Erin Harrington reviews Hardcase Hori Housie, which is playing in the Bread and Circus:
World Backyard Buskers Festival 2021. This review originally appeared on Theatreview as part of their festival coverage.
Hardcase Hori Housie is an interactive night of song, stories and games, offered as one of three evening cabaret-style productions as part of this year’s Backyard Buskers Festival, which focuses (necessarily) on our excellent local talent. We’re hosted by Rutene Spooner, a seasoned entertainer with a dulce de leche voice and great comedic chops, who is supported by the ‘homebrew house band’ The Doughboys, a tight trio led by Andy Mann.
The show is billed as lasting 80 minutes but this premiere performance clocks in closer to two hours, and I’m not sure how you could do it all justice by squishing it down too much further. It’s a big, noisy delight – well-directed and well-designed, with a good eye for detail and an infectious sense of humour.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what we get is a blinder of a variety show that cribs heavily from the Aotearoa songbook, slipping between English and te reo Māori, smearing everything with a sense of nostalgia for the days when your ‘five plus a day’ came from raspberry jam buns, and a room thick with smoke from chain-smoking nannies was a perfect place to look after kids. It’s a playful, wink-wink nudge-nudge account of the past and national myth-making, not the sort of neo-conservative longing for a ‘good old days’ that never was.
Sure, there are rounds of housie that Spooner calls in a very idiosyncratic, somewhat haphazard manner (“dairy makes me poo, thirty two”; “two ladies before going to cross-fit, eighty eight”), but these only make up a small portion of the event. Instead, the show is a vehicle for Spooner’s considerable talents, whether it’s a stunning rendition of Prince Tui Teka’s ‘E Ipo’, or improvising songs about audience members. It’s also a celebration of music and community, and not the sort of experience that an audience member can opt out from. If you’re here, you’re in.
There’s traditional prizes – a cake, a meat pack – wrapped up beautifully on stage. There’s banter, group singalongs in which we are invited to act out our “X Factor fantasies”, and a variant on The Money or the Bag called The Yummy or the Bag, where a member of the audience has to decide between a growing stack of biscuits or a kete full of goodies.
There’s also a special guest; tonight’s manuhiri is performer Phoebe Hurst, who belts out a gorgeous, soulful and well-arranged rendition of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Valerie’. Throughout, members of the housie komiti wander the tables. In the break we are offered tea and biscuits, the big teapots stationed on their own refreshment table (complete with checked tablecloth) off to the side.
This production was originally scheduled for a run at Little Andromeda last year, and was derailed because of one of the lockdowns, but I am glad to experience it in the basement bar the Christchurch Casino. The broad space can fit a few hundred more audience members on bar leaners and trestle tables than Little A would have been able to accommodate, and beyond making the singalongs something spectacular, it creates an environment of noisy community hall anarchy as audience members shout at and shush one another.
It’s clearly a bit of hard work at times to wrangle the room, but Spooner is warm and authoritative, creating and holding space beautifully. Sure, we’re here to beat our mates for a gift basket, but it’s also a space for song and talk and relationships. There’s a careful balance between moving things forward and taking the piss.
I also appreciate the sly sense of subversion. You can’t chuck the word ‘hori’ in the title of something with out there being some politics of reclamation at play, which we’re reminded of in an original song early on outlining the word’s racist history and more recent reappropriation by Māori, for Māori. There’s a fine line to be negotiated, especially when playing with nostalgia. I love the gentle acknowledgement that the room knows the words to ‘Ten Guitars’ and ‘Tutira Mai’, but most struggle with ‘Poi E’, and the decree that if you can’t roll your rs when shouting wharewhare (i.e. housie) then you don’t get the prize. There’s a gentle and persistent invitation to step up to those who need it, decolonising the festival one punter at a time.
I also really want to know the perspective of a Māori reviewer, or to experience the show again but in a room that’s less dominated by Pākehā. I’m just some Pākehā lady with middling watercooler reo and limited experience in Te Ao Māori so there’s a lot of winks and nudges in the dual address that aren’t aimed at me, or that go over my head. There’s a lot I can’t speak to. On the other hand, my companion, who is a few years deep into her own journey into reo and tikanga, is absolutely buzzing by the end.
We both have an absolute blast, and I can’t think of the last time I had so much fun at a performance event. This morning my throat is sore from singing and shouting over the noise, and I still have the jaunty theme song stuck in my head. It’s a real earworm.
While I really appreciate and admire the way that the festival has managed to pull together a full (enough) slate without the addition of international visitors, it does make me miss having a complete slate of evening shows like this, which for years have been my favourite part of the line-up. I’m greedy; I want both the yummy and the kete, and I wish that this show, in particular, were running for longer than three nights.
Hardcase Hori Housie plays in the festival until 24 January, 2021, at Sixty6 on Peterborough at the Christchurch Casino. Find more information here.