Canterbury Museum, Rolleston Ave, Christchurch

03/12/2014 - 05/12/2014

Production Details

The Court Youth Company premier their new devised work exploring the Canterbury Museum. DO NOT TOUCH THE EXHIBITION is an engaging theatrical experience that moves the audience through the building to discover the worlds of the collection- and the stories they evoke. 

At Canterbury Museum, Rolleston Ave, Christchurch 
December 3-5 December 10-12 
Show Times:  6.00pm: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 
Tickets: $12-$15 
To book phone 03 963 087003 963 0870 or visit 

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Vincent Andrew-Scammell; Tara Erenskjold; Ben Ashby; Nick Cheesebrough; Millie Osborne; Jemima Huston; Meghan Laing; Kate Hellings; Lakely Montagne; Ezra Prattley; Joe Coughlan; Pauline Ward; Olivia Parker; Rheanna Walsh; Ellen Jones-Poole; Rachel Pugh; Asher Etherington; Emma McMullan

Commitment, passion and vulnerability is fresh and exciting

Review by Erin Harrington 06th Dec 2014

Being able to wander through any exhibition space after hours always feels a bit illicit, and this sense of privileged access is fully taken advantage of by Do Not Touch the Exhibition. The showis a partnership between the Canterbury Museum and The Court Theatre’s Youth Company, whose members have devised a series of 15 minute pieces in response to their reactions to, questions about and engagements with some of the collections. The company is made up of performers aged from 15 – 21, with most in their final years of high school, and it takes us through four areas of the museum. 

We start in the Christchurch Street, which recreates a Victorian streetscape. The performers (Millie Osbourne, Meghan Laing, Lakely Montagne and Pauline Ward) turn the street – which is lined with shops selling hair products, whale-bone corsets, and high-end accessories – into a catwalk, and their performance explores how attitudes towards women’s sexuality and appearance have (and haven’t) changed over time.

The piece incorporates a lot of verbatim work, which draws from youtube videos such as tutorials on how to do your makeup drunk or clips from reality shows about college students’ spring break sexual escapades, and it offers an interesting contrast between how the past is mediated through the museum exhibit and how the present is mediated through technology.

This is an intelligent engagement with women’s struggles to be seen as more than a pretty face. It demonstrates an admirable political awareness on the part of the players. Our pageant-loving, self-proclaimed non-feminist Minister for Women, Louise Upston, should take note. 

In the Antarctic Hall, the performers (Vincent Andrew-Scammell, Ben Ashby, Nick Cheesborough, Kate Hellings, Joe Coughlan, and Emma Jones-Poole) give us a playful and whirlwind tour through some pieces of Antarctic history, be they real, imagined, or revised.

This piece is comical and high in energy, and it emphasises how our understanding of Antarctica – as place and as myth – is as much predicated on the stories that we tell about the place as it is about the facts and the figures. I am impressed with the physicality of the performance, and the assured way the performers use their bodies and inhabit the space.

In the third piece, which takes place in the Bird Hall, we are asked to think about the nature of ethics in science, collection and display. The performers (Rheanna Walsh, Rachel Pugh, and Asher Etherington) catalogue and arrange us, although to what end isn’t made clear until later. As we stand in our tableaux – “you have to stay still!” moans the exasperated curator – the dioramas around us, which display stuffed birds in ‘life-like’ scenarios, come to take on a sinister aspect. 

The final piece takes place in Nga Taonga, where the performers (Olivia Parker, Tara Erenskjold, Jemima Huston, Ezra Prattley, Emma McMullan) cheekily explore the ways that we conceptualise museum space and the pieces within it. The nature of ‘the exhibition’ is interrogated as a way of both commemorating the past and distancing it from everyday life.

On one hand, talking heads make some pointed and not very complementary comments about engaging with Māori culture as white-bread Christchurch Paheka (“we sang some Maaari songs at school”; “I’m over the haka”), highlighting the juxtaposition of the reverence with which the Māori artefacts are treated by their privileged position in museum, and the dismissive way that Pakeha culture and politics can relegate Māori culture to some sort of imagined hermetic precolonial past.

On the other, the performers playfully undermine the instruction not to touch the exhibition – an instruction that separates us from our material culture – and in doing so highlight the tactile, human nature of the pieces on show. It’s a fitting way to wrap up the evening. 

After the show we have the opportunity to talk to the performers, and their questions and comments about their own work reinforces how robust, intelligent and rewarding the devising process has been for them. It also highlights that they are interested in theatre as practice and process, not just as an opportunity to perform.

This show is something of a proof of concept for the Court Theatre’s Youth Company, which was established this year by Alice Canton. Do Not Touch the Exhibition was directed by Canton and Holly Chappell, who was one of the team behind the outstanding youth production The Wild Hunt in this year’s Body Festival, and both were involved in the site-specific show The Powerful Event, which also featured a youth company.

These sorts of youth shows are opening up some stimulating and provocative new ground in the sometimes static Christchurch theatre landscape, and I really hope that these engagements continue, for the benefit of both the young practitioners and the lucky audiences who get to experience their work. 

I find this work to be fresh and exciting; its young cast demonstrate commitment, passion and vulnerability, and for my money it runs rings around a lot of the ‘grown up’ work that’s been on offer this year.


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