A TIME LIKE THIS
BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
24/04/2018 - 28/04/2018
What if there was one secret from your time in the First World War that haunted you for the rest of your days?
“The writing in Jackie Davis’s play a time like this is enviably good. The story moves smoothly through reflection, dark humour, melodrama, shock and pathos.” Mark Peters – The Gisborne Herald
Following a sell-out season in Gisborne in 2017, A Time Like This comes to Wellington with a new cast and new production.
Douglas Chapman is trying to live out his unremarkable days in his rest home room. But one secret and the question surrounding that secret, from the First World War, remain unanswered, leaving Douglas unable to live his final days in peace.
BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage
Tues 24 – Sat 28 April 2018
No show Weds 25 April (Anzac Day)
Full Price $20
Concession Price $15
Group 6+ $14
The Propeller Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.
The Creative Team
Poppy Productions is a collective of theatrical types who have brought this production to life. They are the cast and crew, the set builders and costumiers. They have loved bringing the characters in this play to life and are honoured to have encountered them.
Old Douglas – Barry Mawer
Young Douglas – Simon Davis
Harriet – Grace Phillips
Katherine – Laurel Mitchell
George – James Innes
Boy/Hubert Faulkner – Ryan Buchanan
Doctor/Mr Gordon – Axl Scott
Writer/Director – Jackie Davis
Stage Manager – Beth Morton
Lighting Design – Simon Davis, Isadora Lao
Lighting Operator – Isadora Lao
Set Design – Jackie Davis
Costumes – Jackie Davis
Novel approach results in one-dimensional play
Review by Ewen Coleman 28th Apr 2018
As centenary commemorations of World War I, the Great War, come to a close, there are still heart-wrenching tales of life on the battlefields being portrayed on stage.
One such play is A Time Like This, currently playing at Bats Theatre, that tells the experiences of a New Zealand soldier who was also a war-artist and the nightmares he suffers on returning home, through the eyes of the soldier as an old man in a rest home. [More]
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Not dramatically engaging
Review by John Smythe 26th Apr 2018
Recent theatrical contributions to commemorating the centenary of the First World War have included Once on Chunuk Bair, Bill Massey’s Tourists and An Awfully Big Adventure (2014); All Our Sons (2015); Brass Poppies (2016); ANZAC Eve (2017). Also not to be forgotten are King and Country (2006) and Strange Resting Places (2007), set during WWII.
Countless books, films, television programmes and media features have also traversed this tragic territory. Nevertheless each of the live performance pieces mentioned has, in its own way, been highly creative and effective in addressing what has turned, in present consciousness, from heroic mythology to a more mature awareness and critique of what happened, why and how. They are hard acts to follow.
A Time Like This has clearly been a labour of love for Gisborne writer/ director Jackie Davis, who also designed the set and costumes. She notes in the programme that she wrote it as a novel at first but was unable to find a publisher so adapted it for the stage. (She had previously written and directed a one-act play called Whether I Fall, set in a maternity ward, about the loss of a child during childbirth.) A Time Like This premiered in Gisborne in 2017 – a “sell-out season” the publicity tells us.
Naturalistic furnishings define three set areas: a chair, table and chest of drawers on a raised platform; a hospital bed; the dining table in a suburban home. The same faded wedding photo adorns the first and last settings.
The ‘present’ is 1984* and one time war artist Douglas Chapman (Barry Mawer) is seeing out his lonely days in the Eventide Home with only his memories and an illicit flask of whiskey for company. For no particular reason he narrates his experiences of WWI and its aftermath – and some of the scenes are dramatised in flashback.
Young Douglas (Simon Davis) buys a broach for his sweetheart from a Boy (Ryan Buchanan) in Honolulu. He witnesses the death of a mate on a troop ship heading for Fiji and the Doctor (Axl Scott) succumbing too (presaging the impending influenza pandemic that was little understood at the time). His sweetheart, Harriet (Grace Phillips), speaks eloquently to and/or of him in formal language that suggests it is a letter she’s written …
Suddenly we’re back at the start of the war, the embarkation for “The Greatest Adventure”, then there’s his letter to Harriet saying “they’re sending me back” and apparently they have been two years apart, then Old Douglas recounts his anger at some bloke in the home who can’t make up his mind at the servery …
I have yet to tune into a sense of purpose let alone feel drawn into the drama. Despite the attempts to dramatise by showing, it still feels like we’re being told stuff by characters who don’t really exist in the present moment pursuing personal objectives; rather they are there to serve the playwright’s desire to impart information. But she has yet to find a binding theme that fuses or distils her story ingredients into something more than the sum of those parts.
A dinner scene – Douglas and Harriet with friends Katherine (Laurel Mitchell) and George (James Innes) – does generates some present-action drama when George suggests a game of Truth or Dare and the women don’t want to play but Douglas manages to offer some petty theft stories. In retrospect I see that this is supposed to set up a mystery: what is Douglas trying to hide? But I can’t say the way it is done compels my interest.
An account of Douglas painting in a field and being interrupted by bombing and strafing loses credibility when he hears the bomb approaching rather than what would have been a cumbersome, heavy and noisy bomber plane. Perhaps the playwright was thinking of a whizz-bang shell but the idea that German artillery could have been hauled into place just over the hill without anyone noticing is also beyond belief. Our ability to share his experience of tending the dying soldier from Blenheim (Buchanan) is compromised both by this and by his narrating rather than ‘living’ the experience.
In the second half (yes, there’s an interval) we are asked to believe Harriet gets a job running the Auckland library without any qualifications or experience other than running a household (that does not include children). I applaud the attempt to fill out the female roles, which are mere ciphers otherwise, but this scene adds nothing to the play.
The major problem is that most of the time the actors are obliged to deliver descriptive prose (which they do with commendable clarity) even when present in what is supposed to be a dramatic situation. The scene where Young Douglas is trying to paint but has the shakes, welcome for its highly visual non-verbal action, is robbed of drama by Harriet narrating her thoughts and feelings while present in the room with him while Old Douglas narrates his version of it in retrospect.
Conversely the fate of Katherine and George is played out non-verbally upstage, quite disconnected from what is happening up front. Nevertheless it moves me to wonder if the primary focus of the play could have been the unintended consequence of the returning soldiers bringing influenza to the Pacific and New Zealand – and if so, how Douglas might relate to his role in that. (See the dance work 1918 and the play Pandemic.) By the way, if we were told what happened to Harriet, I missed it, but it seems Douglas has outlived her.
Overall I can find no way in to engage with this play, either through empathy or by being offered the space to ‘get’ something – by reading subtext or joining the proverbial dots having felt compelled to solve a mystery. When the big secret is revealed, it simply doesn’t register as anything more than the inevitable and unsurprising consequence of his being there, albeit as a non-combatant, because what happens has happened thousands of times; because, sad and tragic as it is, that’s what the insanity of war is all about: killing the person you believe is your enemy.
The device of sprinkling paper poppies every time someone dies is visually effective; indeed it’s the only time I feel a flutter in my gut.
Often the title offers an insight to the playwright’s intentions but I have no idea what A Time Like This denotes. The publicity asks, “What if there was one secret from your time in the First World War that haunted you for the rest of your days?” But it’s not dramatised to hook us into wanting to solve the mystery; nor is the revelation dramatic.
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*It is pure coincidence, I suppose, that the concurrent play in the Heyday Dome, Colour Me Cecily, is also set in 1984.
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