Review: Thief! – charismatic personality, magnetic storytelling

Ruth Agnew reviews Thief!, by Kelly Hocking, at Little Andromeda, Friday 12 November.

“I always forget how early people turn up for garage sales. Like, you’re really early!”

Writer/performer Kelly Hocking opens her semi-quasi-pseudo-autobiographical solo show with a yard sale and a sardonic drawl. Her life story is told through comedic re-enactments, snippets of iconic, era-defining songs and engaging personal anecdotes. Hocking holds the whole audience rapt throughout her extended monologue memoir, and at the end of the show, longing for the (as yet unwritten) next installment of Hocking’s cute-knocks life.

Fraught with fragile filial relationships and interactions, Hocking’s unflinchingly raw recollections of her childhood are interspersed with bursts of fond nostalgia. Christian Science and blind faith fail to ease the existential ache of an adolescence steeped in agony. But Britney Spears’ 90s canon gives a teenaged Hocking and her brother an anthem of hope and endurance, perhaps holding the head of this wonderful character above water as she struggles to comprehend adult issues through a child’s eyes.

This honest and unfalteringly bold retelling of her journey from sheltered child to adult independence is brightened with bursts of her brilliant voice. These are my favourite moments of Hocking’s stellar performance. Her effortlessly executed excerpts of the various soul-jams were toe-tapping’, finger-snappin’, generation-gappin’ pockets of bliss.

Thief! was developed as part of the inaugural Ōtepoti Theatre Lab‘s Playwright Programme and premiered at the Dunedin Arts Festival earlier this year. Hocking’s insightful and entertaining work is evidence of the importance of supporting emerging artists. Thief! is a polished, neatly crafted work, and Hocking’s assured performance gives no indication that this is her debut writing and performing her own show.

Leaving the cosy, comforter confines of Little Andromeda, Hocking’s sweet vocal stylings roll around in my head, and I realise I’ve left the theatre with an unfamiliar feeling; I want more. More information about the brother’s journey, more nostalgia inducing flashbacks to childhood experiences, and definitely more of Hocking’s powerhouse voice reviving 90s pop hits. Hocking’s honest, unexpected analysis of key formative moments in her life is clearly complete, a tightly wrapped and efficiently packed theatrical vignette, but Hocking’s charismatic personality and magnetic storytelling endowed me with an emotional involvement in her experience and family saga that will not be satiated until I see a sequel to Thief!.

Thief! runs at Little Andromeda from 12 – 13 November, 2021.

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