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MEMORABLY EXPERIENTIAL

Print Version

NZ Fringe 2014
DINNER WITH IZZY & SIMON
Isobel MacKinnon
Simon Haren

at Our Place - via email, Wellington
From 17 Feb 2014 to 2 Mar 2014

Reviewed by John Smythe, 20 Feb 2014


Just four guests. And our two hosts, Izzy and Simon (Isobel MacKinnon and Simon Haren). This is intimate theatre indeed. 

When I say ‘theatre', I use the term loosely. As per the booking system, we have invited ourselves to dinner. In our case, ‘we' comprises two women friends, another woman on her own and me.

Once we get buzzed in off Blair Street and climb the stairs, we are greeted effusively by a be-towelled Izzy with wet hair. Fully-dressed Simon, wearing an apron, is urbane, charming and arguably as contained and controlled as Izzy is not. She seems a bit stressed but is trying to cover with the aforementioned effusiveness. 

We get to choose wine glasses labelled to indicate a role or type in the outside world. Our job, we deduce, is to adopt these roles. Mine has negative connotations, however, so when I honour the premise and Izzy insists it's not true, I naturally – and in the spirit of improv – accept her offer. And warm to her generosity, of course.

It is a beautifully appointed loft apartment – earthquake strengthened, Simon is quick to assure us – and we settle to acclimatise in a cosy sitting area. A jar of questions, selectively asked by our hosts, both breaks the ice and helps us get to know each other.

A can't say these work as strongly as the ‘ask fors' that usually set the course of long-form improv, although one or two things established at this stage do get referred back to later. And my companions do a good job of maintaining their roles, no least given they are not experienced performers, let alone improvisers, and no-one has actually said this is an improv exercise.

We tend to respond more as ourselves than as the fictitious people the wine-glass provocations might inspire us to ‘be'. Nevertheless affinities form and relationships evolve in very subtle ways and I have no doubt it is a different experience for each one of us.

We graduate to the dining table, which is strangely configured (I won't say how), and partake of a very pleasant pasta meal followed by an equally simple but lovely desert. The undercurrent of conflict between Izzy and Simon, which may or may not have something to do with at least one of us, makes us more circumspect than we otherwise might have been but fortunately they have strategies for getting us talking and even debating topic of the day. 

While this isn't a Binge Culture production, MacKinnon and Haren are both stalwarts of that co-op and this event aligns with their apparent antipathy towards anything reeking of conventional theatre; or rather with their desire to explore alternative means of using their skills to make new forms of ‘theatre', especially in ways that require or empower their ‘audience' to determine the course of events and the outcome. It could be seen as an attempt to ‘democratise' theatre.  

It's a whole other conversation as to whether this is a valid or meaningful pursuit. In this case I find myself asking how this differs from other dinner parties I may go to, and of course being in the company of strangers, and hosts I know but have not socialised with before, does, along with the role-playing, generate a different dynamic. Also this is the first dinner party for many a decade where I have finished up under the table, and not alone, either.

The next question is, how does this compare with other forms of theatrical entertainment, as a stimulating way to spend one's leisure time and budget? It is certainly more ‘experiential' than most but it can't be called a profound experience. Could this format ever explore the complexities of human experience in the way a good play can that draws us into a well-crafted fiction through empathy and intellectual stimuli? I doubt it – and does that matter? Is it relevant?

While it is interesting to find myself discussing the nature of ‘theatre' in and of itself, if that was all I ever got out of going to ‘shows', I doubt I would keep up the practice. On the other hand, amid the varied plethora of Fringe show I have seen, this one may well remain ‘top of mind' for longer – and I may have to sign up for psychoanalysis or hypnosis to find out why.
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