Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish

BATS Theatre, Wellington

11/02/2009 - 19/02/2009

Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

01/04/2009 - 04/04/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Trapped at a party where the beer is warm, the music is shit and the world is ending

Fresh from a floodlit midnight performance atop Takaka Hill, at Canaan Downs New Years Festival, Binge Culture Collective captures the atmosphere of thousands of wild party goers; bringing to the Wellington stage an extreme party of broken resolutions and relentless energy.

Described as a "phenomenal success" by Festival coordinator Simon Kong, Binge Culture have devised a new production, Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish in which the stakes will be higher, the resources fewer, and the party games more deadly as four performers become their own doppelgangers; more playful, less predictable, more vulnerable and more dangerous.

Do we get on the stage for the same reasons we get on the piss? To become funnier, smoother versions of ourselves? To get away with the socially unacceptable? Or just to escape from the present, or from a future towards which we are ambivalent?

Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish looks at the effect of the violent collision between our ever-consuming society and the rising problems of planet earth; climate change, overpopulation, peak oil.  It explores how we as individuals deal with the hysteria, and endless conflicting voices warning us of what may be around the corner.

Established in 2008 by director Ralph Upton for his Victoria University Honours project, and drawing influence from UK theatre company Forced Entertainment, Binge Culture devised the successful production 1001 Things You Must Do Before You Die. They’ve now taken to the streets – you may have seen the sign-holders in Cuba Mall, The Guilty Party in Midland Park, or the roving Anomaly on Takaka Hill.

Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish is an interactive experience, a playful encounter that keeps the audience on their toes. "An innovative on target, topical, engaged performance provided professionally with edgy punctuality in an inhospitable environment." (Simon Kong).

BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
Bookings: book@bats.co.nz or call 04 802 4175
9:30pm, 11-19 February (no show Sunday)
$15 waged/ $13 Concession/ $10 Fringe Addict

Rachel Baker
Joel Baxendale
Simon Haren  
Claire O'Loughlin

Designed by Rachel Marlow
Produced by Fiona McNamara

Wondrous, exciting, demanding, unfathomable, unmissable

Review by Sharon Matthews 02nd Apr 2009

The title of Binge Culture Collective’s production Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish signals their intention to challenge and disturb. Savagely comic and at times difficult to watch, at shows end we leave with indelible shadows of provocative imagery embedded in our memory.

The collective is another group arising from Victoria University’s Theatre Programme. They are inspired by the work of UK based Forced Entertainment to explore contemporary experience through immediate and surprising encounters with the audience. This production tests and expands our expectations of the physical form and possibilities of performance. We are driven out of our anonymous darkness as the distance between audience and performer is twisted and subverted, and the dangerous edge and barely contained chaos of street theatre explodes into the conventional black box theatre space of The Globe.

The boundaries between reality and fiction are subverted. The performance exists in real time, the arc of the show is marked in chalk on the wall. We, the audience, are addressed directly and involved with the performance in a pantomime-like way. However in the hands of this collective this harmless tradition is used to re-invent reality using metaphors adopted from Facebook. By replacing characterization with the impersonality of the created internet persona they pitilessly expose the banality and reductive nature of human interaction in our contemporary world.

It opens with plastic bags driven by a leaf blower across the stage and performers noisily compete for our attention. Characters tell us their real names and seem to engage us in confessional dialogue. We cannot tell what is true or false and as soon as we relax into a state of watching, the actors explode into a flurry of energy. Cardboard boxes with labels describing random states of experience are opened, used, discarded. Identity is transformed to create a personal order to the "various sets of rules, games and structures that comprise our reality."

Games and game shows. The most unforgettable comic image of this production must be that of a naked man with a plastic bag of water over his genitals. When he gets a wrong answer in the game show this bag is punctured and water pisses into a metal bucket. As we laugh his answers to questions are re-worked and scribbled on the theatre wall. Cultural icons like the movie Casablanca become reduced to the phrase "WW II". However this scene becomes a queasy scene of torture, where our inert observation implies a collaboration in this inhumanity.

We are rescued from our discomfort by a series of stories about a downtown Wellington built from empty cardboard boxes, crafted from a transportable recyclable element of street theatre that becomes a metaphor for transience and disposability of modern urban life. As part of the continuously unsettling and shifting nature of the dialogue, gently comedic stories about sitting at Chow with eight girlfriends become increasingly brutally sexual and physically revolting anecdotes, culminating with an actress left speechless among the debris.

How ironic to be struck dumb in a world where we tell our eight hundred best friends on Facebook grotesquely intimate details of our lives.

One final puzzling image: an actor in a manky panda suit tells a riddle about albatross soup. The theatre goes dark and another actor exits through the foyer waving goodbye. Wondrous, exciting, demanding, unfathomable …

If this is our immediate future I want no part of this. However this is unmissable theatre. Their winning of the Best Newcomer Award at the Wellington Fringe Festival is totally deserved, this is an exploration of contemporary themes and the limitations of performability that is genuinely aiming to extend and challenge the audience in new ways.

I would urge everyone to come and watch, either at the Globe in Dunedin (until Sat) or as they crash the Pick of the Fringe at Downstage.
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. 


Angela Green April 20th, 2009

Bring it on Binge...
27 April, 1 May, 2 May @ Downstage.

Ralph Upton April 19th, 2009

Indeed, rumours of Binge Culture's hazily planned gatecrashing of Pick of the Fringe seem to have leaked to the media.  Evidence of Downstage's collusion with the whole sorry affair can be found on www.downstage.co.nz. Perfomances may happen on the street outside Downstage, then again, they may happen inside, or  they may happen hanging out of second story windows. In short, quite literally, anything could happen.
We're proud to season the three awesome main bills with a splash of sideshow strangeness. Our suggestion is- make a night of it. Buy three Fringe, get free Binge!

Editor April 19th, 2009

To clarify Sharon's final comment, the word is DROWNING BIRD PLUMMETING FISH, which didn't make the Downstage 'Pick of the Fringe' season (29 April-27 May), is planning to crash it by performing in the street outside.  This is gossip only and Theatreview accepts no responsibility ... whichever way it turns out.

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Ambitious and dangerous

Review by Charlotte Bradley & Hannah Smith 16th Feb 2009

What does it mean to be a part of a generation that is constantly being told it doesn’t have a future? This is the question Binge Culture sets out to explore in their Fringe Show Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish. Such a question inspires a kind of cynical cringe in anyone worth talking to, but I’ll be darned if Drowning Bird Plummeting Fish (and its earned its italicised capitals) didn’t make me feel a little cynical.

But you know what? It’s cynicism that elected Obama.

Oh-bama. Elected via Facebook. Not really. But that’s the kind of world weary, sardonic, over-exposed, generation Xhibtion, pop culture that is being simultaneously jabbed and jumped by the ever so earnest and energetic performers of Binge Culture … [More]


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Spontaneous and brazen theatre of cruelty

Review by Melody Nixon 16th Feb 2009

Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish succeeds in being a rare instance of a sketch of apathy that is moving. (I would say unlike The Intricate Art of Actually Caring, currently playing in another part of the Fringe, which is very moving but is not so much about apathy as fear and the overcoming of fear – two quite separate forms  of stasis.) Plummeting Fish taps into the zeitgeist of the disenfranchised teenage spirit, sets this in Wellington, and finds there ambivalence, hopelessness and a barren narcissism. Deciding who or what is to blame for that narcissism and hopelessness is left up to the audience.

The wind machine that opens Plummeting Fish, and immediately identifies the scene as the capital, also makes it a little hard to hear what cast Claire O’Loughlin, Simon Haren and Rachel Baker are saying. The strange and chaotic riot of wasted plastic and shrieking disorientates even the most patient viewer. But this is the way it is supposed to be. The insight production group Binge Culture wants to bring is not tied up neatly in a careful package (unlike the cardboard boxes which are opened and closed on stage and which, incidentally, are frustratingly difficult to read). Rather, Binge Culture is spontaneous and brazen, and seems intent on pushing the audience to reach insight through visceral feeling and emotion, not cerebral analysis – much in the same way as people on drunken nights in Courtney place could be seen to be seeking self-expression and epiphany through feelings of inebriation.

The theatre of cruelty presented in the second scene, “rising water,” (which portentously applies not only to climate change but the torture method Shawn (Simon Haren) is subjected to in this scene) points out that we, the adults/audience, are partly responsible for the ‘suffering’ of the narcissistic generation Y. We condone Facebook “isms” by not stopping them, just as we are shown to condone the abuse of the individual Shawn by not stopping that. We watch as Shawn – just like planet Earth – is destroyed by an apparently pointless raft of human experiences.

Overall the play seems – albeit pleasantly – random and sporadic, until images and words begin to repeat in the final scenes. The sad albatross riddle in the penultimate scene brings together the interwoven mix of themes, feelings and semiotics which form the structural net of the play. The link with the ‘bird’ and ‘drowning’ again points toward environmental themes of rising sea levels and loss of diversification, while the actual content of the riddle, its sadness and despair, builds upon the sense of desolation for which we are encouraged to, and do, feel partly responsible.

Although it presents only a snapshot of a certain, limited time in the lives of most Wellingtonians, or perhaps even most Western teenagers, Drowing Bird, Plummeting Fish brings to the forefront of our minds the pain, seriousness and importance of getting those teenage years ‘right’ – and the conundrum of how this might be achieved when the state of the world, as it is presently perceived to be, is so very uncertain.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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An engaging, compelling, provoking and confronting challenge

Review by John Smythe 12th Feb 2009

More a performance art installation than a play, Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish evokes the ‘consuming society’. It focuses not so much on what we consume as how we are consumed by ourselves, our expectations, the expectations of others, labels and judgements, the pressure to know, the desire to be known to know … And the economy, of course.

Accompanied by an horrendous noise (a leaf-blower, actually), tangled tapes – the entrails of capitalism? – are read by one performer as another, blindfolded and voicing his delight or horror, chalks the ups and downs of the stocks … That’s just the start. Over the next 50 minutes the black walls of BATS become chalked with random words provoked by the onstage action, which becomes increasingly bizarre …

If the blurb in the Fringe online listings is anything to go by, it’s party games they – Rachel Barker, Claire O’Loughlin, Joel Baxendale and Simon Haren – are playing out, but more the inexorable party of life at large, and deep within each individual, than a literal one at someone’s place. (My guess is it has moved on from the rationale they were obliged to write by the Fringe deadline.)

"Our broad provocation was this," writes director Ralph Upton in the programme: "What does it mean to be part of a generation which is constantly being told it doesn’t have a future?" Hence the final image of a Panda, posing the riddle of the albatross soup, which is something else again … Or maybe it’s the same thing from a different angle.

En route, abetted by Rachel Marlow’s design elements, we witness a parade of consumer product cartons with felt-pen labels encapsulating human characteristics and states of being …

And Simon is subjected to an increasingly harrowing quiz game by Joel. This image is the most memorable: stark naked man holds a plastic bag bulging with water over his privates above a tin bath; every time he gives a wrong answer, the bag is punctured … until it pisses from multiple points … What starts off as fun becomes dark, demeaning and dangerous.

Curiously fascinating little insights into personal experiences located in the Cuba-Courtenay-Waterfront-Oriental sectors of Wellington City offer a welcome change of pace …

In all it is an engaging, compelling, provoking and confronting challenge to each of us relate to it as we choose, according to where we see ourselves – and each other – in this all-consuming world.


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