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Print Version

Directed by Margaret-Mary Hollins
Co Theatre Physical

at Concert Chamber - Town Hall, THE EDGE, Auckland
From 20 Aug 2009 to 30 Aug 2009

Reviewed by Nik Smythe, 22 Aug 2009

The story comprises three main plots - Obstetrician Dr. Suzanna Sewell (Beth Kayes) and her desperate mission to conceive before her own biological clock, which she keeps in her coat pocket, goes off.  Workaholic fertility clinic director Dr. Roche (Debbie Newby) is pregnant, in labour in fact, only in denial because there's too much to do.  Dr. Verity Rile (Eve Gordon) is a driven career woman searching for the perfect sperm, whose bloody minded determination is disrupted by the arrival of a new psychiatrist, who just happens to be her cheating scoundrel of an ex-husband Dr. Freeman (Mike Edward).

Jeremy Birchall as Dr. Roche's doting, loyal, slightly highly-strung husband Guy brings an entirely practical approach, to the point of typical male insensitivity but redeemed by his sincere and well-meaning devotion.  Paul MacDiarmid as mild-mannered Errol has a generally refreshing safeness in the turmoil of the typical day at the office, though still not entirely above a bit of questionable behaviour.

If these character breakdowns remind you of any number of soap operas set in a medical facility, you're getting the picture, partly. With Hospital Drama (not to mention comedy) as popular a television genre as ever, it's inevitable it's going to be satirised somewhere along the line.  Less predictable is the brilliant way so many theatrical elements are skilfully connected like an elaborate collage, so in the end its wholly original form echoes not only TV classics like ER, Scrubs, our own Shortland Street (etc), as well as Charlie's Angels and other sensational crime shows, but also theatrical traditions nodding to Rocky Horror (even more the quirky cult sequel Shock Treatment), circus and clown, even touches of Beckett.

Unavoidable comparisons aside, the considerably talented cast blend a well balanced concoction of melodrama, slapstick, acrobatics, music and dance under the watchful eye of accomplished veteran physical theatre director Margaret-Mary Hollins.  Through all the satirical parody, spectacular antics and wry sociological observation, the medical-speak seems authentic enough to infer that the show provides at least a small amount of educational value.

For the first half hour or so on opening night there was a sense of slight unease not entirely due to the abrasive, chaotic alarms and sirens that introduce the show as the white-coated cast rush about in a hysterical panic even as we are being assured via patronising recording that there is nothing to panic about.  It seems natural on the maiden voyage for such an eclectic and abstracted piece of theatre that the players would be unsure of how it will be received, but once it was clear we got it and liked it they slipped into gear and didn't look back.

The exemplary design team of Joey Ruigrok Van Der Werven and Simon Coleman (also Eve Gordon moonlighting as costume designer) have created a veritable, bordering on literal, playground of machines, trolleys, ropes and ribbons for the actors to flex the breadth of their abilities and inclinations.  Under Vanda Karolczak's lights, to the eclectic mixings of Theo Gibson's sound and audio-visual design, the final result is an all-round highly entertaining package.

I idly wonder if any, and if so which, particular element initially sparked the process through which this extraordinary work has been developed.  Was it a desire to pay tribute to the world's most common miracle, or did they just want to make a hilarious medical soap parody?  Did it arise entirely organically out of a few theatresports games or were they on a mission to repair the wound to obstetrics-based theatre left by last year's lamentable Who Needs Sleep Anyway?

It doesn't actually matter what started it off though.  The whole maximalist concoction holds together without being overwhelming or confusing, which is impressive in itself.  It's not hard to imagine the concept being developed further into a true cult classic.
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See also reviews by:
 Joanna Davies
 Paul Simei-Barton (New Zealand Herald);