Auckland Arts Festival – The Biggest

The Biggest is the latest work from award-winning playwright Jamie McCaskill and sees a band of average Kiwi blokes embarking on a journey that’ll change their lives as they know it all set amongst the prestigious Hauraki Fishing Competition.

Set in small town New Zealand, Walter AKA Poppa, has met up with his mates Mick and Pat in order to cheer up their recently wheelchair-bound mate Stu.

Stu’s been off pub duty for a few months due to a serious accident that saw him write off his truck and brand new boat! Now on the mend, Stu just wants to get on with things and move on but he’s not quite allowed to forget his misfortune thanks to some macho banter from his mates and rather harsh ripping from young upstart Jan Martin. However, these bravados are also kind hearted souls and upon hearing that the prize for the Hauraki Fishing Competition is a new boat Pat, Mick and Poppa decide to come together and enter to win that prize for their down-on-his-luck mate Stu. Every story has to have a villain though right, and it turns out that Jan, who’s also dating Poppa’s daughter, is their man and he’ll do what he can to get in the way of their dream.

McCaskill’s script reflects its masculine environment so expect lots of ‘ya ol’bastard’ and ‘ya miserable ol’ bastard’, however, there is more to the story than meets the eye. There’s plenty of banter to keep the audience giggling while the story gradually unfolds. Family history, health issues and racial identity are all tackled here in what proves to be a very sweet tale about the bond of friendship.

The set is cleverly simplistic and reflects the raw nature of the dialogue with minimal props or distractions away from our core relationship driven protagonists. Swift and easy scene changes are facilitated via lighting and smooth character direction.

Collectively the cast provide an entertaining dynamic of often biting commentary of their own lives, but don’t worry they do this all for laughs. Jim Moriarty gives Poppa the necessary layers of emotion, from randy womaniser, hard-arsed old timer to caring friend both comically and sensitively. Peter Hambleton who plays Pat, is a somewhat emotionally repressed guy and no doubt a product of his generation but really he just wants his friends to be happy. Tim Gordon plays Stu’s complex character with exactly the right level of subtlety to show the bubbling frustrations of a man in his unfortunate predicament.

Apirana Taylor’s character Mick is more the strong silent type but boy does he get to deliver a corker of a final speech. Poppa’s daughter Cassie, played by Kali Kopae, certainly has a job to try and rein in these big male egos as the only female in the cast but she fits well and is well placed as the voice of reason. I did especially enjoy Nick Dunbar’s portrayal of the unfortunately named Jan, his air of competitive energy and desperate almost school boy emotion really helped drive the pace of the play.

This is a blokeish tale with softly rounded corners that is funny, moving and heart-warming. Be sure to get caught in the net of The Biggest this Auckland Arts Festival for some homegrown Kiwi comedy-drama.

The Biggest is on at Q Theatre’s, Rangatira until 19 March as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.

Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.