INNOCENT SURREALISM AND WHIMSY BUT SIMPLISTIC
Created by Hank of Thread
at Newtown Community Centre, Wellington
From 10 Sep 2013 to 14 Sep 2013
Reviewed by Hannah Smith, 12 Sep 2013
Kaitiaki is described as an ‘interactive theatre experience for young people.' It is a work with a lot of appeal for kids, and for those who are kids at heart.
At the entrance to the Newtown Community Hall and Cultural Centre we are met and ‘processed' by Susan (Jimmy Sutcliffe) a squawking property developer in a business suit accompanied by her lugubrious PA (Dan Fraser), before being led off into “a very boring and ordinary sort of a forest.” Once in the forest we meet with dancing sprites, an Oracle, a ponga tree, a shaman, a bat, and various other characters who welcome us into their forest home, and suggest that maybe it isn't so boring and ordinary as we have been led to believe.
The story is episodic – discrete sections that take place in different parts of the hall – and we are guided on from place to place by the numerous characters. Plot strands come and go without being fully explained or integrated, meaning that some things are set up without a payoff being delivered (the kererū and the berries, the creature behind the door). Meanwhile changes of mood and locale are aided by the lighting design (Staci Knox), helping create atmosphere, and the musicians (Erika Grant, Frances Moore, Ben Wood and Tristan Carter) who support and occasionally take over the action through various instruments, percussion and song.
The production design is inventive: vibrant costumes, coloured fabric, shrubs and draperies. The work as a whole is informed by a kind of innocent surrealism – a zany ‘why-not?' whimsy that reminds me of the Mighty Boosh. Much of the comedy springs from a sense of the absurd, or else from simple-minded characters encountering complex ideas and emotions. Simon Haren in particular shines as the Ponga tree, giving his lines just enough weight to sell them, but keeping a lightness of touch.
The audience interaction is generally successful – I can imagine that this show really flies with an audience of kids who are keen to dance in the forest glades with the bouncing blue sprites. Our more hesitant adult audience displays a slight sense of reluctance in some circumstances. The performers are unfazed by this though, and keep the action clipping along.
The interactive promenade model offers an opportunity for an audience to be forced to assess their own culpability in the actions of the play – a subject danced around, but not really addressed in Kaitiaki. The environmental issues at the heart of the work are dealt with in simplistic terms – fine for a child audience, but I feel there is room for more shades of grey and complexities to be addressed.
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