A Party for the End of the World launches with a short projected video compilation of a variety of interviews Robbie Nicol, the titular White Man and central figure of White Man Behind A Desk, hosts about the prospective idea of a show based around climate change. One prescient and hilarious exchange asking what would the interviewee think if there was already an audience being held hostage to said show at this very moment, sets the tone for what is an intelligent and wildly entertaining show.
This is essentially a two-handed show, with writer Finnius Teppett doing his all to try and reign in Nicol and keep them on brief, whilst Nicol is trying to do everything possible to avoid the depressing climate change content they are mandated to produce for 35 minutes for their sponsor rhymes-with-peengreace.
Like a kid hyped up on sugar and the manic joy that comes from avoiding all your problems, Nicol enters to 2 Unlimited’s seminal track ‘Get Ready for This’ riding a skateboard with dizzying disco lights flashing all around. He is here to party. He is cut short, literally, as Teppett slips across the stage and cuts off Nicol’s air supply with a tidy chokehold. Armed with a clipboard, an unassuming world-weary Teppett proceeds to explain the climate change premise whilst Nicol’s unconscious body lies at his feet.
They make an entertaining duo, their rapport and sympathetic comedic timing shining onstage. Nicol plays the rebellious chaotic element subservient to Teppett’s belaboured well-meaning authority. Nicol bounces about the stage like a puckish political pundit, encouraging distracting games of ‘Whispers’ and hat-making when Teppett’s back is turned. Teppett does an admirable job playing the straight man against Nicol’s childlike antics, eliciting many a laugh with his deadpan responses. He’s just trying to do his best.
When Nicol is eventually pinned down to the desk, there is a marked shift from that larger than life, explosion-of-glitter-in-human-form persona. Still larger than life, Nicol as White Man Behind a Desk is sharp, energetic and incisive. He looks down the barrel of a camera set side of stage, recording a live broadcast that will eventually be added to the White Man Behind a Desk YouTube and social media accounts. After all, WMBAD began its life as a web-series and only recently moved away from the typical talk-into-a-camera-at-your-flat format after Nicol’s won Best Newcomer at the 2017 NZ International Comedy Festival. Most of his recent videos come from those live performances which have justifiably been part of sold out seasons for two years in a row. His quick-fire monologue is as slick as the palms he had to wipe on his suit before holding hands with Golriz Ghahraman MP. Although it becomes a little disconcerting to be in the audience as Nicol faces away, performing towards a camera for this monologue, the team are obviously aware of this. It is quickly resolved as the monologue wraps up and they return to their live performance for the rest of the show.
The show is full of knowing winks to the current political state of NZ. A common occurrence in WMBAD shows is the appearance and ‘interview’ of a NZ politician – something that really feels unique to NZ’s political climate. The section with Golriz Ghahraman MP we receive is amusing, but overall a real moment to hammer in the show’s skewering of the recent abandonment of the promise of a Capital Gains Tax.
A Party for the End of the World continues to do what WMBAD does best – entertaining and educating – breaking down the political landscape into humourous and human elements that explain why we should care about this stuff. Politics being that stuff that deeply affects us, but has almost been designed to be inaccessible to the common folk. It’s not like it’s called a democracy, right? Nicol keenly lays out how democracy is on the decline, and what we can do to halt that decline. Unfortunately that speech wasn’t really about climate change in Teppett’s eyes. Unless you consider the fact that it’s the people in power, in politics, who have the ability to help enact action against said oncoming catastrophe.
When Nicol is eventually forced into delivering that monologue about climate change that he didn’t write because it was too depressing, the absurdism of the show that staved off the dread of our swiftly impending doom fades. Nicol’s visibly spirals into a dramatic emotional decline at the all-encompassing horror that is climate change and our feelings of powerlessness. A gentle slightly nihilistic pep talk from Teppett coaxes Nicol back from the brink, and he picks up momentum before launching into an ultimately inspirational call to action about what we as individuals can do to help change things. As Teppett says: we can be the generation that saves the world.
With the emotional stability of a butterfly, Nicol’s character becomes too excited and has to be choked out again, going down in a spray of banana-flavoured Fruit Bursts.
A Party for the End of the World is clever, frenetic and raucously entertaining. In tone it strikes the perfect impending-apocalypse balance between wild abandon and anxiety, nonetheless ending hopefully – as we can only wish for ourselves. If you can get a ticket, it’s a must watch. The White Man Behind A Desk team continue to deliver on their promise of whip-sharp political satire which, in today’s world, is less like satire and more like the dangerously warm truth.
Who: White Man Behind A Desk
When: 8.45PM, 3-4 May (Auckland), 6.30PM, 7-11 May (Wellington)
Review by Grace Hood-Edwards