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Print Version

NZ Fringe Festival 09
Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish
Directed by Ralph Upton

at BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
From 11 Feb 2009 to 19 Feb 2009

Reviewed by John Smythe, 12 Feb 2009

More a performance art installation than a play, Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish evokes the 'consuming society'. It focuses not so much on what we consume as how we are consumed by ourselves, our expectations, the expectations of others, labels and judgements, the pressure to know, the desire to be known to know ... And the economy, of course.

Accompanied by an horrendous noise (a leaf-blower, actually), tangled tapes - the entrails of capitalism? - are read by one performer as another, blindfolded and voicing his delight or horror, chalks the ups and downs of the stocks ... That's just the start. Over the next 50 minutes the black walls of BATS become chalked with random words provoked by the onstage action, which becomes increasingly bizarre ...

If the blurb in the Fringe online listings is anything to go by, it's party games they - Rachel Barker, Claire O'Loughlin, Joel Baxendale and Simon Haren - are playing out, but more the inexorable party of life at large, and deep within each individual, than a literal one at someone's place. (My guess is it has moved on from the rationale they were obliged to write by the Fringe deadline.)

"Our broad provocation was this," writes director Ralph Upton in the programme: "What does it mean to be part of a generation which is constantly being told it doesn't have a future?" Hence the final image of a Panda, posing the riddle of the albatross soup, which is something else again ... Or maybe it's the same thing from a different angle.

En route, abetted by Rachel Marlow's design elements, we witness a parade of consumer product cartons with felt-pen labels encapsulating human characteristics and states of being ...

And Simon is subjected to an increasingly harrowing quiz game by Joel. This image is the most memorable: stark naked man holds a plastic bag bulging with water over his privates above a tin bath; every time he gives a wrong answer, the bag is punctured ... until it pisses from multiple points ... What starts off as fun becomes dark, demeaning and dangerous.

Curiously fascinating little insights into personal experiences located in the Cuba-Courtenay-Waterfront-Oriental sectors of Wellington City offer a welcome change of pace ...

In all it is an engaging, compelling, provoking and confronting challenge to each of us relate to it as we choose, according to where we see ourselves - and each other - in this all-consuming world.
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See also reviews by:
 Melody Nixon (The Lumiere Reader);
 Charlotte Bradley & Hannah Smith (Salient);
 Sharon Matthews