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  • Maia Ingoe

PSA 2023 is a Shockingly Hilarious Take on NZ Politics

Words by Maia Ingoe (she/her)

At risk of sounding like a conservative commentator, PSA: Public Service Announcements Election 2023 is not a play for the faint of heart.

The satirical take on New Zealand politics is back again for its fifth election cycle and 18th production, and no one—not even Chlöe Swarbrick—is safe. The chaotic comedy runs until 26 August at Circa Theatre and is a must-see for any politics nerd (or anyone who despises politics).

To my immediate delight, the set is a playground, complete with a slide and monkey bars.  There’s a set of ominous double doors centre stage and I blindly hope to see a politician burst through them. At first glance, I know the audience is in for some fun. The set provides endless opportunities for surprise entrances, three different levels, and all sorts of play. The show had me cackling at every turn, jaw dropped, aghast at the jokes made of politicians from both sides of the house.

With a cast of five, the show’s characters change faster than a Labour minister can fall from Cabinet. To pull it off, the actors had to be masters of characterisation and the art of a quick wig change, and they did not disappoint. Simon Leary was a standout in his character changes: from the last standing cis, white man of the Greens, James Shaw, to his seedy, Hutt Valley born and bred take on PM Chris Hipkins, sailing onstage on a RipStik and cradling a can of Coke. Even National’s Chris Bishop was not safe from Leary’s spin, the character sporting a mullet and dim-wittedly calling after Nicola Willis at every opportunity.

Bursting onto stage with unmatched energy, Carrie Green (Ngāti Porou) was another highlight, with her pūkana-serving Debbie Ngarewa-Packer of Te Pāti Māori facing the audience straight on. Anya Tate-Manning’s innocent take on Chlöe Swarbrick left something to be desired, but all was made up with her razor sharp wit and piercing stare as the blood-sucking Nicola Willis of the National Party.

Written by seasoned PSA actors Thom Adams, Jamie McCaskill (Ngāti Tamterā, Ngāti Rangi), and Johanna Cosgrove, the Election 2023 script takes the tomfoolery to a new level of unhinged. There is no limit on what is too irreverent or too silly, and the burns are roasting hot. The National Party are plotting evil, Sean Plunket makes an appearance as a transphobic zombie, and Winston Peters makes an appearance (played excellently by Jamie McCaskill). Watch your back—the kingmaker even has his own song. The cast pull through with the perfect amount of unhinged behaviour that the scriptwriting demands. As the butt of many, many jokes, ADHD is even acknowledged in the programme.

Each party has its own moment in the spotlight. The Greens abound with feeling circles and searching for the group chat leaker. Labour’s Chippy, Carmel Sepuloni, and Willie Jackson are grappling at the straws of a lost election. National’s Chris Luxon is delighted for some time with the boys, and Nicola Willis cleans up his mess at every turn. Te Pāti Māori are on the hunt for racists. Act’s David Seymour is dumb enough to have hung in there long enough to benefit from the National Party’s unpopularity (or is he?).

In an age when our political landscape seems increasingly hopeless, it’s refreshing to sit back and laugh as the ridiculousness of it all is put in the limelight. Take a night off from your existential dread with Public Service Announcements: Election 2023.


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