LOOSE STORYLINE AND CONFESSIONAL MONOLOGUES LACK IRONY
AS WE ENTER
Written & directed by Chris Swney
A new play by Slave Labour Productions
at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 17 Jun 2014 to 21 Jun 2014
Reviewed by Hannah August, 18 Jun 2014
As We Enter purports to be a “work that explores why the concept of the ‘OE' is so ingrained in our culture”. This is a genuinely interesting question. New Zealand is becoming more cosmopolitan; virtual access to other cultures and other locations is increasingly enabled via the Internet; the currencies of many of the countries traditionally chosen by New Zealanders as destinations for working holidays are sufficiently weakened since 2008 that it makes far more financial sense to stay at home. There are fewer and fewer practical reasons for young New Zealanders to go on Overseas Experiences – and yet they do, and come back to tell the tales of them, 19 of which (or elements thereof) are included in As We Enter.
It's hard to know which aspects of Chris Swney's script are truth and which are fiction, and while this is undoubtedly part of the point, ultimately the careful incorporation of his source material seems to be what contributes to the play's underdeveloped narrative. Swney takes one aspect of the traditional Kiwi OE – the whistle-stop guided bus tour of Europe – and uses it as a vehicle (excuse the pun) for some superficial commentary on the mind-expanding possibilities of travel and New Zealanders' need to connect with a more ancient history than our own, but unfortunately the show doesn't engage with young New Zealanders' reasons for travel in any meaningful fashion.
Instead it puts onstage six characters – four Kiwis, a Canadian, and a Brit – who enact a loose storyline in which randomly placed confessional monologues and the type of humorous occurrences fondly remembered by the traveller (though not necessarily appreciated when recounted to others) serve as a substitute for actual plotting and character development. As the characters travel through a shallow-focus Europe peopled with national stereotypes, they get to know one another, and themselves – but they don't ever become sufficiently alive or endearing to the audience to earn their moments of self-indulgence, such as an unintegrated ensemble rendition of Queen's ‘Don't Stop Me Now'.
Slave Labour is evidently an energetic and imaginative company, and there are rewarding moments of inventiveness in the staging – the umbrellas of rush-hour London, the jellyfish hand puppets – that hint at what they might achieve with a more fleshed-out script. The cast is likeable and time doesn't drag. But fundamentally what this show lacks most of the time is a sense of irony. While these characters' travelling experiences seem, to them, unique and important, they occur within the context of a homogenised and commodified travel ‘experience', whose universalism is precisely what should produce a knowing humour within an audience that recognises it and remembers, somewhat embarrassedly, their own past responses to it.
As We Enter doesn't really navigate this gulf successfully, and could have done with a dash more ‘Gap Yah'-style self-awareness.
But maybe that's my cynical 30-year-old self speaking. One character describes how her 26-year-old boyfriend turned up his nose at the idea of this drunken European tour on a party bus (throughout which, in actual fact, the characters are very seldom drunk, although they talk a lot about drinking) and perhaps, like him, I'm simply too old for this show.
Opening night received warm laughter from many younger BATS patrons, and if Slave Labour can fill four more houses with theatregoers in the 18-25 age group, then all power to them.
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