Charm is Not Enough

BATS Theatre, Wellington

27/05/2009 - 06/06/2009

Production Details

The liberation army has disbanded. Feminism was ‘just a phase’.
In the aftermath of Revolution has anything changed? 

Devised by BabyshadS (Milo Haigh, Sherilee Kahui and Jake Preval) CHARM IS NOT ENOUGH, opening at BATS Theatre, 27 May 2009, promises to be a surreal black comedy that explores the ideas, ideals and institutions of identity in our modern world.

CHARM IS NOT ENOUGH combines dance, theatre, art installation and live music.

BATS Theatre will be transformed into an art gallery, providing the perfect platform for the BabyshadS’s colourful imaginings. A woman, a gay man and Death all struggle to forge a new identity for themselves in the wake of revolution and the decay of complacency.

Director, Hannah K Clarke says that "the themes of this work are more pertinent than ever. A new wave of ambivalence has spread across a generation, too apathetic to care for anything or anyone beyond themselves. Charm… probes into the institutions and social constructs that define people today."

BabyshadS has received critical and popular acclaim for their previous productions, including Watch This Space in 2006 ("the stand out success and surprise of the festival" – Deirdre Tarrant, Capital Times), Imagining Reality in 2007 ("these skilled performers share their fevered imaginings with wit and style" – John Smythe, Theatreview) and in 2008 And They Did ("a work of startling originality and energy" – Lynn Freeman, Capital Times).

This time around, BabyshadS has been given a solo season at BATS Theatre. Joined by performers Jaci Gwaliasi (And They Did), Tessa Martin (Heart And Legs) and Patrick Powdrell (Footballistic), with lighting by Jimmy Sutcliffe, costumes by Chapman Tripp Award winner Kathryn Tyree and live music by Takumi Motokawa (STRIKE) and award winning composer Tristan Carter, expect big ideas, bold images, twisted installations and all manner of costume changes…

8pm, 27 May – 6 June 2009   
BATS Theatre ph 8024715 
(No show Sunday/Monday) 
Tickets: $18 full / $13 concession & groups 8+  

Milo Haigh:  Death, Deviser, Designer, Writer
Sherilee Kahui:  Fascinating Woman, Deviser, Producer, Writer
Jake Preval:  Gay Man, Deviser, Designer, Writer 
Tessa Martin - Coogan:  Chorus, Deviser
Jaci Gwaliasi:  Chorus, Deviser
Patrick Powdrel:  Chorus, Deviser

Tristan Carter
Takumi Motokawa

Hannah K Clarke:  Director, Publicity
Hamish Guthrey:  VJ
Kathryn Tyree:  Costume Designer, Set dressing
Nell Williams:  Stage Manager, Props maker, Publicity
Sally Ogle:  Set Design & Construction
Kathryn Jackson:  Producer, Publicity
Jimmy Sutcliffe:  Lighting design, operation and props maker
David Randall Peters:  (PON) - Print media designer and photographer
Sound Operator:  Daniel Batkin-Smith

Jon Coddington
Caro Guthrie
Sarah Burrell
Daniel Dubois


Black farce of gays, breasts and devils

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 29th May 2009

BabyshadS have done it again. They have created an hour-long, visually exciting piece of theatre that combines art installation, song, dance, sophisticated technical effects, and their own flamboyant style of surrealistic humour.

It is all set in a gleaming white art gallery displaying three installations, while working away in a corner are two excellent musicians: Tristan Carter and Takumi Motokawa.

The first installation is Gay Man (Jake Preval), looking like something out of a Pierre & Gilles photograph and is surrounded by a mound of black, silver and gray sequined objects.

The second is Fascinating Woman (Sherilee Kahui) who pops up out of what appears to be a patchwork teapot but is probably a patchwork breast. She has a thing about her breasts. She even sports an umbrella decorated with bras.

The third is Death (Milo Haigh) who sits high above the stage with the entrance to eternity through her legs. She is as immobile as the other two installations until three devils (Cerberus?) appear and start to do her bidding, which involves them taunting the Gay Man and the Fascinating Woman in scenes of black farce about AIDS, nuclear bombs, and everyone’s obsessions with fashion, the perfect body, and money.

The show’s publicity tells us that Death learns that charm is not enough to liberate her from a society compelled to institutionalize ideals and identities in order to maintain control.

I am glad the publicity told us that because there is just one large snag amongst all the supposedly outrageous satirical campery: some of it is hard to follow because of poor diction, poor projection, and inadequate amplification. However, despite the over-familiar territory that it covers, the revue is imaginatively presented and technically (microphone apart) it’s a triumph.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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More buffet than banquet

Review by John Smythe 28th May 2009

Here we go again on the devised theatre* debate; specifically, its tendency to produce shows that suffer from premature performance syndrome. Put it this way: if BabyshadS’ Charm Is Not Enough had been offered in script form, exactly as seen on opening night, would a prospective producer, director, venue manger, etc have thought it was ready to go into production?

The six performers are co-credited as Devisers, Director Hannah K Clarke is not and there is no dramaturg (or something similar) credited, so we can only guess as to the dynamics of its evolution towards production and performance.

The premise is fine: "The liberation army has disbanded," a media release announces. "Feminism was ‘just a phase’. In the aftermath of Revolution has anything changed?" The programme distils it thus: "Welcome to the Art Gallery. Here you will see a gay man, a woman and Death all struggling to forge an identity for themselves in the wake of revolution and the decay of complacency."

Definitely intriguing, although ambiguous: does it mean complacency is a form of decay or complacency itself is decaying? As I recall, it was a rejection of predictable, conservative, socio-economic security that eroded our complacency as the Baby Boomers’ Revolution took hold.

The complacency being confronted here is what has immobilised a self-obsessed and politically apathetic Generation Y. They seem to envy us our Revolution and the revitalised sense of collective identity it offered, not least because it allowed us to stand for something bigger than ourselves. Hey, we changed the world! What will they be remembered for?  

Rich soil, to be sure, in which to grow a show. And rich poetic text, too – what I hear of it. The trouble is a lot is subsumed by the live music, on opening night anyway, so the odd gem or nugget that might have more clearly articulated their quest is lost. So if you don’t come with foreknowledge of the premise, and keep it in mind, you too may get lost.

Death (Milo Haigh) presides from on high, upstage centre, sepulchral, black-frocked, her voluminous skirts framing a red-trimmed entrance-cum-exit. More Freudian than Freidan?

The exhibits in the Art Gallery are a pile of rubble, sequin-studded, with the odd high heel, purse and mirror ball among them, and a huge patchwork teapot. By way of a prologue the Chorus (Jaci Gwaliasi, Tessa Martin and Patrick Powdrell), clad head-to-toe in white body suits (redolent of the Sperms in Woody Allen’s All You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex) set the scene in dance, as people viewing the exhibits.

Gleefully they tug a long line of partly burned bras, seemingly endless until it stops and is hauled back whence it came (i.e. the teapot). This will have metaphorical resonance for those who have read the bumph and know the revolutionary significance of that image.

Fascinating Woman (Sherilee Kahui) arises within the teapot, which continues to enclose her, and shades herself with brolly made from brassiere cups. From amid the glinting rubble the Gay Man (Jake Preval) arises, all glossy lips and naked-torso … He too remains trapped.

Death’s first big number, with which the Chorus dances, tells us there is no need to be afraid, after all 27,500 human beings die every day. Then a man encased – entangled? entrapped? – in a huge $ sign (Powdrell) gives an account of himself (as per the Morality Plays of olde?) and his exit is an entry into the aforementioned skirt-framed cavity. Death, then, is a ‘back to the womb’ experience; a process of becoming ‘unborn’? …

Another ‘dollar man’ (Gwaliasi), toting a gold-toothed mouth-like briefcase, seeks to purchase the Gay Man exhibit provided certain changes are made, and Gay Man’s "I’m not for sale!" protests are gob-stopped so that negotiations can proceed. A song about salmon, beef and liberty follows … and I’m getting lost again …

Other areas theatricalised with great style and flair include: gay parenting v the threat of school bullying; junk food v fresh fruit and veg; media appetites for personal trauma; the temptation of toxic substances v their lethal qualities; the quest for freedom-centric experiences v the looming ovarian use-by date … It would be a spoiler to further describe the memorable images these sequences feature.  

Video imagery (VJ: Hamish Guthrey) adds to the visual mix, although its relevance to anything else happening at the time rarely becomes apparent to me. And the design elements are superb (Kathryn Tyree: costume design & set dressing; Sally Ogle: set design & construction; Milo Haigh & Jake Preval, design; Jimmy Sutcliffe: lighting design & operation, props maker).

The music (by Tristan Carter and Takumi Motokawa, alternating with Ben Woods) is rich and powerful, if not in good balance with the vocals at times.

There are flashes of conceptual brilliance, too: Mr A Bomb, hirsute with mushroom cloud, saying "Death was like a mother to me"; the actual death of Death, where Death delivers her own eulogy … A bit of a mind-bender, that one, but fascinating to contemplate.

It all plays out as a series of performance art statements, somewhat linked thematically but not yet coalesced as an accumulating whole that transcends its component parts. It’s an array of ideas, mixed up a bit and often made oblique to avoid being obvious, but yet to achieve the ‘chemical change’ that would make it a unified work of resonant substance.

Maybe that’s not important to BabyshadS. Or maybe this work is purposely indicative of the lack of focus and greater meaning they assert is the lot of their generation. But I can’t help feeling that if someone had been charged with the dramaturgical responsibility of turning this buffet into a gourmet banquet, all that wonderful creativity and commitment would deliver more satisfying fare.

What I find myself puzzling over most, in retrospect, is how Death came to have such a prominent role, given the premise. Is she there as an ever-present option for young people unable to find motivation for entering the next phase of adulthood? Does she stand as a warning that our lives are finite, so getting on with it is quite important? Or have I missed something crucial here?

These theatre artists, who are quite experienced now, are clearly intelligent, questing and creative. That’s why I wish what they have to offer could reach its full potential rather than simply get laid out as a wacky theatrical romp.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*See the forums Creating by Writing and/or Devising and Who owns devised work?
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 




John Smythe May 30th, 2009

You misunderstand me, Sam. I am not asserting “the primacy of ‘the script’.” A script is merely a means of exchange, like musical notation, which allows a created work to become physically independent of its creator(s), communicate its intentions to other (re)creators and so live on to be valued by successive generations. It can also offer a means of standing back from the performance dimension and assessing its efficacy as a whole. Either way it makes no sense to fear, distain or dismiss it.

But in this context, I was simply suggesting that if it had been notated in script form, as part of its development process, and/or if someone had been tasked with monitoring the evolving dramaturgy from the prospective audience perspective, then what I see as a gap in communication – in the sharing of experience and understanding, between the performers on stage and those for whom (presumably) they have created this work – may have been perceived.

Your discussion of the role of Death is fascinating. I’d be keen to know if it relates in any way to what BabyshadS had in mind. If it is, then surely it would be good if we could all be offered access to such dimensions via theatre’s many craft elements.

I am not asking to be spoon fed. I’m just suggesting that if the creators have supped on nutritious sources by way of developing their work, it would be good to let us in to share in such richness, rather than leave us outside with our noses pressed against the ‘fourth wall’ window they have placed there, either by accident or design.  

The more I think this work has more to offer than an animated window display, the more frustrated I feel about it.

sam trubridge May 30th, 2009

In your opening paragraph you defer to the primacy of 'the script' as a way of measuring the quality of the work, when theatre is by no means a literary art-form. Well, in some cases it may be, but it is quite clear that 'Charm is Not Enough' more than a script - it is a piece constructed specifically for the live art of performing. It is not about a particular actor, a particular director, a particular word, or a particular image - rather the meaning and the 'dramaturgy' is constructed through an intelligent play between all the materials available to the company on stage.

I too found myself interrogating the significance of the death character, and think in the decisions made around this figure lies the genius of this company. It seems that notions of 'the feminine' are being scrutinised here. This is clear in the character of 'fascinating woman', and is also apparent in 'Gay Man': whose 'feminisation' is apparent in the Pierre et Giles references, the objectification of his body, and in the baby scene.

When it comes to the Death I have to refer to Julie Kristeva's text 'The Powers of Horror'. Kristeva describes the perception of the female body as an abject, unboundaried, aging, bleeding body that is associated with mortality and death. Certainly in the Pacific we are not unfamiliar with this notion, where pre-colonial civilisations connected the female body with death and the afterlife: in Maori mythology it was Hine-Nui Te Po.

So by wanting to die, is BabyshadS' Death trying to reject her own femininity? That is how I saw it, and I find it fascinating how most religions associate the pious rejection of the feminine with an ability to overcome death through an afterlife in paradise. For death to die, or to reject the feminine (whether you are Gay Man, or Fascinating Woman... as well as various other signifiers) is to reject the cycles of nature. As Death sings (even as we try to applaud her very end in the performance) "I go on and on and on and on and on and on...."

Good work BabyshadS!!!

Taryn Kerr May 28th, 2009

I can appreciate your take on this play.. But I have to put it out there as an audience member lastnight... I thought the show was thrilling and absolutely fantastic! It was bright, bold and beautiful.. A heavy collection of ideas and themes, wrapped in dazzling outfits, vocals, quirky dialogue and delivered into the minds of a captivated audience.. I think these folk did well... Go young, fresh talent whom are brave enough to tackle the ideals of our modern world - and challenge them.. Or at least, spark thought.. I have already referred a few friends to go and see!!

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