ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD
On The Upside-Down of the World
by Arthur Meek
based on ‘Our Maoris’, the memoirs of Lady Ann Martin
Director: Colin McColl
Auckland Theatre Company
[1hr 35min, no interval]
at Concert Chamber - Town Hall, THE EDGE, Auckland
From 1 Jul 2011 to 16 Jul 2011
Downstage Theatre, Wellington
From 24 Aug 2011 to 10 Sep 2011
Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga
27 Oct 2011
Playhouse, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton
23 Jun 2012
Theatre Royal, Nelson
From 14 Oct 2012 to 15 Oct 2012
Luggate Memorial Hall, Wanaka
From 16 Apr 2013 to 19 Apr 2013
Reviewed by: Nik Smythe; John Smythe; Lynn Freeman (Capital Times); Vanessa Byrnes; Gail Pittaway; Gail Tresidder; Pip Harker;
Suppressed for 150 years, the Auckland Theatre Company's latest work uncovers the words of a woman who dared to challenge colonial injustice.
A crippled English woman arrives from London to a savage land. Charged with civilising the natives, she instead discovers the key to her liberation.
Lady Ann Martin came to New Zealand in 1841, the young wife of New Zealand's first chief justice. Intrepid, intelligent and possessing a great sense of humour, she disregarded her personal disability, set about learning Te Reo, established a makeshift hospital for Maori on the beach at Judges Bay and dared to dream of all that was possible in this brave new world.
Laurel Devenie stars in ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD, Arthur Meek's new play based on ‘Our Maoris', the memoirs of Lady Ann Martin, at the Concert Chamber in the Auckland Town Hall from July 1-16 and Wellington's Downstage Theatre from August 24-September 10.
Inspired to pursue a career in theatre by her father actor Stuart Devenie, Laurel has quickly carved out her own place in New Zealand theatre with a string of lauded performances and directing credits to her name.
Devenie's debut performance with Auckland Theatre Company in last year's production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST was greeted with great enthusiasm by audience and critics alike, and her first directing credit for the company, THINNING, was the runaway smash hit of the 2010 Auckland season of the Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre.
When playwright Arthur Meek stopped at the Matakana Markets last year, he came across a book which he thought might make a good summer read. Hardly a blockbuster, it was called ‘Our Maoris' - a provocative title in itself - and featured a cover picture of a woman Meek describes as “the most depressed-looking kuia ever”.
But far from depressing, he found the story inspiring and quite unlike anything he had read before.
Published in 1884, ‘Our Maoris' is the memoir of Lady Ann Martin, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand in 1842 as the wife of New Zealand's first chief justice, Sir William Martin. Unhampered by her physical disability, she was determined to bring Christianity to Britain's most distant colony.
Meek knew immediately the memoir would provide brilliant material for a play but he didn't want to just to do a history play or a literal reading of the memoir.
“I'm interested in how our history, people and events, impact upon the present day. So it's not a history play. It's a play about who we are and how we've come to be like we are. ‘Our Maoris' is an arresting account of colonial New Zealand, from the exact time of the birth of the Pakeha. In ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD I'm looking at how our contemporary cultural values and Pakeha identity were born out of the transformative experiences of the English settlers coming to a new country and encountering Maori” says Meek.
“Lady Martin is more than an individual for me; she's an archetype of a pioneer woman. She was gutsy,” says Meek. “She came to New Zealand where she had nowhere to live and nothing much to eat but she didn't complain. She just got on with it.”
“She quickly established herself as a teacher and community leader, setting up a hospital and dispensary for Maori patients at Judges Bay (Taurarua) near what later became Parnell. Witnessing events like the Feast of Remuera and the impact of the Waikato land wars – which she opposed – Lady Martin became remarkably progressive in her views.”
“ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD is an unashamedly Pakeha view of early colonial history,” says Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director, Colin McColl, picking up on Meek's point, “it's also surprisingly liberal, heart felt and funny.”
The production design by Tony Rabbit, whose recent work with McColl includes THE POHUTUKAWA TREE and WHERE WE ONCE BELONGED, was inspired by a chance viewing of Hakari towers in a New Zealand History book.
“The towers were enormous temporary structures built by Maori for storing and displaying food before a feast,” says Rabbit. “I started with a very refined and polished design but that wasn't quite right. The Hakari towers were built with whatever Maori had access too, trees and parts of trees, wood in a raw state. I looked at this from a contemporary point of view and I thought about what we have easy access to. I also considered how the building material might reflect England's industrial might at the time when Ann Martin came to New Zealand and I started playing around with creating a forest and Hakari tower out of aluminium ladders.”
“When Ann Martin came here, she really had no idea what to expect. She had no idea what she was walking into. London and Auckland, at the time, were completely different; the people had different sensibilities and vastly different cultures,” says Rabbit.
“I want the audience to feel something equivalent to that sense of dislocation and confusion when they walk into the Concert Chamber and experience the set for the first time. Here is an enormous structure confronting them and they are forced to think, what is that? How is that an appropriate setting for this play?” he says.
“Lady Martin's observations of life for Maori and Pakeha settlers alike have uncanny resonances for us today,” says McColl. “We hope this play will invigorate people's interest in NZ history, early Pakeha settlers and politics.”
ON THE UPSIDE-DOWN OF THE WORLD
July 1 – 16 2011
Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, THE EDGE
0800 BUY TICKETS http://www.the-edge.co.nz/
Aug 24 – Sept 10 2011
04 801 6946 http://www.Downstage.co.nz/
Oct 27 2001
Baycourt Theatre, 38 Durham Street, Tauranga - 7pm
Tauranga Arts Festival 2001
FUEL FESTIVAL 2012, Hamilton
Playhouse Theatre, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts
22 June, 7pm
23 June, 1pm, 7pm
NELSON ARTS FESTIVAL 2012
Theatre Royal, Nelson
Sun 14 October, 7.30pm
Festival of Colour 2013
Venue:Luggate Memorial Hall
Actor: Laurel Devenie
Designers: Tony Rabbit, John Gibson, Kirsty Cameron