BORDERS AND MARGINS
BATS Theatre, The Random Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
04/02/2021 - 13/02/2021
Borders & Margins is a ‘Cinematic Theatre’ production merging both film and theatre.
It is a deeply tragic story of espionage embedded in the historical 1953 East German uprising.
“… I am quite certain that future historians, in their analysis of the causes which will have brought about the disintegration of the Communist Empire, will single out those brave East Germans who dared to rise against the cannons of tyranny with nothing but their bare hands and their stout hearts as the root cause” Dwight D. Eisenhower.
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
The Random stage
4 – 13 February 2021
The Difference $40
Full Price $22
Group 6+ $20
Concession Price $18
The Random 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.
James Bayliss Kurt Jager - GDR Stasi (Double Agent ) code name Chiron
Sara Douglas Petra - Staunch East German Minister of Internal Affairs
Devon Nuku Vladimir Semyonov - Soviet ambassador
Charlotte Dodd Ivana Oblonsky - MGB Russian Ministry of state Security
Ivana Palezevic Rozalia Rein - Volkspolizei (Berlin Sector Police chief)
Dom Flanagan Robert Johnson - CIA Operative
Alida Steemson Margaret Bass - US Congresswomen
Hope Houlton Jutta Kroeber - American Spy, Code Name Yana
Jason Tolley Truman Wright - US Military Attaché
Tom Kereama Wolfgang Muller - Owner RS Securities (GDR)
Tom Kereama Major General John Sinclair - Head of British MI6
Director of Photography/ Technical Director: Michelle Mae Cameron
Sound Engineers: Sean Metcalf & Michael Allan
Lighting Operator: Emii Wilson
Audio Visual/Tech & Design: Sabrina Mae Lawson
Costumes: Deborah Percy
Scenography/Set Construction: Paul Percy
Posters/Marketing: Hamish Boyle
Technical Advisor: Gemma McKenzie (MCC)
Rochelle Pese, Toloa Faraimo, Jillian Tupuse, Benjamin Sneyd-Utting,
Tino Malo-siolo, Rochelle played violin and viola, Benjamin Play cello,
Tino Malo-siolo - Voice
Visual and aural aesthetics impressive but playwright’s purpose a puzzle
Review by John Smythe 06th Feb 2021
As we witness political tyranny festering around the globe in this supposedly enlightened century, it is salutary to revisit just one example from the middle of last century, in East Germany. The Soviet Union’s post WWII enforcing of laws to ‘bolshevise’ the German Democratic Republic (GDR) sparked escalating protests and strikes, now known to history as The 1953 GDR Uprising.
Written, designed (scenography/set construction) and directed by Paul Percy as a Masters of Fine Arts project, Borders and Margins scores high on the visual aesthetics. A dark space upstage centre houses a crystal drinks set, and is framed by screens above and beside, on which historical footage and live action are variously projected (Director of Photography/ Technical Director: Michelle Mae Cameron; Audio Visual/Tech & Design: Sabrina Mae Lawson).
The Costumes, by Deborah Percy, bring a strong sense of time and place to the action. Robin Bryant’s original music, recorded by a five-strong orchestra, enriches the soundscape (Sound-Engineered by Sean Metcalf and Michael Allan).
Within all this a cast of 10, in various groupings, play out a series of scenes that dramatise the political wrangles within and between the GDR administration, the Soviet dominators, and USA ‘observers’ and operatives, with speaker-phone input from Britain.
Dramaturgically the dialogue is heavy on exposition. The inevitable difficulty the audience experiences in following the intricate weaves of information, differences of opinion, accusations and subversive plotting is intensified by the accents adopted by the East-European and Russian characters. While to my ear the accents are well executed, it is interesting to note that the American accents are delivered with a lighter touch. (To orientate yourself to the story, I recommend taking note of the descriptors alongside the names in the programme and reading the 2-page essay that sets the scene.)
A lot of text is also projected on the side-screens, sometimes competing for our attention with projected newsreel footage. At other times the live action is simultaneously being projected on all three screens, albeit with a slight lag which has the strange effect of making it look like a foreign film with dubbed voices.
Nevertheless the actors’ clear commitment to their roles and understandings of complex dynamics convey the evolving drama at a somewhat subliminal level – in my experience, anyway. Most of the dialogue exchanges are delivered at steady levels of intensity, however, and I can’t help wondering if more modulation is possible – or is it that the expository polemics simply demand such performance.
Gradually it becomes apparent there is espionage afoot, suggesting the potential for a shift from dramatised history lesson to gripping thriller as a means of conveying the historic events. A welcome, if esoteric, touch of black humour arrives with mention that the ‘Russian eliminator’ is code-named Chiron, referencing Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. To get the ‘joke’, you have to know to know what Chiron and his brother did to Lavinia before Titus cooked up his revenge.
The play opens with what appears to be workers expressing their dissatisfaction with their Sovietised working and living conditions, and plotting the uprising. But post-play study of the programme reveals that Wolfgang Muller (Tom Kereama) is the owner of RS Securities – a boss upset on behalf of his workers as well as himself? – Juttas Kroeber (Hope Houlton) is an American spy code-named Janna, and Kurt Jager (James Bayliss) is GDR Stasi and a Double Agent. The deviousness of Kurt is the first bit of intrigue to emerge.
The status-games are well delineated in scenes between Petra (Sara Douglas), the East German Minister of Internal Affairs, Vladimir Semyonov (Devon Nuku), the Soviet Ambassador, Ivana Oblonsky (Charlotte Dodd), MGB/Russian Ministry of State Security) and Rozalia Rein (Ivana Palezevic), Volkspolizei/Berlin Sector Police Chief.
While Vladimir and Ivana are functionally clad in grey suits, and Petra is elegant in a frock and pearls, Rozalia’s stylish frock offers no hint she is a Police Chief. Nevertheless Rosalia’s greater fidelity to Germany rather than Russia comes through strongly as a precursor to bigger revelations later on. Suffice to say a mother-daughter relationship emerges which at last brings true humanity into the picture, making itself felt just in time for the highly dramatic ending to pack a powerful punch.
Meanwhile the USA contingent lurks in the background, aware that discovery of their involvement could lead to World War Three. Truman Wright (Jason Tolley) is the US Military Attaché, Robert Johnson (Dom Flanagan) is a CIA Operative and both answer to US Congresswoman Margaret Bass (Alida Steemson) – whose moment concerning her son’s fate also allows for a rare moment of empathy. Major General John Sinclair, Head of British MI6, is voiced by Tom Kereama.
Political plays of this ilk are notoriously hard to dramatise for live theatre. The UK’s David Hare (Plenty; The Vertical Hour) was not always successful while our own Dean Parker (The Hollow Men & Other People’s Wars [from Nicky Hager], The Trial [from Franz Kafka], The Tigers of Wrath, Midnight in Moscow and, on radio, 25TH APRIL: A True Fiction) invariably found ingenious dramaturgical solutions to the inherent challenges.
The examples above include real and fictional people and scenarios, with the audience being in a position to know which is what – even, eventually, in the case of Parker’s ANZAC mockumentary. Although Wiki reveals Vladimir Semyonov was the actual Soviet Ambassador, a search of other character names in Borders and Margins suggests they are fictional which leaves me wondering even more about the dramaturgical choices Paul Percy has made. For example, given he has dedicated his play “to the brave East German’s who gave their lives during the 1953 uprising in the name of freedom”, the absence of any frontline East German workers in his dramatisation is a puzzle.
While the visual and aural aesthetics are impressive and the performances are strong, Percy’s purpose as playwright escapes me. Although this has evolved as a Masters in Fine Arts, I’d like to think the dramaturgical choices are a valid concern.
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