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by Pat-A-Cake Productions
devised by a group of Wellington’s fresh theatre makers
Directed by Bop Murdoch
Produced by Cara Louise
Original music by Te Aihe Butler

at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 20 Aug 2013 to 24 Aug 2013

Reviewed by John Smythe, 21 Aug 2013

As we enter the Bats auditorium the cast is playing ‘Grandma's Footsteps': actors in the auditorium try to creep up on the person on stage but when she turns they have to be still or it's back to the start. We get the opportunity to play along, freezing when she turns, which can be a bit frustrating when we are trying to settle, deal with coats and hats, switch off cellphones, etc. So we choose to either be in the game (sort of) or we opt out.

This tension between the quests to belong and to be independent threads throughout the seemingly random snippets of action and interaction that follow, comprising Pat-A-Cake Productions' latest devised work, What Goes Up.

Apples are used throughout, referencing the converse gravity of the title, as discovered by Isaac Newton. As a play it is a demonstration of how one – or two or more – may play with apples: the apple as sustenance, status symbol, treasure, means of exchange, weapon; the apple as a metaphor … for pretty well anything you want it to mean.

The initial sequence, beginning with Sarah Tuck having one and Lewis McLeod wanting it, develops into an apparent proof that the more you give the more you get, until Jody Burrell points out the flaw in the illusion. And this turns out to be the most coherent moment in the whole production.

The show is mostly non-verbal, and sometimes when they do speak – Oscar Shaw in particular – words are chewed and swallowed as much as the apples, which may or may not matter but it's a truth of human nature that as soon as we are denied access to something, we want it even more.

What we seem to be witnessing are a series of ideas that have been played with in the development process and have pleased the players so much that they have decided to put them on stage for a paying audience. But what may delight a creator in the moment of discovery soon palls in recreation unless we ‘get it' too, and unless it becomes an organic part of something more.

Despite some dynamic physicality, good comic timing (Tuck especially), the clever use of a trestle table and a few recurring motifs – e.g. “the Karma Café where there are no menus and you get what you deserve” – there is no sense of accumulation or culmination in what plays out. Or if there is, the devisors have kept it to themselves.

Director Bop Murdoch's programme note is often quite abstract too, in the way it articulates the premise from which the show has grown. But if you read it thoroughly beforehand, you may get the pleasure of recognising, for example, the bit that captures “that inane thrill we get from doing something without help” or how “we make games of the price that we've signed up to pay on the U-turn day when generations of acceleration will plateau out – or worse: ricochet back at us.”

“Lets [sic] question the come-down that our community continues to sign up for,” Murdoch suggests. And of course the get-out from any responsibility for crafting the components into something that engages us at a level greater than merely witnessing activity on stage, is this: “Find your own coming and goings in our daily games, grown from the roots of our real actions. Expect them to become as surreal as our lives … Relax your sense of entitlement to plot narrative, and sharpen your alertness to your own convection currents of karma affecting the momentum of this community.”

Well I'm afraid What Goes Up doesn't inspire that response in me. I don't go to a restaurant to be given a bunch of ingredients and told I'm free to make what I like of them. I don't need “plot narrative” but if the whole does not, by some alchemy or other, add up to more than the sum of the parts, I'm likely to leave dissatisfied. And I do.

In my review of their Fringe show, Thin Skin, I wrote: “What they seem to have done (I can only guess) is played with a diverse range of ideas drawn from their research, abstracted them into performance modules then randomly strung them together to make their ‘play'.” The same goes for What Goes Up.

Of course the performers and directors all know exactly what each action and interaction means, which only adds to our sense of alienation. It's mean of them to keep it to themselves. Offering the odd part-eaten apple is not the same as sharing human experience. I repeat: when we are denied access to something, we want it even more.
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:
 Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] (The Dominion Post);


Michael Wray posted 22 Aug 2013, 02:07 PM / edited 22 Aug 2013, 02:10 PM

I assume the publicity blurb, which promised a conversation with karma, was written before the work itself had been devised? Other than the 30 second Karma Cafe gag that was introduced somewhere around half way and returned to two or three times, I couldn't see any karmic reference. What I did see was a lot of apple eating and apple throwing, accompanied by lots of grunted "ohs" and "woahs" that made little, if any, sense beyond mostly watching four young people pretending to be little kids larking around. With apples. The idea that these games were grown from "real actions" and reflect the "convection currents of karma" felt like a piss-take. After five minutes, you've seen the whole show. What follows is just more of the same with a slightly different spin. If this was a street performance where one could watch a few minutes and move on, then fine. 50-odd minutes of incoherent apple-ohing-and-woahing felt like punishment. Perhaps THAT was the karmic element?