Henchmen — A Review

The humdrum of corporate life in Amy Wright’s Henchmen is flipped on its head in this sci-fi comedy show of catastrophic proportions both at the cosmic and personal level. Set at Basement Theatre’s upstairs studio, it was an ideal cave that made the audience feel as trapped yet cosy as the characters in their usual nine-to-five working for an evil corporation. Directed by Mark Chayanat-Whittet (Some Sort of Boy), the sci-fi comedy show’s opening night induced gasps among a heaping of belly laughs in its cast’s streamlined performance and notably rich sound design and lighting in its exploration of the moral consequences and coping mechanisms that the ‘currency of time’ creates.

The charming aloofness of worker Lou (Kate Johnstone) as contrasted by the straight-edged compassion of Stevie (Sam Shannon) was a central point of tension and audience investment, where the dwindling enjoyment of their mailroom antics makes them start to question their role in the chain of evil. Slipping a bin over your head can be a fun way to feign ignorance as much as blindly continuing your role in an evil organisation bent on destruction. Although the evil company premise is felt in the play’s set and audiovisual projections, the big evil feels much less obvious—perhaps the real wicked here is the imposed belief that free will can’t bring back or make valuable the time you’ve already given away. It’s a very capitalist thing here. As much as we try, it feels like we can’t squeeze anything exciting into our daily grind, as the humorous repetition of a delivery person trying to fit a live shark in a box down the mail chute portrays.

“ […] perhaps the real wicked here is the imposed belief that free will can’t bring back or make valuable the time you’ve already given away.”

The overarching presence of the workers’ Evil Villain Overlord boss leaves a sense of foreboding as much as entertainment. The employer’s cat-in-lap stance and inflection were likely not lost on the generation that gleefully chewed the funny bone of Austin Powers’s Doctor Evil (whose treatment of his own henchpeople is not the furthest from that of our heroines). On the other jazz hand, the crowd-pleasing pizazz of mailroom supervisor Sally provided comedic relief through most of the play with her catwalk swagger, but also a refreshing portrayal of well-placed but awkward compassion. As the next in command, the character of Sally provided a cautious middle ground in which morality begins to prosper. While Sally and the Overlord are slightly more caricatured, there is a beating heart behind the overall machine.

For me, the building up of meaning over time, especially through the significance of items in the office or the vulnerability that the characters later disclose to each other, was the strength of the show. Props were often used for comedic timing to break up the monotonous office work (or lack thereof), as well as sparingly well for emotional effect. Some shorter moments of levity that showed the passage of time did leave me with temporary aches for more action, or to see the characters be challenged directly by those that appear only on screen. However, for its shorter run time of fifty minutes, the conflict between the two leads and the struggle with their own morality was more than enough to satiate me. Good theatre leans and relies upon the growth that occurs because of internal confrontation, rather than outward action. For Henchmen though, it demonstrates that the best theatre reveals such introspection through movement: In which a character offers a jar of money or a mug of coffee, those small acts can close a hole in your heart.

The ‘currency of time’ was certainly felt throughout the play through clever visuals and dedicated performances from the cast that span from comedy to tragedy. With talented performances across the board, and an ambitious audiovisual output it’s shows like Henchmen that make me more than willing to pay with my own time.

Henchmen is showing at Basement Theatre in Tāmaki Makaurau until Saturday 12 August. To find out more and to purchase tickets, head on over to Basement Theatre’s website.

Featured image courtesy of A Good Squeeze Productions.


In a dream, you saw a way to survive, and you were filled with joy.


Help keep the lights on.

find us on: