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A Site Specific theatre piece
directed by Kerryn Palmer
Created and performed by the students of Victoria University Theatre 323

at Seatoun Beach, Wellington
From 17 Oct 2012 to 20 Oct 2012
[1hr 10mins]

Reviewed by John Smythe, 19 Oct 2012

We got the marshmallows anyway, even though it was initially too windy last night to light the fire in the drum at Seatoun Beach (the Churchill Park end). Cushions circle the drum, a fiddler fiddles, people gather, a neighbour asks when I last spent time at the sea … And stories begin to be told.  

The pre-Kupe history of Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Port Nicholson / Wellington Harbour is fascinating: once a fresh water lake? I didn't know that. Then there's the myth of the two taniwha brothers, which explains the topography … And the startling fact that the Wahine disaster of 1968, which claimed 51 lives within living memory, was preceded by 173 other wrecks in the region.

The mariner married to his ship with the sea as his fickle mistress is surely doomed … Audrey, separated from her William by sea, is a poignant figure … The beauty of a white-flecked sea in driving rain (recalled, not experienced, this night) exemplifies the poetry of tragedy … The first of many songs, ‘Don't Fight The Sea', is as rousing as it is cautionary … But enough of sitting around: the sisters who – we will discover – have been to visit their granddad and will miss the boat if they don't hurry …

Thus a range of sea-themed stories are floated to interweave and overlap, Adrift in the tide of timeless tales. We leave the security of the ‘fire' to follow them.

Young Janey is innocently inquisitive about the contents of suitcases strewn on the shore, to the perturbation of her older sister. We observe distant figures in circumstances congruent with what we have heard so far. We witness brief scenes close at hand. We are treated to many a sea shanty and to tall tales of women with tails ...

There is a romance to much of it, cushioned by the passage of time, until a concentration of more modern jetsam including a lifebuoy stamped ‘Wahine' brings it closer to remembered time for those of an age; closer to first-hand stories told by those who were there or knew someone who was ...

I won't detail the final phase of the story. Suffice to say it's visceral, involving and – for me, at least – deeply moving. It is a testament to all involved that what could have been either trite or over emotive in lesser hands is pitched with such truth and integrity that narrative and imagination transform into actual experience.

When, at the conclusion, we are thanked for braving the elements, I am deeply aware that a bit of exposure to the cool evening elements has been nothing compared to what others suffered back in the day, whether they were ship-wrecked passengers or rescuers.

Knowing it was directed by Kerryn Palmer led me to expect it would be good, and so it is. But I wasn't prepared for it to become so profoundly moving. And only in retrospect do I begin to appreciate how purposefully and adroitly Adrift has been developed, structured and performed. An exceptional experience.  
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