Te Whaea - Basement Theatre, 11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown, Wellington

28/10/2008 - 06/11/2008

Production Details

Back Seat Driver Productions, as part of the Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School Graduation Season 2008, proudly present AoTERRORoa, an absurdist farce inspired by the New Zealand Terrorism Suppression Act and the arrests of the ‘Urewera Seventeen’ by the New Zealand Police in November 2007.

Fresh off the back of the runaway success On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her young lover, director Geoff Pinfield has teamed up with acclaimed playwright Jo Randerson, designer Caitlin Le Harivel and nine of New Zealand’s hottest up and coming actors on the eve of their Graduation to create a caustic, risky, impolite play premiering at a time of social and political flux in New Zealand.

AoTERRORoa investigates the questions and fears of post 9/11 New Zealand through a whirlwind of whistle-blowing, mixed loyalties, inside-informants, confusion and kalashnikovs.

AoTERRORoa has is strictly limited seating, so book now to avoid dissapointment.

WHERE:  Basement Theatre, Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre
11 Hutchison Rd, Newtown
WHEN:  28th October – 6th November
TIME:  7.30pm
TICKETS:  $15/$10
BOOK:  04 381 9253 (automated line)

Kyle Kevin Kent: Barnaby Fredric
Hemi Fitzgerald Kent: Sam Bunkall
Chief Mihingarangi Blake: Sera Henare
Sergeant Baxter: Sara Allen
Barry: Hadleigh Walker
Constable Karol Kuki-Kara: Tansy Hayden
Thomas Buchannan: James Kupa
Elizabeth Manapanatawhai: Chelsie Preston Crayford
Maxine: Dawn Cheong

Director: Geoff Pinfield
Writer: Jo Randerson
Producer: Sam Bunkall
Production Manager: Pat McIntosh
Stage Manager: Sarah Prestidge
Production/Costume Designer: Caitlin LeHarivel
Assistant Designer: Gina Hitchcock
Sound Design: Pat McIntosh
Lighting Design: Sarah Prestidge
Publicity: Hadleigh Walker and Tansy Hayden
Publicity Design: Gina Hitchcock and Hadleigh Walker
Programme Design: Sarah Prestidge and Tansy Hayden

Theatre ,

1 hr 45 mins

Some inspired moments despite thin characters

Review by John Smythe 29th Oct 2008

This very ingeniously conceived socio-political satire, inspired by the Uruwera ‘terror raids’ of just over a year ago, is a must-see theatrical experience, not least because you are very unlikely to get such an opportunity within standard theatre seasons (please prove me wrong, someone).

Over six weeks nine actors and three crew have devised AoTERRORoa with playwright Jo Randerson, director Geoff Pinfield and designer Caitlin le Harivel, as part of the Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School graduation season.

The audience, assembled in the Te Whaea Basement, is divided equally into three groups who witness, in rotation, three half-hour playlets, each depicting events that occur simultaneously in a TV studio, a police station and a suburban home. Most characters appear in more than one setting during each repeated half hour.

Depending on where we start, our perceptions and understandings of the bigger picture change as self-interest, naiveté, ignorance, ineptitude and corruption drive the various characters through scenarios that focus inexorably on suspected terrorist activities in a suburban home, apparently master-minded by the mysterious balaclava-clad ‘Kowhai’.

Two abiding and sobering truths emerge. First: no-one knows what’s really going on, and even if they did at any given moment, that ‘truth’ would change in the next. Second: our social and political infrastructure would be severely subverted if we lived in actual harmony, so those in key positions within it have vested interests in creating and maintaining a climate of fear and distrust.

This substantial core strength is somewhat subverted by a lack of depth in most of the characters, which leads to some performance moments coming over as ‘try hard’ comedy, too conscious of its supposed funniness to score an actual laugh. Some of these moments are padding, I suspect, required by the complex logistics of intersecting the scenes. But these are balanced by other moments of inspired comic insight that demand we take this work seriously as the ‘absurdist farce’ it aspires to be.

Some good comedy arises from race-reversed casting so that Mäori issues and protocols are assiduously pushed and practiced by Pakeha while Mäori actors play characters who are variously culturally insensitive, fluffing the pronunciation of Mäori names, etc.  

It may be that the scene you see last will always appear to have the most substance because the previous two scenes have set up the context and subtext. Thus I conclude that the two estranged brothers, obliged to co-habit in the deceased mother’s home and attempting to do so by treaty settlement, are the best realised characters at every level.

James – a.k.a. Hemi – Kent (Sam Bunkall) wears a Mäori sovereignty t-shirt and is a persistent but peaceful protest activist. Kyle Kevin Kent (Barnaby Fredric) is a wannabe white supremacist out on parole but wanting to further his education back in prison. It is they who become, through a toxic curdling of various forces, not least their own dysfunction, the target of a raid by the Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU).

Chief Malingering Blake (Sera Henare) thinks she’s in charge while Constables Karol Kuki-Kara (Tansy Hayden), the unit’s committed cultural adviser, and accident-prone Barry (Hadleigh Walker), do the actual work. But Sergeant Baxter (Sara Allen) from Australia is here to help, because the unit has failed to identify any actual terrorists. And plain clothes Maxine (Dawn Cheong) turns out to be answerable to an even higher authority. All this builds to a very dramatic and funny pay-off with an excellent twist that cannot be revealed here.

The media, of course, has a key role to play and is represented by a flaky current affairs show called Buchannan Fodder, fronted by the vain and violatile but vulnerable Thomas Buchannan, a.k.a Pukana (James Kupa), who wields undue egotistical power despite being little more than a reader of links. His deeply conscientious researcher, Elizabeth Manapanatawhai (Chelsie Preston-Crayford), fresh out of journalism school, clearly has a lot to learn about how the media really works. Tellingly, when she gets the opportunity to confront the nation, live on air, with the Truth, she doesn’t know what to say.

Each scene’s ‘punch-line’ will have a different level of resonance depending on the order in which you see it – and see it you must, if you have the chance. There is plenty to chew on in retrospect and some may get value from more than one viewing.

The production design elements are excellent, including good use of screen technology.

All in all this premiere production is a very good start and a great achievement for six weeks’ work. The question is how might it get to grow into a play that could take its rightful place alongside the ‘absurdist farce’ political satires of Dario Fo, for example.

What’s needed now is for a writer, or writers, to step back from the performance imperative that has necessarily become the focus of this first season, and work the somewhat patchy material into a piece that fully realises its substantial potential. Let’s hope (bearing in mind the Penumbra precedent which provoked the most active forum to date on this site) that ways and means for this to happen are found, thoroughly negotiated and clearly understood – unlike the ‘treaty’ the brothers signed.


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