MAN IN A SUITCASE
by Lynda Chanwai-Earle
directed by Joseph Graves
[2hrs 10mins, incl. interval]
at Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch
From 18 Aug 2012 to 1 Sep 2012
Reviewed by: Lindsay Clark;
International Drama at The Court Theatre
"A significant coup for New Zealand theatre," is how Artistic Director of The Court Theatre Ross Gumbley describes upcoming production MAN IN A SUITCASE, which will be toured to Beijing after its world première season at The Court Theatre.
MAN IN A SUITCASE has been developed in collaboration between The Court Theatre and the Peking University Institute of World Theatre and Film in Beijing, with support from the international development wing of Creative New Zealand. Strengthening the international connection, three members of the cast and the set designer have travelled to New Zealand from China for the production.
Playwright Lynda Chanwai-Earle has created a "story of people who live out of suitcases - and die in them," inspired in part by the true story of a Chinese student whose remains were found in a suitcase floating in the Waitemata harbour. While the play explores dark territory, Chanwai-Earle has laced the script with black humour and embraced the "horrific ridiculousness of the situation." At its heart, however, Chanwai-Earle says MAN IN A SUITCASE is "about displacement, wanting to fit in and get on in New Zealand."
American Director Joseph Graves, who has lived in China for the last decade as the head of the Institute, leapt at the challenge to develop and direct MAN IN A SUITCASE. "The play has an intense film-like quality," Graves adds, "We are embracing the theatricality of the piece and using the stage to create a realistic story filtered through memory".
Ji Zhou plays Wen, a Chinese exchange student who is hosted with Stuart Copeland (played by former Shortland Street actor Harry McNaughton). JJ Fong is Stuart's fiancée Amy Tung, whose parents (Stan Chan and Helene Wong) disapprove of her relationship with a "Gwailo". All become embroiled in a plot by two incompetent kidnappers (Zhiwen Zhao and Li Shi) which goes horribly wrong. Weaving through the plot is Myanmar refugee Kauki-Paw (Katlyn Wong) whose individual story intersects with the bloody events that unfold.
During the play dialogue is spoken in English, Cantonese and Mandarin with surtitles projected onto the set, which will give a unique experience to audiences.
With a development process almost as dramatic as the play itself, MAN IN A SUITCASE was originally commissioned to appear during the 2011 Christchurch Arts Festival and had its third script workshop in January 2011 - one month before earthquake damage closed the Arts Centre, forcing The Court to locate a new venue.
Graves was delighted when MAN IN A SUITCASE was scheduled to appear in the new Court Theatre in Addington. "I had become very passionate about the piece and I've invested a lot into it. After the quakes I didn't know if The Court would be able to get back on its feet - it's astonishing what the theatre has been able to accomplish."
Chanwai-Earle has incorporated the earthquakes into the finished piece, which is set in Christchurch, and "walked a tightrope to honestly reflect the events without it derailing the play."
Gumbley feels that MAN IN A SUITCASE offers "spice for the theatrical palette."
"It's vitally important that The Court continues to do adventurous work and this is certainly a confrontational play. Lynda's script has immense artistic merit and we feel that Christchurch audiences are ready to be stimulated and challenged as well as entertained." Gumbley adds.
MAN IN A SUITCASE will be staged for a strictly limited season from 18 August until 1 September.
MAN IN A SUITCASE
by Lynda Chanwai-Earle. Directed by Joseph Graves
Content and language may offend.
Performances: 18 August - 1 September 2012
Show times: 6:30pm Mon/Thu, 7:30 Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat (2pm matinee Sat 25 August)
Venue: The Court Theatre, Bernard St, Addington
Tickets: Adults $48 | Senior $41 | Groups (20+) $39 | Under 25 $29 | Child $19
Bookings: 03 963 0870 or www.courttheatre.org.nz
CAST: Stan Chan, JJ Fong, Harry McNaughton, Li Shi, Helene Wong, Katlyn Wong, Zhiwen Zhao, Ji Zhou.
Set design: Gu Minwen
Lighting Design: Joe Hayes
Sound Design: Sean Hawkins
Stage Manager: Helen Beswick
Props Manager: Anneke Bester
Costume Design: The Costumery (Pam Jones & Pauline Laws)
Set Construction: Nigel Kerr, Richard Daem, Henri Herr, Maurice Kidd, Richard van den Berg
Wardrobe: Emily Thomas, Bronwyn Corbet
Production Manager: Mandy Perry