Elephants / Welfare / Duty – The Musical
Te Pou Theatre, 44a Portage Road, New Lynn, Auckland
08/03/2017 - 11/03/2017
An evening of superb entertainment with two one act, dark comedies and a mini musical.
ELEPHANTS: Lebe, a down and out alcoholic conman and his suicidal sidekick, Peter, exploit a poor immigrant, Kofka, into sharing a simple, hard earned meal and his prized bottle of sherry. “The poor feed off the poor, how else can they survive?”.
WELFARE: A funny, dark tale with a twist. What is welfare? It is generally described as a service offered by someone to another les able citizen, like meals on wheels, food and clothing handouts. However, there are other services offered in the name of welfare…
DUTY: A tragic tale of a battered woman. Rita is ignored by friends and neighbours, advised to get her act together by an older acquaintance, and to do her duty to her man if she doesn’t want to be beaten up. This mini-musical was inspired by a real-life wife- beating incident.
PREVIEW NIGHT: Final Dress Rehearsal ALL AGES $15.00
STANDARD: FULL $20.00 CONCESSION Senior 65+ years, Student with ID, or Child 12 yrs and under $ 15.00
DATES: Wed 8 March 2017 7:30 PM, Thu 9 March 2017 7:30 PM, Fri 10 March 2017 7:30 PM, Sat 11 March 2017 7:30 PM
90 mins plus 10 mins interval
Poor staging dilutes the messages
Review by Leigh Sykes 11th Mar 2017
This collection of short works has been developed with assistance from the ‘It’s Not OK’ campaign and is designed to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence. Each play approaches the topic from a slightly different direction, not to offer solutions, but instead to ask us to acknowledge the issue and perhaps consider what, if any, support we might be willing to give.
The first play is Elephants. Its starts slowly, as we see Kofka (Mark Campbell) come in from a shopping trip and go through his purchases to make sure he has everything he needs. Campbell is engaging and convincing as Kofka, with turns of phrase that generate some chuckles from the audience. Kofka seems content enough with his limited resources and situation, and is looking forward to treating himself with his hard-earned bottle of wine.
When Lebe (Nicol Munro) and Peter (Chris Rex) arrive at his door, Kofka’s sense of contentment starts to unravel. It is clear that Lebe is here for selfish reasons, seeing Kofka as an easy target. Munro’s swagger and energy make Lebe the centre of attention, and Rex’s servility is convincingly portrayed. With such a clear set of objectives for the characters, the action as it plays out is quite predictable. The first violent incident is unexpected and quite realistic, but later examples don’t have the same effect.
As writer/director Alan Williamson tells us in the programme notes, “It is easy to see that although … poverty engenders criminal activity there is a community spirit of sorts.” Our time in the company of this community leaves us without any answers, but perhaps a little more understanding.
Welfare is a monologue that owes much to the Alan Bennett Talking Heads tradition. The character (Helen Jermyn) never gives us her name, but enters with a shopping trolley before taking a seat to talk to us. I find the staging of this short play somewhat odd, as the bench ‘She’ chooses to sit on is very close to the audience with lots of empty space at the back of the performance space. From where I sit, it seems that Jermyn doesn’t really engage the audience; she doesn’t make eye contact even though she is speaking directly to us.
The pace of the monologue is quite slow, and unfortunately during this performance Jermyn has to refer to the script on a couple of occasions. Despite doing her best to incorporate this into the performance, it does impact on our ability to be convinced. As the twist in this tale becomes apparent, there are some big laughs from the audience before ‘She’ continues on her merry way.
The final short work is Duty – The Musical. The performance starts with a bang, making good use of the lines of sheets hung at the back of the stage to create disturbing shadows before we meet May (Nicky Audrey) who performs the first song. Audrey has a lovely voice and performs with emotion, although sometimes she struggles to create enough volume to overcome the extra sounds in the venue (rain at this performance).
Next we meet Jo (Karen Soulje) who speaks directly to us, lamenting the expectations placed on her by other people and the media. Soulje is the stand out performance of the night for me, as she inhabits characters and engages with the audience with a twinkle in her eye. Finally we meet Rita (Alsa Kermys) whose situation is at the heart of the play’s message.
The play sometimes seems to lack cohesion as we move from short scene to short scene, and it’s not until the end that I make the connections between the characters and the overall situation. The ending is very earnest, as Rita speaks directly to the audience asking us to listen and pay attention to stories just like this.
It is clear that all of the pieces are important to their writer and directors, and that the messages they impart are valuable ones. However, as pieces of theatre, they all suffer from a lack of craft in their staging. For example, Duty – The Musical suffers from a large number of long blackout scene changes, which slows down the pace of the story-telling and dilutes any tension and Elephants has a number of occasions where none of the characters are on the stage.
It may be that the performers have had little time to familiarise themselves with the space, but each piece displays some issues with the use of space or pacing or scene changes that ultimately detracts from the audience’s ability to completely engage with the performances.
These plays do contain important messages, and I feel that more attention to that staging can make them stand out for an audience.
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