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POWERFUL AND HUMANE YET OFTEN HUMOROUS

Print Version

MUNTED
Head Writer: Victoria Abbott
Researchers: Victoria Abbott and Jackie Shaw
Devisers: Victoria Abbott, Jackie Shaw, Kate McGill, Liz Carpenter, Alana Kelly, Frith Horan, Emma Draper and Taylor Hall
Director: Kate McGill
a new Documentary Theatre Project
presented by Bare Hunt Collective

at BATS Theatre, Wellington
From 24 Jan 2012 to 28 Jan 2012

Reviewed by John Smythe, 25 Jan 2012


Nothing beats ‘truth' when it comes to good theatre. There are many ways of seeking it out and sharing it, and the Bare Hunt Collective's ‘documentary/verbatim' genre is an extremely compelling and effective one.

When they claimed our attention and accolades nearly two years ago with back/words – an amusingly insightful piece about various people's first and last times – no-one could have predicted their next show would arise from the earthquake that devastated Christchurch, eleven months ago (22 February 2011).

Too soon? Not at all. Talking about it and sharing the experience is part of the healing process. What's more, the wide range of 14 ‘characters' with their very different responses to what happened, and ways of expressing themselves in the aftermath, makes for very entertaining theatre in the best possible sense.

Bare Hunt founders Jackie Shaw (producer) and Victoria Abbott (head writer) – both graduates of the Otago University Theatre department where they studied Documentary Theatre together – researched the piece by video-recording interviews with at least 14 people over a cup of tea, and the cuppa motif is used in the poster, in the foyer to welcome us, and on stage throughout the show. Broken biscuits and Swiss chocolate also feature.

In the devising process, where the verbatim text was edited, collated and structured, Abbott (whose home town is Christchurch) and Shaw were joined by their co-performer Frith Horan, director Katharine McGill, set and costume designer Elizabeth Carpenter, production manager and sound designer Alana Kelly, Taylor Hall and Emma Draper. Lighting designer Janis C.Y Chang brings focus to the unfolding story with deft operation of light and sound.

Amid a ramshackle strew of random chairs extraordinary personalities and stories emerge. Although the actors don't use i-pods as the did in back/words, the pitch, tone, rhythm, pace and physicality of the interviewees they replicate manifest as a vividly varied assortment. It is an extraordinarily effective way of bringing them and their stories to life.

Victoria Abbot shines as a four year-old girl, Alex, who makes the best sense of it all that she can, and as a relieving teacher of six year-olds who recounts their experiences with flair and counterpoints her horror with deep fascination at the science that explains it. Abbott's welder and fabricator brother, whose circumspect replies are tellingly punctuated with non-verbal behaviours, is a total contrast, and the reporter who better appreciates the value of her work in retrospect adds a relatively detached professional viewpoint.

Jackie Shaw brings us a young man who was having a smoke on a fire escape and heard the rivets snap, and a male reporter fromWellington, sent by helicopter to cover the story. Most extraordinary is her dentist with his bizarre account of trying to cycle to get to his girls but sinking into liquefaction and having to save himself while contemplating the possibility of never being found. Her restless and laughter-prone grocer's wife from Sumner puts a delightful twist on a Maori proverb.

Frith Horan gives us the taciturn grocer – “It was as dark as the inside of a black cow” – and a cameraman in the thick of it who finds himself advising and counselling locals while feeding news back to Auckland, along with Alex's Mum, Tanya, and would-be pragmatic young woman coming to terms with the loss of friends well known in theatre circles.

The interweaving of the stories adds interesting texture. Locating each character in separate pools of light helps us understand who is who. I can't say I was easily able to link the characters indicated in the programme with those who appeared on stage but the abiding strength of Munted is its powerful and humane yet often humorous evocation of a life-changing event experienced by readily recognised people who could well have been you or me.

As a piece of theatre, it offers a ‘less-is-more' object lesson that leaves me amazed at how many very real people and places were made ‘present' through this simple form of presentation. 
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See also reviews by:
 Laurie Atkinson (The Dominion Post);
 Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);
 Lindsay Clark
 Robert Gilbert
 Stephen Austin
 Matt Baker (Theatre Scenes - Auckland Theatre Blog);
 Mark Houlahan
 Holly Shanahan