The SNAKE PIT, 33 High Street, Auckland

13/09/2012 - 16/09/2012

Production Details


The Town Centre is excited to present a double bill performance of Cowboy Mouth and Love it Up.   

The long-buried theatrical writing of infamous rock ‘n roll matriarch Patti Smith and Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Sam Shephard will storm the New Zealand stage and steal the minds of Auckland audiences on September 13th at the Snake Pit.

Cowboy Mouth is a take-no-prisoners rock and roll love-romp through the seventies, while its provocative and devised counterpart Love it Up promises a mind-bending, heart-thumping arrival into a landscape of LSD pyschedelia.

Originally performed in 1971 at American Place Theatre by Patti and Sam themselves, the play was written in the throes of a “real heavy passionate kind of thing” between the co-authors in the dim light of Patti pre-fame. Travelling forty years forward into the contemporary NZ performance of Cowboy Mouth coupled with Love it Up, the pairing is a twenty-first century evolution and revolution of the original offering peopled with rising stars of the NZ theatre industry as directed by Nisha Madhan.

“…every new generation translates for itself. And it’s up to us to both embrace history, and break it apart. Blow it up even”    Patti Smith, Dream of Life.

Cowboy Mouth is a filthy dialogue between Cavale (played by 2011 Best Performance AK Fringe Winner Josephine Stewart) and Slim (played by acclaimed theatre talent Ash Jones). Foul-mouthed and fallen, they’re both as mean as snakes and living in the dream of too many morning-afters.

This hazy hyper-reality is the perfect introduction to Love it Up, an experimental choreographic study on the outer thought of LSD. Hold onto your beads and your beginnings to let this beautiful blur of space, light and text fling open your doors of perception. 

“life isn’t some vertical or horizontal line … it’s not neat… we feel and sense and see things simultaneously – walking through the interior of your own mind which is another whole jungle”        Patti Smith; Dream of Life.

An established performer both on screen and stage, Madhan has been collaborating, performing and making in the NZ theatre scene for over ten years. Creating modern performance in Auckland for the past three years, Nisha has worked collaboratively to explore new modes and methods of theatricality, as informed by her study in Paris under Philippe Gaulier in 2009. Her work deconstructs expectations, dismantles traditions and fertilizes new kinds of performance relationships. Now, Auckland is invited to navigate these new theatrical relationships with a brimming cast of performers and collaborators, including Lara Fischel-Chisholm, Josh Rutter, and composer Hermione Johnson.

Since the release of Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids, in tribute to artist and dear friend Robert Mapplethorpe, women the world over have been hooked on Patti’s unforgettable album Horses and bent on borrowing her image for their profile pictures. This is the moment for all these fans to get together in one big communal theatrical love-in.

This is your chance to inhabit the verbal and visual acid trip of a lifetime; this double bill is a double-vision, a doubly-troubled, and a double-edged thrust into the world of rock ‘n roll. 

Thursday 13th to Sunday 16th September 2012
at the SNAKE PIT, 33 High Street
Time: 8.00pm
Price: $15
Bookings: Email

With Josephine Stewart-Tewhiu, Ash Jones, Josh Rutter, Lara Fischel Chisholm and Hermione Johnson  

Food for thought in trans-dimensional rock ’n’ roll absurdism

Review by Nik Smythe 16th Sep 2012

It’s not till I arrive that I realise the Snake Pit is in fact the grungy underground nightclub space known in the 90s as Box & Cause Celebre.  The space has seen better days, but Nisha Madhan and company could not have found a more perfect venue for what begins as a duly avant-garde rendition of Sam Shepard and Patti Smith’s 1971 ‘rock ’n’ roll theatre’ piece and ends somewhere that defies any simple explanation. 

Lara Fischel-Chisolm’s slovenly set enhances the ideal locale to present a seedy rundown, ramshackle dive so realistic that, if told this was actually someone’s genuine squat there’d be no cause to question it.  Down-stage, a scruffy sofa that might’ve been rescued from some past inorganic rubbish collection pile; up-stage, an unkempt pile of bedcovers on a tatty mattress atop a three-high stack of warehouse pallets with a beer-crate side table.  Various tatty photos and drawings are stuck around the walls with masking tape. To the right, a booth with a dining table, coloured fairy lights and a TV set.

Ash Jones is bohemian bad-boy Slim. Josephine Stewart is tough-as-nails princess-wannabe Cavale. During the fractious, bittersweet hour we share with these hapless specimens we get glimpses of where they came from, why they’re here and what they’re trying, or at least wishing, to accomplish. 

He’s left his wife and child for her, to escape his perceived domestic prison.  She’s chosen him to save her from her own psychological issues, and in turn groom him to save the world as a rock-star idol, a “saint with a cowboy mouth”.  Her resolution against his uncertainty makes for a volatile union, where love spins on a dime into hate or something else again – fear perhaps, or euphoria. 

Josh Rutter’s appearance as the charmingly incoherent Lobster Man, a seafood take-out delivery boy dressed in an impressive orange lobster costume constructed from corrugated cardboard, completes the production’s distinction between avant-garde abstraction and outright absurdism. 

The multi-faceted aura that emerges under Madhan’s adventurous direction suggests a kind of psychedelic prism, where confusion between the realities of the actors and characters is deliberately concocted to evince a questioning uneasiness, such as with the actors’ faltering accents. 

This is no mere pedestrian rendition of a well-written American classic as we’ve seen innumerable times before; it’s a trans-dimensional foray into a day in the lives of classically dysfunctional would-be co-dependents.  The eccentric staging and schizoid performances are as non-conformist as the characters’ relationship.

Steven Bain’s resourceful and dynamic lighting brings up even more dimensional layers to beguile our senses both physically and existentially – as does the eclectic Broadway /blues /acid rock, etc, soundtrack, which would make a decent compilation release in its own right. 

A subsequent read-up on the history of the intriguing post-hippie, pre-punk script helps to orient some of the numerous tangential asides toward a stronger sense of lucidity.  Originally performed in 1971 with strong autobiographical overtones by the playwrights and then-lovers Sam Shepard and Patti Smith, Shepard quit after the opening night, as it was evidently too real and raw for him to engage in publicly.

The second titled work, Love It Up, follows on directly without applause or interval.  Written and directed by Madhan, it appears to be a direct response to Cowboy Mouth; wherein the prism I mentioned earlier is reflected and refracted to a potentially infinite degree. 

Lara Fischel-Chisolm stands elevated centre-stage, a tall pregnant cosmic matriarch intoning her profound responses to the elemental forces that drive the universe, or something.  Josh Rutter’s lobster shell has been peeled off to reveal an out-of-work actor, telling his sad tale of being forced to work as a costumed fast food deliverer to make ends meet in 1971, before deferring to Fischell-Chisolm’s commanding presence.

Members of the audience are tacitly called forth to assist with the propulsion of numerous celestial bodies – even the Sun! – in their orbits around this centrifugal matron of the cosmos.  From here reality somehow folds back in on itself and toward the concluding scene, which ties twistily into the opening scene of Cowboy Mouth we saw either just over an hour or a galactic age ago, depending on one’s personal inference of what it’s all supposed to mean anyway.

The elements discussed in this review are by no means exhaustive, as the double bill’s fractal nature defies any capacity to be all encompassing.  It’s fair to presume this won’t suit all tastes or mindsets.  For people content with the conclusions they’ve already arrived at regarding their own existence and likes /dislikes therein, this style of deconstructionist theatre may seem nonsensical and pretentious. 

To glean something more worthwhile from it requires a desire and/or ability to put in some effort beyond passive observation to translate the nebulous information provided, as well as a willingness to accept that there may be little or nothing in the way of a tangible conclusion.  If that does sound like you, the experience will pay food for thought in dividends. 


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A Bittersweet Mouthful

Review by Matt Baker 16th Sep 2012

Cowboy Mouth was once described as co-writer Sam Shephard’s ‘most thinly-veiled autobiography.’ However, his resultant abandonment of the production prior to the second night’s performance (he starred alongside his co-writer and lover at the time, Patti Smith) indicates that perhaps the piece was less of a thin veil, and more of a deluge of emotionally packed stream of conscious writing that hit Shephard too close to home during performance. Regardless, the content of the play, which is more of an extended beatnik poem, is undoubtedly honest and quite simply about a relationship between a man and woman, Slim (Ash Jones) and Cavale (Josephine Stewart) respectively.

Stewart’s commitment to her role is reflected in body, voice, and soul. Even in the opening moments of the play, there was a crow-like look to her that I had never before seen. She writhes, leaps, sinks, spasms, and calms with every inch of her body, and finds great range in her vocals. This conviction is almost sad to witness when one recognises its driving force: that of the unconditional love Cavale/Smith has for Slim/Shephard, the bitter sweetness of giving something who has nothing, everything. [More]  


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