50Dundas, 50 Dundas Street, Dunedin

25/03/2019 - 26/03/2019

Dunedin Fringe 2019

Production Details

The play moves between past and present, examining the events leading up to, and the effects of a son and brother’s death.  

We see a family broken by this tragedy. Family and whanau relationships have been strained and changed in the ten years since this death. 

Devised loosely from the Shakespearean tragedy of Hamlet, this play examines family relationships, guilt, youth, suicide and mental health issues.

Written and performed by the Down Low Theatre Company, a local youth-focused group, in their second Dunedin Fringe Festival performance.

Sensitive subject and language.

Secured Entry Advance Ticket (SEAT) gives an audience member the security of having a reserved seat for $3 and they can then make their koha or donation at the venue before or after the show.

50 Dundas Street, Dunedin
MON 25 & TUE 26 March 2019
$3.00 Secured Entry Advance Ticket (SEAT) 
SEAT gives an audience member the security of having a reserved seat for $3 and they can then make their koha or donation at the venue before or after the show.
*Fees may apply

Youth , Theatre ,

1 hr

Admirable dedication to exploring important issues

Review by Alison Embleton 28th Mar 2019

While waiting for the last of the audience to arrive and take their seats, I catch sight of the backstage area of the 50 Dundas St venue reflected in the windows in front of me. Inadvertently getting a glimpse of the young cast peeking out to assess the audience and enjoying their pre-show rituals is one of the most endearing beginnings to a performance I’ve experienced in a long time.

After a slightly rocky opening, the premise is established quickly. We meet two sisters (one older, one younger) who are discussing their brothers’ absence, as well as the brother himself who is speaking directly to the audience and goes unnoticed by the sisters. The mental instability of the boy is outlined: notably a mysterious and menacing figure visible only to him, and his death is alluded to for the first time.

The timeline moves between past and present, spanning a number of years as the characters each move through various phases of grief. The story touches upon themes of acceptance and treatment of death, both personally and culturally, and the difficulties of discussing mental health, as well as the anger, guilt and blame associated with the suicide of a loved one. These are hefty subjects to tackle but the inclusion of some occasional bursts of humour as well as a few musical interludes help this production to avoid slipping into the realms of being maudlin and over-wrought.

The lighting design feels a touch over-cooked. The play itself is fairly stripped back, and the venue has a simple set-up (no wings, with off-stage cast often waiting in view of audience) so the constant lighting transitions feel somewhat out of place. However, they do create distinct mood changes for the static set back drop.

The sound design is filled with interesting choices and the acoustic rendering of Hallelujah for the final scene (with the lyrics translated into Maori) is especially touching. I am a little disappointed that it overpowers the characters on stage during that final scene though – perhaps if the show is to be developed further the final scene could play out with just the guitar and then the cast join in and sing together to close the performance?

I find, as an audience member, that being told of the Shakespearean connection, I am focused on seeking out the modernisations and allusions to the original work. And while I can appreciate the through lines from one play to another, and even using Hamlet as a jumping off point, there isn’t enough to truly warrant advertising the connection. In many ways I believe this performance would benefit from standing on its own merits. The message is a powerful one, and the director and cast are clearly invested in examining the very real effects that mental health issues and suicide have on whanau/family in New Zealand.

The cast are all very generous towards each other on stage. Nobody is trying to upstage anyone else and they clearly have a great working rhythm and a lot of trust in each other, something that has undoubtedly been earned through the hard work and dedication of the cast and director. Mental health and suicide, especially as they pertain to young people, are complex and difficult topics to navigate. I think it’s very admirable that a group of young people have dedicated their time to exploring such issues and sharing their passion through performance.  

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this production is actually the seamless incorporation of Maori language into the script: it helps to establish the cultural identity of the characters, as well as rooting it firmly in a New Zealand setting. I would love to see more of this type of blended language in New Zealand theatre.

The ultimate take-away from this piece of theatre comes from a character uttering the line made famous by poet Phillip Larkin: “be kind while there is still time”. A poignant and vital sentiment that definitely lands with the audience, and hopefully lingers long after we’ve all dispersed. 


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