HIGHLY UNIQUE COMMUNITY THEATRE A 'MUST SEE'
DOG & BONE
Written by Helen Pearse-Otene
Directed by Jim Moriarty
Te Rakau Hua O Te Wao Tapu Trust
at Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington
From 14 Aug 2012 to 1 Sep 2012
Reviewed by Helen Sims, 15 Aug 2012
Dog and Bone is a follow up to 2010's The Ragged, part of Te Rakau's underTOW series, which seeks to shed light on “the legacy and unknown stories” connected with Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Although the play follows on from The Ragged in terms of characters and setting, it also firmly stands on its own. Both are set on Wellington's south coast, at the Kenning homestead ‘Te Miti', although Dog and Bone leaps forward 19 years to 1869, at the height of war in Taranaki.
The interweaving of Maori and Pakeha since The Ragged's time of 1840 is evident in the main character Taiki/Jack, who is half-Maori and half Pakeha. With his Pakeha wife, Hannah May, Tiaki is the present owner-occupier of Te Miti. Forces without and within increasingly threaten their happy home. The couple cannot isolate themselves from the broader context.
Dog and Bone is a fictitious play with real historical underpinnings. It is a tribute to writer Helen Pearse-Otene that it is very difficult to delineate between fact and fiction. Although framed within personal relationships, the play is unapologetically political, and draws attention to lesser-known events of New Zealand's shared history, although the Maori perspective dominates. The use of Te Reo Maori without any accompanying translation into English encourages Maori custom and challenges current trends in theatre and society.
Director Jim Moriarty continues Te Rakau's tradition of big ensemble productions using the ‘Theatre Marae' philosophy to merge Maori and European performance traditions. The audience is both welcomed into the theatre and confronted by a pack of barking dogs. The metaphor of domesticated dogs bred for strength and obedience (like soldiers) versus the wild and free kuri is drawn on from the beginning of the play to the end. Interestingly, the Maori word for dog (kuri) is also used after a verb to describe being without purpose, point or a pretence. There's plenty to ponder in the rich imagery.
The emphasis is on participation and I find the scenes involving the entire cast to be a real strength of the production, as is the excellent chorus work of the Ngati Irawaru. I'm not entirely sure what Ngati Irawaru are at the end of the show, but it doesn't particularly matter. (Some research after the show tells me Irawaru was a man who was turned into a dog by Maui. Ngati is a prefix for a tribal group.)
The repeated reference to ‘savages' indicates a parallel to Maori, transformed by the settlers from people to the equivalent of animals; or a group of the dispossessed. They are influenced by the moon and display dog-like behaviours, but also are supernatural. They have both a threatening /confronting and guardian-like presence over the play. It is some of the most cohesive chorus work I have ever seen.
The stage is fairly blank, with only sacking-wrapped boxes used variously as a bed, trunk and fortification. Changes in setting are largely provided for by lighting and sound. One Finger Composer's original score for the work is richly suggestive, emotive and complements the work perfectly.
As it's a big group vehicle and the goal is for the work to be participative, some of the other characters are underdeveloped or extraneous. Going forward some of the scenes could use a little trimming in order to allow the plot to develop cleanly. Amongst the Pakeha settler characters I feel there is a sense of ‘playing at' being colonial settlers, rather than truthfulness of character. This is in contrast to Maori characters, who are far more complex and developed.
All the actors give the performance 100% and their performances are on the whole vocally clear and physically dynamic. From a quick perusal of the bios on the wall, the cast is a mixed group of trained actors, actors in training and newcomers.
Although it is a bit unfair to single anyone out, for me Kereama Te Ua gives a particularly strong performance as Taiki's brother Kuritea Kenning. Sarah McMillan, who plays Hannah-May, is a talented performer, although her engagement with the audience and other characters is sometimes lost due to a tendency to gaze skyward and over-emphasise every word. She is not helped by having a character who is heavy on exposition.
There is a strong message about our shared history and the way it has been set up to repeat. The significance of history at a national and personal level is emphasised; the Land Wars and colonisation is not something we can exempt ourselves from.
The play ends on an ambiguous note, posing the question of whether there can ever be peace when the respective wrongs go too deep? This is ‘must see' and highly unique community theatre.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.
See also reviews by:
Ewen Coleman (The Dominion Post);
Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);
|John Smythe||posted 15 Aug 2012, 10:41 PM / edited 16 Aug 2012, 08:58 AM|
This is what theatre's all about: telling our stories – especially those that are little known and/or are in danger of being forgotten. Helen Pearse-Otene has written a beautifully crafted – thoroughly researched, authentically-toned, creative, imaginative and often poetic – script with input from a large cast and director Jim Moriarty. Every one owns their role and the total package completely.
I've just seen the third performance and concur with all Helen Sims has said above. I'd add Ian Lesa's Taiki ‘Jackie' Kenning is a strong performance too with lots of it conveyed non-verbally. A kaumatua noted after the show that Lesa deserves special credit for embracing the kaupapa given he is Samoan. Kia ora to that.
Matt Deussller really nails the individualistic son, Robbie Beamish, bringing home the mercenary values (if that's the word) of his belief-system. And Ani Morris – who choreographs and leads the waiata – delivers a consummate performance as Mrs Berry, not least with her own strong singing voice.
The singing in both Maori and English is in turns stirring and toe-tappingly entertaining. There is not a weak link in the entire company of 26. Everyone knows they are engaged in a work of epic importance and they make it ‘sing' by attending to the detail every step of the way.
A word too about the lighting, operated by Sean Peach: it is superbly done to bring focus where it should be so that nothing gets lost in the big open stage.
Don't miss this: it is a rare and special opportunity.
|robert dussler||posted 17 Aug 2012, 04:39 PM|
Yes! Theatre as it's meant to be: honest, vibrant, informative and committed! The material is both relevant and revealing, and the blend of European and Maori theatre infuses the play with a captivating level of vitality and immediacy. You can't fault theatre of this kind, it would seem petty, and in this production you'd be hard pressed to find cause to do so anyway. Go and be moved, inspired and, of course, excellently well entertained!
|Dane Giraud||posted 26 Aug 2012, 10:46 AM|
What do mean by "You can't fault theatre of this kind, it would seem petty..."?? What is it specifically that places this kind of theatre (or any for that matter) beyond critical reproach?
|Corus||posted 26 Aug 2012, 04:10 PM|
"What is it specifically that places this kind of theatre (or any for that matter) beyond critical reproach?" The unspoken agreement that nobody will utter an unkind word about anybody else - or else. The only place incisive honest hard-hitting thoughtful criticism is allowed is in strictest private, and if your views leak out - take cover. Barbara Sumner Burstyn knows something about the bullying NZ underbelly that starts rumbling if you disobey these rules.
|John Smythe||posted 26 Aug 2012, 04:19 PM / edited 26 Aug 2012, 05:34 PM|
To what do you refer, Corus? This is the only commentary I can find from Barbara Sumner Burstyn in relation to reviews: http://www.sumnerburstyn.com/POV/film-review.htm
|Dane Giraud||posted 26 Aug 2012, 08:08 PM|
Thanks for that John. Very revealing. She was always batty.
|Michael Smythe||posted 27 Aug 2012, 09:39 AM / edited 27 Aug 2012, 12:00 AM|
I think Corus may have been refrring to this: http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/7550800/Apology-over-dead-soldier-comments
|John Smythe||posted 27 Aug 2012, 11:07 AM / edited 27 Aug 2012, 03:03 PM|
So to get back to the original point, in saying “You can't fault theatre of this kind, it would seem petty, and in this production you'd be hard pressed to find cause to do so anyway”, I think Mr Dussler is acknowledging that the Te Rakau Trust's primary purpose is not to present theatre as an artistic object but as a means to a greater end.
Dog & Bone is part of “the underTOW project [which] is a series of plays that aim to cast light on the legacy and unknown stories of our country's founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.” Te Rakau “utilises the unique form of ‘Theatre Marae' to work in marginalised and mainstream communities.”
Obviously if the result was embarrassingly incompetent it would have to be called to account and/or it would not be reviewed on Theatreview. But as the reviews indicate, there is a power and purpose in the work that transcends the different levels of training and technical expertise in the large ensemble cast. The production engages its audience in a story, themes and questions that are fundamentally relevant to who and where we are in the world and in history.
If our major theatre companies were to direct their resources towards producing such plays, the results would be different. There would be higher production values, and greater depth, perhaps, in some characterisations. And the ticket prices would be much higher, only the relatively financially privileged would have access to it, and its value to “marginalised and mainstream communities” would be negligible.
Jim Moriarty and Helen Pearse-Otene are dedicated professionals who utilise theatre to achieve significant social purposes. They make no assumption that they are above rigorous criticism and in my observation and experience have the professional chops to welcome constructive feedback that holds them to the high standards they seek to pass on to the members of their company.
|Dane Giraud||posted 27 Aug 2012, 02:24 PM|
I have only heard great things about the work of Jim Moriarty and Helen Pearse-Otene, it's was the idea that criticising worthy work could reflect badly on the watcher that got me. Neither relevancy nor expousing "correct politics" can excuse theatres short comings, ever in my opinion. Enthusiasim can excuse experience and heart can certainly excuse technique however. It sounds a great play. I'm still not sure what Sumner Burstyn had to do with anything...
|robert dussler||posted 27 Aug 2012, 09:12 PM / edited 27 Aug 2012, 12:00 AM|
Apologies for not having responded to the comments made about my review, and thank you to John Smythe for firstly sending me an email and letting me know about them, and secondly for interpreting my comment correctly and more eloquently than I could have done it. First of all, I must confess, that I sympathise with these comments, because any muffling of critical voices compromises not only the critic, but also the growth and development of theatrical practice. I have worked as a professional actor in Germany (my country of origin), and I could probably 'find fault', if I was to scrutinise the perfomances of this committed cast. But I do not think, that this would be relevant criticism. As John Smythe states: "The production engages its audience in a story, themes and questions that are fundamentally relevant to who and where we are in the world and in history." As the cast achieves this admirably, and the play and the direction are inspired and highly entertaining, "it would seem petty" to me to do so. As it is, I am only grateful to the Te Rakau Trust and the cast for this memorable theatre experience.