09/06/2012 - 14/07/2012
New Zealand Premiere
CONTAINS COARSE LANGUAGE AND A SCENE INVOLVING SELF HARM
When Adam disappears at the time of the Bali bombings in 1992, all his parents Lia and Nick have left of him is an email saying that he was thinking of going to Jakarta, leaving them with grief and uncertainty. Just when they think they’ve exhausted all channels in trying to discover his whereabouts – the phone rings and it seems Adam has been found.
Or has he?
“At three o’clock in the morning, this is what I think. I think somebody killed him. They killed him, God, I don’t know how I’m uttering these words….they killed him because he’s white and Western and they hated him. And it wasn’t personal. Which somehow makes it worse”.
This mesmeric thriller was described by The Times (London) as “a seat gripping ride”.
Show sponsored by Naylor Lawrence & Associates and AuditLink.
Starring: Jude Gibson, Jon Pheloung, Renee Sheridan, Donogh Rees, James Winter, Stephen Gledhill.
Dates: 9th June – 14th July
Show Times: Wednesday 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm. There is no Sunday performance the first Sunday after opening night.
Prices: $37 Adults, $25 Seniors, $27 Under 30s, $25 Community Service Card Holders, $15 Students, $65 Dinner & Show.
Special Performances: $15 Tuesday – Tuesday 12th June, 6.30pm.
Bookings for $15 Tuesday open at 9am Monday 11th June
Principal Co-sponsors: Property Brokers & Fitzherbert Rowe Lawyers
Damned good, skilful storytelling
Review by Richard Mays 11th Jun 2012
There is a tale about seeking enlightenment that, from memory, comes from Edward Bond’s play, Narrow Road To The Deep North. It goes along the lines that a seeker after the aforementioned state sat and contemplated a stone wall for 20 or so years. At the end of that time, his enlightenment was that sitting in front of a stone wall for a couple of decades wasn’t going to bring him enlightenment – or at least the kind of enlightenment he sought.
The New Zealand premiere of Enlightenment, the 2005 play by British playwright Shelagh Stephenson, launched at Palmerston North’s Centrepoint Theatre, contains something of that Zen-like paradox.
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see,” is how 17th century Japanese sage and poet, Basho puts it. The question that could well arise from this might then be: “Ah, but what is there to see?” The answer, more likely than not, is something like, “the darkness.”
Paul McLaughlin’s production of Enlightenment takes place in a setting that is the absolute antithesis of darkness: an enclosed blazing white ‘five-wall’ box set that’s three white plastered walls, a floor and, unusually, a fully closed in stage ceiling. It makes a startlingly stark and slightly claustrophobic container with one players-tunnel type entrance off to a side and a moveable arced cyclorama rear wall with cut-out window space.
It’s from this already Zen-like sparseness that items like paintings, books, ornaments and furniture are progressively removed as Lia, mother of a missing 20-year-old son, desperately seeks clarity over his mysterious disappearance.
So here we have something of a whodunit, and a problem for any commentator is how much to give away? This is, after all, a New Zealand premiere and presumably other theatres around the country will be interested in producing Enlightenment if it proves to be artistically as well as economically rewarding.
It’s too early of course to talk about box office, but there is certainly enough character and plot intrigue to keep performers, directors, designers and technicians, more than happy.
Something Stephenson has in her favour as a playwright is that she writes strong roles for women – as in her Olivier Award-winning dark comedy, Memory of Water from1996, where three sisters return to the family home following the death of their mother. As in that play, the principal characters of Enlightenment are trying to survive a death. In this case it’s a presumed death, and Stephenson builds in thematic preoccupations with things like the reliability of memory; the fragility and malleability of truth; the afterlife’; and psychological manipulation.
McLaughlin has Kiwi-ised the script. Lia played by Jude Gibson, and her younger husband Nick, Jon Pheloung, live in Palmerston North a,nd the play easily survives its transition to upper middle class Aotearoa. Adam, Lia’s son, has been missing for months – last heard from on his OE heading to Indonesia just before the Jakarta bombings. As parents they fear the worst.
So Lia calls in a no-nonsense Sensing Murder type medium played in broad pan-Tasman tones by Donogh Rees. The appearance of Mrs Tindle raises all those questions about how psychics operate – is she hyper sensitive to the spirit world or does she just make intelligent and observant guesses?
Lia’s father Gordon, played by Stephen Gledhill, introduces Renee Sheridan’s young, attractive but deeply superficial and conniving TV producer of a Missing Pieces type show. The young lady’s maxim is “Sometimes you have to lie to get what you want”. It’s obvious that any programme about Lia and Nick’s son will be subverted by the imperatives of the electronic medium.
And then they hear news from Thailand … a young man arrives … James Winter’s character is suffering from amnesia … and the descent into darkness and mind games begins.
Enlightenment milks a fragile, highly charged, highly contrived situation that is augmented by an ominous, discordant,specially created soundscape, with flickering ghostly back-projections adding to the general atmosphere of unease. As the play unfolds, the rear wall is moved forward like a large earthmoving blade, closing down the space.
Contrived it might be and slightly wordy, but despite its dark, edgy sociopathic overtones, Enlightenment is loaded with delicious ironies that prompt laughter. And it looks so good in white. While the degree of enlightenment attained is wide open to interpretation, it’s an unusual story that’s skilfully propelled along – especially by Gibson who is a great study in anguished grief.
There are accomplished contributions from the whole cast, and in particular from Winter and Sheridan, admirably supported by a talented production and design team.
Enlightenment boils down to well-realised, all-round damned good story-telling, and judging from opening night’s prolonged applause, thoroughly deserves to do the business at the box-office.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Fluctuating emotional dynamics in high quality production of a seriously good play
Review by John C Ross 11th Jun 2012
We clearly have a visceral desire for answers, yet abiding questions are far more fascinating. One has to admire a playwright with the courage to resist the tempting expectation to provide a tidy story, with a denouement, a closure, which are denied here to the audience just as they are to the central characters.
As one slowly realises, this is one heck of a good play, despite its usually gentle pace and low-keyed tone. Sequences requiring intent stillness, or minimal movement, make major demands upon the actors, which are here ably met.
The playwright is English, yet the setting in this production at Centrepoint (the NZ premiere) is implicitly a domestic interior in some New Zealand city and the characters Kiwis, although the medium Joyce (‘I’m not a medium; I’m a sensitive’) is intently played here by Donogh Rees with what struck me as an Ocker accent.
The central character Leah, played here by Jude Gibson, is a middle-aged academic woman, utterly desperate because her twenty-something son Adam, cruising around South-East Asia, has not been heard from for the past five months. Is he alive still? And even if he is not, it would be less worse to know how he died, and where, than to have to go on forever knowing zilch.
The interactions between Leah and her younger, second husband Nick (well rendered by Jon Pheloung) are very sensitively managed, in the ways they reveal that although his own distress is real enough, and for most of the time he is doing what he can to support her, with Adam not being his biological son, Nick is not, can not be, in the same space.
What can one do in this wretched limbo situation? One straw to clutch at is bringing in a medium (all right, a ‘sensitive’), and while Joyce can not give them any direct answers, she does add an extra dimension, including involving the spirit of a nineteenth-century woman who had responded to trauma by living on for years in a remote spot in India. Might this offer a shred of hope?
Another straw is the hope that publicising the situation might bring to light some fresh clues; hence Leah’s blunt-spoken father brings in Joanna, an ambitiously pushy young television journalist, willing to try to help yet also, sometimes infuriatingly, in a different space again.
Then, what hope is offered by the turning up of a young man who seems to have been in some way associated with the missing Adam, although he purports to have lost all memory of his past life, including even of his own identity?
The second half of the play is dominated by interactions with this person, about whom there remain even more unanswered questions. James Winter makes fine use of the richly varied acting opportunities afforded by the shifting role of this nameless young man, whose actions and interactions become all too often bizarre and sinister.
At any rate the play offers plenty of surprises. All one can say about its title, without giving too much away, is that whatever ‘enlightenment’ it permits is rather bleak.
With Renée Sheridan giving a seamless performance as Joanna the journalist, and Stephen Gledhill fully competent as Leah’s father, this production (a premiere for this country) has a fine cast, and the director Paul McLaughlin has ensured that its pace, however varied, never goes flat, and its fluctuating emotional dynamics hold our attention throughout.
Daniel Williams’s set features a shallow-curved textured white upstage wall, which bounds a domestic interior, yet accommodates a multiplicity of projected images, with a window-like cutout stage right. It is, like much else, subtly disorienting.
Let’s reiterate. This is a seriously good play, and it is here given a high quality rendition.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer