- Gareth K Vile
- 19 August 2019
Maori musical theatre magic
Despite an unprepossessing premise – man is inspired by Wolverine and, later, Hugh Jackman himself – and a rather rushed montage of Wolverine: The Musical, Rutene Spooner's autobiographical cabaret is an incisive deconstruction of identity and appropriation, filtered through a story of aspiration and show-tunes. Without compromising on the humour and fun, Spooner makes important points about being true to his ambitions that are given a depth by his engagement with his Maori heritage.
It's a familiar tale: boy with talent secretly enters stage-school, worried about his mates' attitude to his transformation into a triple threat. It's also that tale about how the X-Men provide models for the outsider. Running around in a makeshift Wolverine outfit, all gelled hair, drawn on side-burns and pound-shop knives for claws, Spooner finds comfort in the outlaw mutant's rugged individuality. And when he struggles at stage-school, his discovery of Jackman as a determined old-school hoofer gives him the courage to graduate.
The tension between Maori identity and triple-threat training provides a poignant depth to the comedy. Spooner realises that stage-school offers a different way of being, one he struggles to inhabit. Jackman becomes a totem, a man who proudly does musical theatre. Spooner is confident enough to re-enact his earlier, bad performances before revealing his impressive vocal ability in a triumphant finale. Lightly touching on the challenges of post-colonial society – this is a subtle subtext, not an explicit exploration – Super Hugh-Man is a love song to fitting into a society on the individual's own terms.
Spooner has got the chops to pull off a solo show that is graceful, witty and dramatic: reasserting the notion of appropriation as a strategy not to steal from colonised cultures but to subvert expectations and toy with a dominant culture's aesthetics, it works as both entertaining, witty cabaret and an exercise in post-colonial cabaret.
Assembly George Square Studios, until 26 Aug, 12.50pm, £12–£14 (£11–£13).