this is in the end what it comes down to: an examination of those all too human failings of love, loyalty and being true to oneself. The result is something heartwarming, classy and with bite.