A SNAPSHOT THAT COULD DO MORE
directed by Anna Shaw
A Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School and Victoria University Master of Theatre Arts (Directing) Production
at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 24 Sep 2013 to 28 Sep 2013
Reviewed by John Smythe, 25 Sep 2013
There comes a time in most young people's lives when they become aware of homeless ‘street people' and contemplate the whys and wherefores. Explorations in New Zealand theatre include Saving Grace by Duncan Sarkies, Flat Out Brown by Briar Grace-Smith, Tim Carlsen's One Day Moko and, in some respects, Jo Randerson's Yo Future with Long Cloud Youth Theatre.
This Anna Shaw-directed Chump Change is a devised work that tells us quite a lot at a factual level about Sandy (Comfrey Saunders), the runaway daughter of an alcoholic solo mother, and sketches in five other young people who inhabit the streets with little purpose beyond basic survival.
The hurricane fence set (designer: Crystalyne Willis) owes more, as a visual statement, to run down urban landscapes in America or Europe than Wellington, although they are a feature of some construction sites here. And as used here, they do evoke closed in city streets, the caged-in nature of poverty and the sense of a zoo wherein we get to observe potentially dangerous animals from a safe distance.
A caged-in band – The Digg: Fabian Shaw, Alie Bleakley, Cory Champion – contributes much to the discordant mood and backs the odd song. Rachel Baker's lighting design also adds mood and texture.
Sandy's back-story, current state of being and prognosis are clearly articulated by a Social Worker (Sara Stone), in the clinical terms favoured by her tribe. Initially this feels like a rather antipathetic device but the sincere concern Stone brings to the role as she attempts to make a connection with Sandy draws me in, not least because she is the only character with a driving purpose we can relate to.
Sara Stone also brings great truth to the diametrically opposite role of Sami, a street kid with ‘top bitch' status who shares her patch with Adam (Ian Lesā) because he brings substances they can huff.
Georgia Bowker is a strong presence as the street-wise and ever-distrusting Char, who knows the rules and keeps within them. Vanessa Kumar expresses the delightful, if hopeless, optimism of Ceeleeah. The volatile fa'afafine, Lexi, is taken on an emotional and self-defeating rollercoaster by Sonny Tupu.
Had a good playwright been involved, to give their stories depth and bring structure to the work overall, it could have become more than the sum of its parts. Reading the notes on the production page reveals the team had a purpose which informed their devising process but, from where I sit anyway, too much remains private. Subtext is good as long as we get it.
As it stands, Chump Change is an objectively observed snapshot: a true enough capturing of the culture but more a display of performance values than a play that meets their objectives. While Sandy's fate at the end may have been inevitable, she is not a tragic heroine whose fatal flaw (low self-esteem?) has been a clear link in the causal chain. A good playwright could have ensured it played out that way.
As director, Anna Shaw does ensure our interest is compelled by the on stage action. A stylistic device involving repetition of small physical actions is intriguingly disruptive. The clear alignment of her cast and crew to her vision is impressive. It's just that I am not subjectively engaged in ‘there but for the grace of whatever go I' empathy, or confronted with a social conundrum I feel a responsibility to solve. So when it – as a piece of theatre – stops, it's over. And I'm sure they want to do more than that.
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 (The Dominion Post);