01/02/2006 - 11/02/2006
Written by Angie Farrow
Directed by Ryan Hartigan
An ambitious journalist obsessively pursues stories into dangerous territories, in search of the next high. Her world of hard experience fractures into hallucinatory nightmares where Foxtom blurs with Sarajevo.
1 hr 45 mins, incl. interval
Casualties in undercooked war play
Review by John Smythe 30th Mar 2006
When local playwrights bring perspective to events that invade us via the daily news, theatre is doing its job. Dean Parker did it last year with Baghdad, Baby!, set in occupied Iraq, post Saddam but pre ‘liberation’ (go to Archives click, on August 2005 and scroll down).
Angie Farrow’s vivid dreams about genocides, starving multitudes and suicide bombings left her feeling powerless and guilty about tragedies that were happening in other parts of the world. Just knowing about them made her feel "implicated, involved, responsible." Hence, Despatch.
A Senior Lecturer at Massey University, Farrow describes her play as "a response to the problems of knowledge and responsibility." It also aims to be entertaining by being "part myth, part dream and part personal story."
The journey to which she commits young and hungry-for-the-story war-correspondent Hannah, from Foxton, and her Canadian photographer lover Richie, is well conceived. Downward pressure from an editor embroiled in her own office battles vies with Hannah’s determination to follow a human story involving a nun who gives shelter to orphaned children. Responsibility issues also arise from the conflict between her high sex-drive ("it calms me") and her avowed antipathy to having children.
When a local man, Elijah, gives her an orphaned baby, takes her to find the nun and gives her a drug to help her sleep, the surreal dream sequence than ensues brings all Hannah’s demons home to roost. A self-serving Marlene Dietrich and a seductive psychopath who exploits war make her confront her own actions and values.
In this scene especially, what should be riveting is let down by poor voice production (too soft, too fast and too short on breath) that shuts the audience out of enriching detail.
Credibility is also a casualty of this production. By not particularising the time and place (it’s sandy and the hard-working ensemble have coined a language that sounds Mediterranean tinged with German), the action somehow floats in an under-cooked soup of remotely-sourced thoughts and feelings about war.
My guess is that in the development process, Ryan Hartigan’s Theatre Pataphysical team got involved too quickly in how to manifest their ideas and concerns, thereby subverting the deep-thinking distillation of theme, plot, content and style that good writers bring to their work.
[Note: Since this was posted I have been informed my guess is inaccurate and that a thoroughly wrought text was very much the basis of their work. I have no other theories to offer on how the potential of the work may have been "subverted" – a choice of word that has caused much disquiet – and I have asked the director to blog a comment that expands on their process. Watch this space. -JS, 9/2/06]
Despatch has a lot going for it, its challenge to media morals is valid, and the team is clearly committed and creative, but it has yet to achieve the chemical change that makes it more than a mixture.
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