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Print Version

Written by Helen Moulder and Sue Rider
Directed by Sue Rider

at Circa Two, Wellington
From 22 Mar 2014 to 19 Apr 2014
[1hr 20mins (no interval)]

Reviewed by John Smythe, 23 Mar 2014

In the guise of a play about a 97 year-old woman spending up large on a handbag and resisting her son's attempts to put her in a twilight home, Helen Moulder has, with her co-playwright and director Sue Rider, fabricated our possible future. From 2021 to 2037 technology, language, politics, education and value systems progress – if that's the word – in fascinating ways, while other elements of humans being remain ever thus.

It's not so much sci fi as socio-political fiction, delightfully presented in more than one magical mode: snippets of The Magic Flute, a magic handbag called Bellissima, some conjuring tricks and the simple sorcery of Moulder's multi-character solo performance of a highly imaginative script.

Phillip Dexter's lighting design (operated by Deb McGuire), Gareth Farr's sound design (incorporating Michael Vinten's piano arrangements of Mozart's last opera played by Bruce Greenfield) and Gillie Coxill's glorious handbag design add to the 80 minutes of pleasure.    

Gloria Williamson from Nelson wants to hang on to a lifetime of stuff (she is still in the house she grew up in) because that is what keeps her memories alive. Twenty seven wooden blocks represent an eclectic array of things – inherited from her ancestors as well as accumulated by Gloria – but Gloria fears the emerging orthodoxy, according to her daughter-in-law's New Way Party, is that there needs to be a limit on owning personal objects.

Craig, Gloria's globally wheeler-dealing son, interfaces with clients and colleagues via an i-pal both on his wrist and in his ear. His favoured expletive is “frack” or “fracking” while his daughter Nikki - arrested in Malaysia for a more old-fashioned kind of possession – calls awesome things “astral”.

Initially it seems Craig's habit of dropping the last syllable from words is his personal “pretensh” (pretention) but a couple of generations later – as imagined by Gloria, unless she really is 113 – it is the newspeak of the New Way era. Kate, Craig's politician wife, is prime minister, and Nikki's ‘daught' Astra is cyber-seminating with us, as hologram scholars in the late 2030s, about why 2021 was “the commencing time of the Great Shift”. It's the magic of “manual cognicizing”, in which we are schooled, that returns us to that future.  

The set-up seems quite convoluted when one tries to disentangle the components but the flow of the show is entirely consistent (I imagine) with the fertile mind of a nonagenarian who has suffered a stroke and is facing socio-political change as well as her mortality. Not that all is fantastical. WordPal allows her to communicate to Julian, the odd job man who grounds her, the play and us in a reality we can recognize.

The titular handbag, bought online and delivered early in the play, has a charmingly seductive Italian persona. The diametric opposite of ‘an old bag', Bellissima becomes the repository for the odd artifact to be wondered at in the future, and the vanishing remnants of Gloria's life which re-materialise as flimsy wisps of coloured cloth, magically metamorphosing as metaphors for change and loss.

Gloria is also minded to sing snatches from The Magic Flute that hauntingly express such inner states as sweet devotion, death and vengeance, the silence she is sentenced to and desolation.

Helen Moulder is so relaxed and connected in performance it is easy to take her writing, acting, singing and conjuring talents for granted. There are so many goodies in Gloria's Handbag it's well worth rummaging through in retrospect.
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