Whitirea NZ and Long Cloud Youth Theatre
109 Dixon Street
One part Twin Peaks, and one part murder mystery role-play, The Mountebank – the latest offering from Long Cloud Youth Theatre - is a befuddling promenade installation in which you get out only as much as you put in.
The company have taken over an empty commercial property on Dixon St and transformed it into the Mountebank Hotel (another successful deal from Urban Dream Brokerage) a clean and modern contemporary hotel, with white walls, shiny wooden floors and glass and aluminium fittings. The audience are the guests at a party, and the caterers, musicians, function manager, and other hotel staff are all working for a shadowy figure known as ‘The Host’. The guests are presented with a series of word puzzles to solve, and philosophical questions to answer as we mill and mingle awkwardly - until eventually we spill out of the conference room and explore the rest of the hotel.
There is plenty to discover, and the nature of the work is one in which every participant will take a different path and experience a different journey. A series of clues and coincidences send me to play cards with a pianist, to answer a riddle from the functions manager, to the surveillance room where I receive a mysterious phone call and eventually to an inner enclave with red party hats and fortune cookies. Others have been drawn there also, by different means. We have reached the end of the line. Who is the Host?
The game of it is pretty fun, and the atmosphere of surreal intrigue created by the company (under the direction of Stella Reid with assistance from Daniel Emms) is impressively maintained. There are some powerful visuals and clever details: the reception desk at the end of a long shadowy hallway, a brochure advertising the conference facilities containing a word game for those with sharp eyes.
Unfortunately the final revelation does not satisfy, or live up to the games that have preceded it. On opening night a group of girls in the final chamber refused to believe that the ending presented could be anything more than a trick – they were so certain there had to be a better payoff.
There was a lot of stuff about this show that I enjoyed - I love puzzles and mysterious thrillers, so the content was right up my alley – but the ending needs to punch as hard as the show that has preceded it.
Reviewed by Hannah Smith.