Oct 16, 2023

Review of Rise of the Olive

Review by Jessica Soutar Barron 

Image; supplied by Laser Kiwi

There’s plenty to say as we dissect the latest offering from Laser Kiwi. Whole treatise could be penned on the work’s lineage back to the agents provocateur of surrealism, or the great french mimes and clowns. But whether Dali or Tati is the ancestor, what we see on stage is thoroughly contemporary, thoughtfully executed, and loads of fun.


Laser Kiwi - Zane and Degge Jarvie with imogen Stone - have been around for over ten years now and come to the Bay from Wellington fairly regularly. They bring us new stuff whenever they do - “Gotta be a fresh one every time!”. Over the years they have shown the immense breadth and scope of their abilities with circus and stage craft, comedy and aerialism. Their skills are maturing but beautifully also loosening up. They are still a tight threesome, accomplished and disciplined, but they seem more relaxed somehow. Their HBAF23 show is like hanging out at their rehearsal space watching them play - with ideas, with jokes, with timing, with each other, and especially with us in the audience.


Each item on the programme is an example of play: A child’s game turned adult. It’s a party just at the moment someone turns Jenga into a drinking game. At its heart this is Gaulier’s ‘Le Jeu’ made visible. Play is essential for all performers, and for these three it’s the root to new work. It holds a tight grip too on a kind of academic knowledge of what theatre is. It pulls back the curtain to reveal the ‘figuring out’ that goes on behind each set-piece: How much time will it add to the programme? How hard will it be to pull off? How much will the audience enjoy it? And, How much patience will they have for it? A kind of entertainment cost-benefit analysis wrapped up in nutty lampoonery.


The Rise of the Olive is a collection of the very moments a game in the studio turned into an idea, had the pimento of structure shoved up its middle and found itself jammed into the repertoire. Turns out the olive is a metaphor for a great many things! And the olives we meet in this show can get a little dirty.


The one downside of this collection is it isn’t dirty enough. It could do with a dollop more late night cabaret. It’s ridiculous and weird but not quite ridiculous or weird enough. Push it into the realms of Theatre of the Absurd and really leave the audience wondering what the F is going on. Laser Kiwi would, I know it. They’re also maestros though at meeting the audience where they’re at, then giving them just a gentle nudge towards the edge. 


This work is adult too in that it’s sophisticated without trying too hard. Full of instant in-jokes and meta references, audience participation and clever use of technical trickery and old-school prestidigitation. It takes us from a theatre hall in the 1800s to a lounge bar in the 1970s then right back to Toitoi in 2023. It’s full of rich traditions and multi-layered concepts. What’s most delicious though about this dirty olive of a show is it doesn’t take deep thought to enjoy it, it doesn’t tug at the audience to find meaning. It’s confident in itself.


We loved Zane and Degge in NZ’s Got Talent back in 2012, then all three in Circus Aotearoa and Biggest Little Circus. I loved them particularly in the Pictionary game they brought us just after lock-down. We’re thrilled when the Jarvie boys do Nuit Blanche every year, and we adore Imogen who works twice as hard and on stilettos, and hanging from a rope by her ankle (while Degge plays the Launchpad!). Whatever they bring us next, we’re sure to devour it with gusto….”mmmmm olive!”

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