2019 Billy T nominee Donna Brookbanks’ Heroic begins by getting the audience amped with appropriately inspirational tracks, such as the Foo Fighters’ ‘My Hero’ and Bonnie Tyler’s ‘I Need a Hero’. Brookbanks’ entrance is brilliantly dramatic, a large spotlight on Brookbanks bound to a chair as the villain ‘Saboteur’ postures over the speakers.
The premise of Heroic we realise is the analysis of heroic qualities and what a hero could look like in New Zealand today, all through the framework of Brookbanks and the varying aspects of her life. Throughout the show, Brookbanks goes through the different categories or tropes of heroism/superheroism, from names to powers to mentors. A show about ways in which Donna Brookbanks could be a superhero.
Interspersed throughout are interjections from Brookbanks’ nemesis ‘Saboteur’ – Brookbanks’ own voice pre-recorded and interrupting to undermine Brookbanks throughout the show. It is similar to James Mustapic’s Blair Witch Projector which is on in the slot after Heroic at the Q Theatre Vault. Both are slick technical integrations in the same space, where Mustapic’s ‘ghost’ is more like a ghastly adversary whilst Brookbanks’ voiceover does a chillingly good job of playing that insidious voice at the back of your head. Both are clever depictions of anxiety onstage, but as an actor Brookbanks’ reactions sell the horror of this disembodied figure more than Mustapic’s do. Brookbanks’ slight wince or twitch when the voice-over interrupts feels masterful.
There are elements of Miranda Hart throughout Brookbanks’ set – a show very much built on awkwardness. Brookbanks is not afraid to be silly – owning the computer-generated Captain Fartpants moniker; even though she much rather would have been called something sexy like Captain Puss, Wonder Woman’s dorky cousin. Her physical comedy shines and she has a great natural command of the stage, even if she teeters on the border of shy throughout the show. This half-roar that she does is difficult to describe but has the audience in stitches whenever she pulls it out. She cuts a highly empathetic comedy figure onstage. Adorkable, for want of a much better word, comes to mind.
It is a heartfelt set, circling closely around Brookbanks’ feeling of never being good enough – imposter syndrome being Saboteur’s closest ally in villainy. These anxieties of “Donna going backwards” build into a chaotic downwards spiral partway through the show until Brookbanks collapses on the ground. In a scene akin to a classic superhero move – see Spiderman: Homecoming – Brookbanks, with the voice of her ‘mentor’ father, is able to fight to get back up to her feet. From this point, she strips into her undies-on-top superhero costume and acts out a very entertaining and creative battle using aural soundscape. Brookbanks’ dramatic talent really works for her here, as it does throughout the show.
However, this wasn’t necessarily a positive show about battling your demons. Although there was a final inspirational push, it came on suddenly and – much like a certain 2 episode twist of benevolent character into Mad Queen – didn’t entirely feel earned. It is a great arc, from hostage to hero – with David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ playing at the end contrasting with the use of Bonnie Tyler’s cries for a hero at the beginning, but could perhaps use some pacing adjustments. This may be understandably difficult, as Brookbanks has a breadth of comedic material to work with, from farts to backpacks to her mouse-saving boyfriend. She has a talent for bringing hilarity into mundanity. Brookbanks is an endearing comedian, and Heroic does a good job of being sweet, relatable and very funny.
Who: Donna Brookbanks
When: 7PM, 21-25 May (Auckland)
Where: Q Theatre, Vault
Review by Grace Hood-Edwards