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3 x 20
Devised, designed and performed by Keagan Carr Fransch

Devised, designed and performed by Susie Berry

Devised, designed and performed by Brynley Stent

at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 4 Mar 2014 to 8 Mar 2014

Reviewed by John Smythe, 5 Mar 2014

There is no doubt the three actors presenting 3 x 20 are talented. The question is what their solo pieces have to offer their audiences beyond displaying that talent. They were first produced as part of the Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School's Go Solo 2013 season (within groups A, B and C). 

As I understand it the primary purpose of the Go Solo season of 20-minute pieces is to explore the personal creativity of the actors and develop their skills in creating longer-form work for themselves.  Over the years a number have been developed into more complete shows: famously Jacob Rajan's Krishnan's Dairy; more recently Hayley Sproull's Miss Fletcher Sings the Blues.

The solos also, inevitably, act as a graduate's ‘calling card' as the introduce themselves to the professional world: this is who I am; this is something of what I do. Remounted outside the Toi Whakaari context and still in their 20-minute forms, this latter purpose tends to carries more weight, unless each or any short piece could be said to be perfectly formed as a theatrical nugget no longer in development.  

Keagan Carr Fransch – who impressed me greatly with her Titania / Hippolyta double in Bright Orange Walls' A Midsummer Night's Dream a few weeks ago – leads off with Waiting For GoDoor.

She embodies a range of people – all differentiated with highly stylised physicality – who are waiting to be given access to somewhere else through a closed door. Someone seated behind a desk or counter, right where we are, has the ‘power' to press the door-release button. Hence we are the recipients of various kinds of appeal.

The non-verbal characters include a decrepit cleaner who works steadily at her task without taking an interest in anything else; a croucher who breaks into manic dance routines then morphs into a graceful (conforming?) dancer; a bird-like creature who may or may not be human and certainly seems alien.

A confidently articulate woman, who runs a hair salon, exerts her right to be given access, to no avail. A stroppy street-kid type, self-styled “rapscallion”, breaks out da ‘no fear' skills in a vain effort to impress. A silent sitter finally finds her voice, albeit in the rounsing words of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, counterpointed with Shakespeare's ‘Sonnet 66' (thanks Google).

Exactly what they are waiting for beyond the ‘GoDoor' is not explicitly revealed but citizenship is what occurs to me. And there is just one who gets to pass through. I won't say who, nor why I think they were so favoured – that would be a spoiler. Keagan has devised an absorbing piece that leaves us with plenty to think about. 

Susie Berry – who impressed in Eschaton a couple of years ago – is likewise an initially riveting physical presence with her Journey to the Drive-Through. Articulated entirely through action and stillness, the moves owe much to the hip-hop genre.

Taking the title literally, I assume her character is reviewing her day as she drives to, through and beyond a fast food outlet. En route she recalls and relives – in stylised form – her boring office job, the desired contents of her desk's bottom drawer, the struggle to get her trousers on … To the accompaniment of a mashed up mix tape, the mini-scenarios progress incrementally as she embodies a comprehensive range of emotional states.  

I want to like it more than I do but find myself becoming quite bored with the repetition, which dominates the slow progression of ‘story'. Susie Berry clearly has a lot to offer as an actress movement-wise but, given the ‘calling card' dimension, I share the bemusement of the casting director who sits beside me and wonders why Susie denies herself a spoken voice.

Fortunately I got a good look at Brynley Stent when she played Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream as the character she limits herself to in Buy Anything... Except For That is stooped and obscured by grubby makeup, tousled hair and a creaky voice.  

Nevertheless the arrival on stage of a tottering tower of second-hand junk is instantly intriguing and we are drawn in by the woman who emerges from beneath her “Wandering Emporium”. Wanting to know what this represents is at the core of our interest – or mine, at least.

When making up stories about where the various items she's peddling came from, rather than draw on our own colonial history, Brynley chooses to reach back to the Salem Witch Trials, the American Civil War and slavery in New Orlean's– although more recent and topical references do come into play. She cites Jim Henson's The Labyrinth as a major influence, hence the ‘Goblin world' sensibility and surprising stabs of savagery.

Brynley's dark sense of humour and facility with audience engagement add entertainment value to her piece. Even so, I can't help wondering how much deeper the idea could have dug, and how much more resonant the result could be, if this old hag's stuff had come from whaling stations, musket wars, gold fields, etc.

Over all, for lack of a binding theme that makes each separate piece add something to the others, 3 x 20 is simply a display of emerging talent. As such, despite their evident skills, it adds up to a rather unsatisfying hour of theatre.
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