Review: The Addams – a playful film about the spooky, ooky creative process

Erin Harrington reviews The Addams, a short film from Many Hats Theatre Company that screens at Lumière Cinema, 14-15 May 2021.

The Addams is a short film that highlights truth in the adage that ‘the show must go on’. The engaging and funny 30-minute short chronicles the work of Many Hats, a theatre company made up of adults with intellectual disabilities, as they prepare a theatre production based on The Addams Family. However, like every other creative undertaking in 2020, the show is impacted by the effects of the pandemic and the challenges of lockdowns. This requires requires some creative course correction late in the game.

Since its inception in 2014, emerging from drama classes offered by charitable organisation Skillwise, Many Hats has combined live performance with video work. This chronicles the creative process, and importantly puts the camera in the hands of the performers so that they can make their own video content. You can see this playful self-referential work on their YouTube channel.

The Addams continues this kaupapa. It offers insight into the nuts and bolts of the process of devising and staging a show, from script development and cast wrangling, to diving through piles of costumes and running makeup tests. There’s also some neat running gags, in particular the importance of food and community as the producer-performers bounce between cafés, debating the finer points of characterisation as much as the benefits of baked goods.

The cast of this piece – Emily, Emma, Ben, Ashleigh, Peter, and Michael – are performers and creators, directors and talent, such that fiction and reality blur. Regular Ōtautahi theatre-goers will also recognise some of the cast from the excellent productions devised by the theatre company A Different Light. In that context it’s even more of a pleasure to see behind the scenes, and to better understand the specific context of a mixed-ability production.

From a cinematic perspective, the film generally looks and sounds pretty good up on the big screen of the cinema at the Lumière. I appreciate sequences with a lot of extreme close ups of performers talking to camera, narrating their experiences of the show and its connections to their broader lives.

It’s a funny and charming film, but The Addams also highlights the patient and caring work of a range of support staff. These include everyone form administrators and drivers through to artistic facilitators, all of whom work hard to make the production as enriching an experience, and product, as possible. I see in the credits that the project has been the beneficiary of some charitable support, and I hope that this film is able to highlight the importance of these sorts of creative endeavours to funders.

I also love that I’m able to experience this film at a friends and family preview screening, to be welcomed in by the performers themselves, and to see first responses to the finished product.

There’s a twist near the end – for me, at least, as someone with no relationship to the performers or their production context – which recasts the film’s narrative and purpose in a satisfying manner. When lockdowns impact their work they have to bend their creative energies to something else, drawing from current expertise and developing new skills in the process.

As such, the film becomes as much a metatextual account of performance and theatricality, as it is as an insightful, enlightening document of the profound worth of arts for all.

This review was solicited.

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