Review: Sticky Fingers (Scruffy Bunny Improv Theatre)
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
Even for a foreigner such as myself, it seems clear that the question of what it means to be a kiwi is definitely not set in stone. It is a question that Pallette Theatre are asking with "Sticky Fingers", a physical theatre piece consisting of skits running on the themes of immigration, xenophobia, and belonging. Directed by Eunji Park, it is fair to say this is a risky piece of theatre to create in a country where the topic of immigration is as divisive as it is in New Zealand.
The narrative drifts between classic sketch comedy (with ironic punchlines such as "you don't look like a Sofia, something's not quite white here!"), surreal pieces of physical theatre, heartfelt monologues, and a touch of poetry. It is a mark of how well the tone is worked through that it holds together seamlessly, to create a show that is diverse, thought-provoking and creative. I think part of what makes it flow so naturally is that each scene appears in an almost linear pattern - for example in one scene we see a group of friends talking on a balcony and passing around a joint (here an e-cigarette rolled in a piece of paper, turning a potentially small budget into a humorous throwaway laugh) discussing (and almost accusing) if any of them can be considered truly kiwi. This is followed by a scene in which we see two drunken characters stumble away from a party. Of course, this is not true of every transition, but they do follow a loose structure and ease very naturally into one another.
The design is not expansive, but it works in its details. A scene in which anonymous bloggers and commenters make xenophobic remarks online is elevated by the chilling and slightly screechy electric guitar that plays over it. Another in which a newcomer to the country is surrounded and questioned (in a wonderfully symmetrical stage image I might add) is made all the more intimidating by the sharp change in lighting. Occasionally this is overworked, such as after a call centre scene when the hilarious dialogue and impersonation of an automatic answering machine are slightly cheapened by using a blackout, flashlights and cackling to show the intimidating nature of moving to a new country, though that is a nit-picking criticism of an otherwise brilliant scene.
Park's direction is owed a great deal of credit for the tone and flow of the performance. Given the topics discussed it would be easy to slip into creating something angry at the status quo, and justifiably so, but by maintaining a calm distance it reminds us of why diversity and multiculturalism are already embedded in New Zealand and why that is nothing to be ashamed of. As the show is currently running until the 10th of March I shan't spoil the final scene, however I will say that I found it genuinely quiet, understated and breathtaking. Brought to life by a talented and entertaining ensemble - each of whom got their moment to be funny, be moving and be outspoken - "Sticky Fingers" is a piece of theatre that takes risks, and they pay off tenfold to create a show as colourful as the people it represents. Four stars.