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Review: The Heartbreak Choir is the perfect balm for a country battered by a cyclone

As Auckland Theatre Company celebrates its 30th birthday this year, their latest production is perhaps a fitting one given this week’s devastating storm in New Zealand.

The Heartbreak Choir is set in a small Australian country town, and in its backstory, the community has suffered a tragedy that has rent its popular and close knit choir. Five women have broken away and formed their own group, but while defiant, they are somewhat dispirited.

The story is haunted by a tragic death, but what unfolds is one of the funniest and emotional plays one could hope to see. The characters are all delightfully quirky and devastatingly funny. The comedy is at times unflinchingly crude, but always hilarious. What’s more it is delivered by an adroit cast who have great timing, and who work in beautiful harmony with one another.

Given the name of the show, yes there is some singing in it and it is gorgeous. 

The first half of the play is mostly pure comedy that explores the relationships between these wonderfully dynamic and spirited people. Sure there are tensions and we get hints of something sinister that has caused the chasm in this community, but the first act allows us to get to know these people – their flaws, and also their sense of loyalty.

The second act after the interval is darker and far more emotional. The comedy is still there, but the tragedy that has stalked this group is finally revealed in shocking intensity. 

Yet as emotional and challenging as one or two scenes in this part of the play are there is such a skilful interplay between the actors and the story, and the script has a perfect balance of both comedy and the dramatic, that the deeply emotional moments don’t overwhelm. 

What we are watching is a truly human story unfolding before us and it is being delivered by an expert group of theatrical hands who take great care with that delivery.

The Heartbreak Choir explores the impact of tragedy on a small group of friends, and how a community can heal itself. It does so with humour, genuine emotion, and great responsibility. It is therefore, a wonderful balm for a city and a country that is facing an ongoing tragedy in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle. 

The Heartbreak Choir by Aiden Fennessy

14 Feb – 5 March 2023

ASB Waterfront Theatre, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

Tickets and info 

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