And They Did.
09/03/2008 - 13/02/2008
The anti-dance crusaders return with a new surreal, black comedy that explores the ethics of employer – employee relationships. BabyshadS received critical and popular acclaim for their previous performances Watch This Space ("the stand out success and surprise of the festival" – Deirdre Tarrant, Capital Times) and Imagining Reality ("these skilled performers share their fevered imaginings with wit and style" (John Smythe, Theatreview).
$11.25 per soul.
And They Did. fuses dance, music, dialogue and absurdist performance styles with surreal, stylised design to chronicle the lives of Lady and her in-house staff as they prepare to host a dinner party. This is the base to explore different situations and relationships, often resulting in hilarious physical comedy.
The dancers swap characters throughout the show, creating interesting dynamics, both emotionally and physically. BATS Theatre Programme Manager James Hadley says, "Exploring the ethical challenges faced by a cash-strapped younger generation when being employed by an established older generation is a fresh and relevant topic, conspicuously attuned to the zeitgeist of today’s 20-somethings."
This show deals with the consequences of a new class of educated and ambitious young people who are being increasingly forced into situations where their bodies, minds and spirits are degraded, just in order for them to earn a living. The dinner party setting enables them to also explore the perverse curiosity of the upper class to see "how the other half live". Fringe is the perfect platform for this kind of work because it encourages a much more diverse audience than usual for theatre.
‘I work therefore I am’
The BabyshadS have what they feel is their best line up yet. Self-professed devisors and ‘anti-dancers’ (Milo Haigh, Sherilee Kahui and Jake Preval) are joined by newcomer Jaci Gwaliasi. Musician and Chapman Tripp nominee Emile de la Rey has been working to compose original music for the production. They are joined by lighting designer Rob Larsen (And What Remains, Kikia Te Poa).
What: And They Did. By BabyshadS
When: 9-13 February 2008, 9:30pm
Where: BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace
Cost: $16/ $12concs/$10fringe addict
Bookings: (04) 8024175 / email@example.com
Sherilee Kahui - Performer / Producer / Writer
Jake Preval - Performer / Set Design / Writer
Milo Haigh - Performer / Costume Design / Writer
Rose Morrison - Production Designer
Rob Larsen - Lighting Design
Emile de la Rey - Sound Designer
Eleanor Bishop - Dramaturg / Publicist
Natalie Allnutt [ Crane - Graphic Designer ]
Gemma Young [ Crane - Graphic Designer ]
William Donaldson - Production / Stage Manager
50 min, no interval
Startling originality and energy
Review by Lynn Freeman 13th Feb 2008
And They Did is by the BabyshadS, a company with a great sense of originality, energy and pizzazz.
"I work therefore I am" is the play’s byline, and it explores the abuse of power by the rich and the desperate ends to which the poor can be driven just to survive.
Here a woman exploits and abuses her understandably resentful three maids. Sometimes they fight back, sometimes they abase themselves and comply. What are they options really, when the rich hold all the cards?
Sherilee Kahui, Jake Preval, Milo Haigh and Jaci Gwaliasi are riveting to watch in this Jean Genet type work of deliberate grotesqueness. It needs pruning in places and one of the costume changes – all four actors share the role of the lady of the house, is surprisingly clumsy, but it’s a work of startling originality and energy.
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‘Political’ message too thin and confused
Review by Helen Sims 12th Feb 2008
And They Did marks the third Babyshads venture, using their combination of “anti-dance” and theatre, to put a surreal spin on a concrete theme. All three co-founders (Milo Haigh, Jake Preval and Sherilee Kahui) perform and fill various production roles, and they are joined by new comer Jaci Gwaliasi. In their production note they describe this as their “most overtly political work yet.” It’s billed as an exploration of the relationship and politics of exploitation between employers and employees.
The show revolves around “Lady” (played in rotation by each of the performers) and her three maids as they prepare for a dinner party being hosted by the Lady. The Lady holds her employees at the whim of her mercy and fancy. Her attitude towards them seems to be one of disgust mingled with obsession. She forces them into performing a number of duties and roles to satisfy her impulses. The maids are gradually stripped of dignity and clothing as her demands grow increasingly bizarre.
The Babyshads have drawn on a Victorian England master-servant archetype to explore their theme. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se, it does detract from the overt politicism they are aiming for. It would have been far more “overtly political” to explore a more modern scenario – where workers are often little more than numbers to employers they often haven’t met. Or at least link this situation into more modern experiences. Or perhaps a more thorough exploration of the debilitating effects many thankless jobs have on the human body (not to mention the human psyche) would have been more suitable for the Babyshads’ style? Overall, their ‘political’ message seemed a little too thin and confused. This isn’t helped by a weak plot that lost its way somewhere around the midpoint of the show. At times there seemed to be more sympathy for the Lady than the Maids and at other times there seemed to be the hint that the Lady and the Maids are the same – when they take paracetamol and smoke on her behalf. The body of the master seemed to display the most degradation. I wasn’t sure if these suggestions were deliberate or not – if they were then they need a little more work to develop them into a coherent message. I’m a fan of surreal abstraction (Sleep/Wake was an excellent recent example) but this seems to be a little too far removed to get the point they want to express.
In terms of production values the show hit a high mark. I enjoyed the grotesque aspects of the costumes and make up. When this was mirrored in the movements and facial expressions of the performers I felt the performance was on its most solid ground. At one point they seemed to be drawing on Japanese performance styles. The set design, by Rose Morrison, with its graduated perspective stage and drawers hanging on gold chains, looked great and was used to effect to frame scenes and enable character changes.
All of the performances were of a high quality also, with Preval providing plenty of camp hilarity. Haigh seems to be the most physically controlled performer, as well as pulling off the mannerisms of the Lady to the greatest effect. At times I thought they were playing a bit too consciously for laughs, but they had a pretty supportive audience on opening night.
This is an enjoyable short piece of theatre and the Babyshads’s growing experience shines through. It’s nice to see a “truly collaborative effort”, although their vision could use some refining. But there is plenty of singing, dancing and acting to entertain despite the absence of a coherent political message.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
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Theme buried by frenetic self-indulgence
Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 11th Feb 2008
And They Did is a collaborative piece from a group called Babyshads and like many collaborative works could be subtitled four actors in search of a director.
Based loosely on French existentialist writer Jean Genet’s The Maids – about the dynamics of power that exists between unequals where maids imitate one another and their mistress – and presented in a very stylised theatrical way like a French vaudeville show, And They Did is full of innovative and creative ideas presented with tons of energy.
The four actors ( Sherilee Kahu, Jacki Gwaliasi, Jake Preval and Milo Haigh) move about with amazing amounts of athleticisms. However the frenetic, self indulgence of the piece soon takes over and the production loses focus, the performances become ragged with the actors constantly coming on half dressed after quick costume changes.
With more thought on process and fine tuning of the production the underlying theme of the haves versus the have nots may be able to surface.
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Purpose lost for lack of a director
Review by John Smythe 10th Feb 2008
They do for her. The Lady. Three little maids. They do and they do.
A frightfully mannered socialite Lady orders her desperate-to-please maids about something rotten in the process of planning and holding a dinner party, and possibly finding some semblance of value in her ghastly lifestyle. But she is irredeemable. And in the end two maids leave while the favoured one stays, only to do for her somewhat differently.
That’s about it for a plot in BabyshadS latest anti-dance theatre with music piece, And They Did. Their grotesque style – white-face heightened with blue eye-shadow and red cheek-bones; frocks with no backs revealing unflattering bloomers, mask-like grimacing and fruity vocals – could be summed up as ‘Cabaret Bouffe’.
This could be Alfred Jarry meets Jean Genet, except the illustration of class difference painted in the first five minutes is not more deeply investigated, or if there is more to it than I get, it is obscured by all the hyper-performing.
Posh English accents are the order of the days and nights except for a bit evoking a Southern States Negro washer-woman. I’d love to be able to locate this activity in a time-warped Karori, Fendalton or Remuera but can find no point of access. These performers – Sherilee Kahui, Jake Preval, Milo Haigh and Jacqui Gwaliasi – seem to be emulating other performers rather than drawing from some kernel of truth in their own experiences, perceptions and observations.
Each of them gets to play the Lady, which I take to be consistent with BabyshadS’ avowed collaborative and egalitarian ethic. My companion wondered if (as in Genet’s The Maids) the maids were role-playing, to make a point about the corrosive nature of status and power per se. But the programme notes (which I rarely read before a performance, preferring to let the work speak for itself) suggest this is not the case.
Describing it as "our most overtly political work yet," they write: "The inspiration for this story was bred out of our own frustration at the seemingly endless betrayal of every human soul that does not have tons of cash. It seems that there is an increasing amount of people that continue to be forced to work for a wage that is so low that many have become accustomed to giving up basic human rights like adequate shelter, nutritious foods and regular trips to the dentist/ doctor. The main premise of And They Did. is that there is a lack of empathy on the part of the ‘upper classes’ in our society, which leads to both a gross misunderstanding of ethics and also a perverse curiosity as to how people of lower socio-economic groups live their lives."
They describe their "strange and original" work as being "forged in the furnace of passion for exposing the real while exploring the surreal." But sadly, this time round, the surreal medium has become the ‘massage’ that distracts and detracts from their political purpose. The abiding impression is of an energetic bunch of child-like camp theatricals whooping it up in garish makeup and silly frocks because they love it so why shouldn’t we.
There are memorable sequences and moments: the singing and often witty dancing to Emile de la Rey’s lively music; the evocation of mopping using two dancers swished by a third; a bit with a Dictaphone (a promising set up that’s never paid off); the Lady’s searing abuse of the Maids in turn; the deluge of luminous Lotto balls; the playing out of a sexually charged scenario as dictated by the Lady …
But the only statement being made is that this particular ‘upper class’ woman is a dreadful harridan whose maids put up with her abuse much longer than most of us would, while the reason they have to – let alone why the Lady behaves as she does – is never explored with any degree of human, social or political insight. Even the converted could be forgiven for not knowing what’s being preached, let alone what action they should consider (and political theatre is, by definition, a call to action).
Dare I suggest to a group so committed to equality and collaboration that they need the eye of a director not simultaneously immersed in performing, to facilitate the shaping, pacing and focusing of their work so that it has a real chance of achieving their collective purpose? (Note: BabyshadS’ previous offering, Imagining Reality and Watch This Space had Hannah Clarke directing and were clearly the better for it.)
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John Smythe February 10th, 2008Oops - Fendalton (now corrected), point being posh suburbs that may possibly have mansions with maids presided over by sadly disconnected socialite ladies.
Steve Evans February 10th, 2008While for the most part I enjoy John Smythe's reviews, and have no bone to pick with his account of a play I haven't seen - or if he is right endured in the case of And they did, it really is amazing to read "Fendleton" asked for in seeking local colour. Truly.