Taste Merchants, 36 Stuart St, Dunedin

14/03/2015 - 15/03/2015

Dunedin Fringe 2015

Production Details

The event is a marriage of Poetry, Drama and Music. Eight of NZ’s best Poets have provided poems to a team of exceptional and renowned Actors and Musicians.

Working with the poems as text these teams have created eight dramatic pieces, with live musical score to be performed at the event. The works interpret and embody the poems into distinct pieces, each having their own ‘life’ beyond the words of the poem.

During the event the Poets will also read their poems so that the audience is provided with the opportunity to compare and contrast the original work with the created and performed pieces. The poems are as diverse as the actors and musicians working with them and will lead to a very intriguing and entertaining evening.

Poets featured are former Burns fellows Sue Wootton & Emma Neale as well as Caroyln McCurdie, James Dignan, Ian Loughran, Shae McMillan, Sas Ambicous and Giles Graham. Actors include Tim Player, Del Mcleod, Kirri Martin and Ian Loughran. Musicians include Lucy Hunter (of Opposite Sex), Strange Harvest, Glen Ross (Kilmog) and Nicole Reddington Cellist.

The respected and highly experienced dramatic practitioner and creator Barbara Power will co-ordinate the dramatic pieces to assist with enhancing the quality of the work. 

Taste Merchants 36 Stuart St, Dunedin
Sat 14 March, 7.30pm
Sun 15 March, 6.30pm
$15.00; $12.50

Theatre , Performance Poetry , Musical ,

2hr 30mins including interval

A memorable fusion of sound, image and text

Review by Sharon Matthews 15th Mar 2015

All Good Poems Wear Travelling Shoes starts from a dazzlingly simply idea. Take eight local poets. Ask the poets to read one of their poems out loud. Using the poem as the text, draw on the expertise of local performers and musicians to embody, re-work and re-interpret these poems into distinct entities travelling above, beyond and around the words on the page.

Result: a showcase of Dunedin’s literary talent—poets include Sue Wootton, Emma Neale, Caroyln McCurdie, James Dignan, Ian Loughran, Shae MacMillan, Sas Ambicus and Giles Graham—as well as a platform for Dunedin’s musical and creative talent. The musicians involved include Lucy Hunter (Opposite Sex, with a cameo from band-mate Tim Player), Strange Harvest, Glen Ross (Kilmog), and Christchurch-based cellist Nicole Reddington (Silencio Ensemble, Free Theatre).

The show itself is a (mostly) endearingly chaotic mixture of poetry, music, performance and holograms, MC’d by the host of the Otago Access Radio show of the same name, poet, writer and broadcaster, Ian Loughran.

The absolute highlight for me is the re-imagining of McCurdies’s ‘January Begins’ by Strange Harvest’s Bianca and Justin (sorry, no last names in programme) and performer / actor Kiri Martin. Here, the performers move away from the spoken word altogether, projecting sections of the text and selected images onto Martin’s body (swathed in satin) while she slowly moves and stretches. The synthesis of echoing, de-personalised sound (Strange Harvest describe themselves as “electronic dark-wave”) with images evoking bare, empty, still, blue space, perfectly realises my own emotional response to the poem.

Stand-outs also are Ross and Dell Mcleod’s stylish (LOVE the hair and eyes!) re-working of Dignan’s ‘The effects of caffeine on the central nervous system’. Here, coffee slurping, pens clicking, books slamming join the spoken word — distorted, broken, almost harsh — in playing with and against urgent and edgy electronic guitar.  

Outstanding also is Hunter’s performances of MacMillan’s ‘Death of an Artist’ and Loughran’s ‘Nico 2 – Songs in the Air’. Stripped back, pure and simple, Hunter’s extraordinary voice and piano playing satisfyingly embodies two complex and emotive poems. 

The dramatic enactments are less satisfying and don’t work well for me.

Loughran ambitiously re-imagines Sue Wootton’s ‘Report’ by symbolically enacting (using a plastic doll and a bag of stones), atrocities perpetuated against women in certain countries in the name of ‘justice’. The piece is accompanied by a voiceover (Barbara Powers) listing similar punishments, as if for a report on violence against women. 

On the one hand, I salute Loughran’s obvious commitment to social justice. On the other, these are complex issues involving a palette of cultural and religious differences, and as such need to be handled with care and respect. This piece in particular ends abruptly with Loughran telling the audience, “That’s it.” Given the overdetermined imagery, and the intricate issues involved, I feel that the audience needs a transitional space here in which to come to terms with the emotions thrown up.  

I note, however, that a similar effect is avoided at the end of the dramatisation of Sas Ambicus’s ‘Who’s selling all the arms’.  This bitter poem, which strongly criticises social complacency, re-imagines arms-dealing as a cosy father and son game of ‘pass the parcel’.  At the end of this piece Loughran and the young boy (played by Liam Loughran), share a hug, successfully dismantling and defusing the emotional intensity evoked by the text and in the performance.  

Part of the reason the more dramatised pieces do not work as well is the nature of the venue itself. Taste Merchants is a well-known (and well-loved) Dunedin music venue, but is not entirely suitable as a sit-down, watch-the-actors-type space. It is uncomfortably crowded and hot, the noise from the bar is intrusive, and I don’t think the sightlines have been worked out. When ask what she thought of the dramatisations, a friend who has been watching the show from up the back is unable to comment, as she could hear but not see what was happening on stage  because the performers were mostly sitting down. My theatre buddy (sitting with me second row from the front) has also had difficulty seeing parts of the stage.

The second problem is — oh, my goodness, I can’t believe I’m writing this — there is just too much poetry. As well as the eight featured poems and their re-imaginings, Loughran introduces the evening with a selection of his own work and reads more while the musicians are setting up for their pieces. Although Loughran is a charismatic performer who reads his own work very well, it does mean that one poetic voice is overly dominant.

I want more space to come to grips with the specific emotions, images and some of the rich and difficult themes of the featured poems. I think what I’m trying to say is that while all poems do wear travelling shoes, it might work better for the audience if they can travel at least part of their journey alone.  

All in all, an event in the best tradition of Fringe: fantastic central idea; execution needs a bit more polishing; involves a truly extraordinary range of local talents and introduces me to some Dunedin musical talent I will now actively seek out (hi family, guess what you are getting for Christmas in 2015?).

A fusion of sound, image and text which will linger in my memory for some time to come. My thanks to all involved.


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