Matterhorn, Cuba Mall, Wellington

25/01/2011 - 20/02/2011

Production Details

Theatre without actors?
An audience of two and a café table for a stage as Downstage takes theatre to the people. 

Every conversation is a performance – that’s the message of Downstage’s first presentation of 2011, Etiquette, from international theatre company Rotozaza.

The stage is a café table at Matterhorn on Cuba St, on which sits a number of mysterious objects and two iPods with headphones. Audience members arrive two at a time throughout the day, take a seat at the table and put on the headphones. A guiding voice in their ears tells them what to say and how to interact with each other and the objects on the table. For the next half hour an intimate, surprising and often funny performance unfolds in which they are both actor and audience for each other.

Around them, the life of the café goes on, nobody else watching.

Rotozaza’s co-creator, Ant Hampton likens the experience to a fairground ride – a little scary at first, but a lot of fun.

“You’re alone with each other in the awareness of the performance happening, and yet you’re in public space, surrounded by others oblivious of anything taking place. As always, the private and public spheres rubbing together create a certain thrill.”

Inspired by a scene from the 1962 Jean-Luc Godard film Vivre Sa Vie, Rotozaza’s Etiquette is part of the company’s ongoing exploration of the art of making experiences that are uniquely interactive and step outside the most basic conventions of traditional theatre. 

Downstage Associate Producer of Programming Angela Green discovered the show and brought it to Wellington because:
Etiquette is innovative and experimental, but it’s also very accessible – which we love. Anyone can sit down and have an unforgettable experience that’s immersive, almost mesmerising, but entirely their own.” 

With limited seats and timeslots, bookings through Downstage are essential. Etiquette runs from 25 Jan – 20 Feb.

Venue : Matterhorn Bar & Café, Cuba St
Dates: 25 Jan – 20 Feb
Times: Daily, daytimes & evenings, see for full details and to book a slot. 

Credits – English version
Sound Design / Edit - Anthony Hampton
Speaker A: Anthony Hampton
Speaker B: Silvia Mercuriali
Female 'figure' voice: Gemma Brockis
Nora: Melanie Wilson
Torvald: Greg McLaren
Original version funded by Arts Council England and produced by Paul Bennun (Somethin' Else) 

Downstage Credits
Front of house hosts: Amy Tarleton, Michael Boyes, Rebecca Wilson, Alana Kelly
With thanks to Matterhorn - especially Amy Fitzgerald, Dylan Marychurch, Claire Walker and staff 

A thespian at your table

Review by Lynn Freeman 03rd Feb 2011

Theatre reviewers have to come up with an entirely different vocabulary to describe Etiquette. European company Rotozaza came up with the idea of a show where audience participation is more than an element, it’s the whole performance.

People who prefer the proscenium arch and the fourth wall to stay intact may be disconcerted by the concept. But this is so well executed, and the instructions on what to do and say delivered so clearly via headphones, that it is intriguing rather than intimidating.

Etiquette is also intimate. Two people sit at a table in a café, look at the series of props provided, don their headphones, and enter into another world. It will be an entirely different experience depending on whether you go with someone you know or end up facing a stranger – either will be fascinating.

The Matterhorn has a small space perfect for two tables. The whole thing takes 30 intense minutes, and the start time is staggered, so you may be aware of the ‘performers’ next door being at a different stage to you. It adds to the mystery.

It’s pretty much impossible to describe without giving away too much. Suffice to say – it’s wickedly clever, intriguing, original, endearing and memorable. We have Downstage to thank for bringing this remarkable production to New Zealand.
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. 


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Intriguing but let down by isolation

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 28th Jan 2011

Having finished last year with the highly innovative and interactive play Apollo 13, Downstage Theatre starts 2011 with an even more off-the-wall interactive play, Etiquette.

Created by Anthony Hampton and Silvia Mercuriali for their UK theatre company Rotorzaza, Etiquette has been performed in numerous countries around the world and plays in 12 languages. It is original and unlike anything seen in Wellington before. It defies description and is almost impossible to review, which is apparently the creator’s intention. 

The audience becomes the performers who in turn become audience. Communication and non-communication and how conversations drive our actions would appear to be the essence of the piece, a sort of art imitating life piece of performance art. Done in pairs, the participants sit opposite each other, and with a set of head phones on plugged into an iPod, engage in various activities and conversations. 

But this no piece of improvisational theatre that uses an individual’s creativity and wit to develop a piece of theatre as it is very tightly scripted and strongly directed and not overly challenging. 

It is however very engaging and those participating soon become wrapped up in the various scenarios being played out across the table. It is also reasonably intense with little humour and the 30 minute duration is more than enough time to experience the creators ideas of unrehearsed performance.

The venue for this Downstage Theatre sponsored production is the Matterhorn Bar in Cuba Street. And this is where the big disappoint of the production lies. Tucked away in a darkened back room away from the rest of the bar is where it all happens, making the piece feel isolated and hollow. Much more exciting would have been if it had taken place in the middle of the bar in amongst the patron’s which would have given Etiquette the kick that it needed. 

Nevertheless its unusualness and originality make it, if not compelling theatre, at least intriguing and well worth seeing.
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An intriguing oddity

Review by John Smythe 26th Jan 2011

For audiences, theatre etiquette includes arriving on time, staying seated (unless it is a perambulatory performance) and not adversely disrupting other members of the audience, let alone the performers. Performer etiquette includes being fully prepared for each performance and working with your colleagues to engage your audience afresh for every performance.

Etiquette the production, created by European company Rotozaza and offered by Downstage at Matterhorn on Cuba Mall, is something else again.

As an exercise in cutting out key creative components it may, at first glance, appear to share elements with Playback, Improv and Verbatim Theatre, which make the playwright, as such, redundant. But Etiquette is written, indeed it is dictated. It is pre-rehearsed actors who are redundant here – an ‘audience’ of two plays out the scenarios between themselves, as instructed via i-Pods and headphones – and the theatre style is dubbed ‘Autoteatro’.

If ‘Autoteatro’ means theatre created by the self, I disagree. The participants are mere puppets, required by an assumed etiquette to obey instructions that lead to their fabricating a rather clumsy approximation of a theatrical experience.  

“The style of ‘Autoteatro’,” a programme note asserts, “where audiences receive instructions and respond accordingly, offers the fantasy of carrying out actions or speaking to someone without having to plan what you do or say, with the resulting thrill of disowning responsibility in a performance situation. The form enables the participants to wholly immerse themselves in the piece, at once actor and audience. Using simple technology, participants are given instructions – usually via headphones – about what to say and do.”

Maybe I am unusual in that I find little thrill in disowning responsibility for a ‘performance’ situation I find myself immersed in.  Finding myself burdened with the responsibility of obeying instructions and blindly playing out my part, in order to avoid letting my partner down, is an interesting challenge but I can’t say the outcome is thrilling.

Initially it is quite easy to adopt the character, setting and given circumstances. The ‘conversation’ is stilted, however, given the lapse between hearing a line and repeating it, although motivating those pauses in order to sustain the make-believe does add to the challenge.

Later the instruction is to listen and repeat at the same time without pause, which is a bit like simultaneously breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth to play the didgeridoo (a skill acquired through much practice). In my case the anxiety of attempting to keep up – and I did find a flow of sorts – precluded any ability to “wholly immerse” myself in anything like a subjective experience.

That said, it is not an unpleasant way to spend half an hour. There is some quite intellectual content, when you think back on it. And being the ‘puppet’ playing ‘puppeteer’ to the figurines and objects used to illustrate an unfolding story on the slab of black plastic that is called the stage, is playful. But I cannot say I either engaged with stories well told or became involved in what I would call a stimulating subjective experience.

Having another couple alongside, at what we came to realise was an advanced stage of the same ‘performance’, was also quite disruptive, especially when their quite loud bit coincided with our soft-voiced instructions.  

Rotozaza was created in 2001 and Etiquette – their first ‘Autoteatro’ project – was lunched in 2007 at the Edinburgh Festival. Since then it has been recreated in over 20 countries and is translated into 11 languages. Yet its aesthetic remains inescapably European. (Two subsequent ‘Autoteatro’ projects are entitled Guru Guru and Wondermart.)

If it is to become a recurring genre like Playback, Improv and Verbatim Theatre, I think communities around the world need to explore the basic principles and evolve their own projects. Even so I have yet to see the intrinsic value I recognise in each of the other alternative genres. At a minimum the objective should be for participants to emerge with a sense they have engaged in some kind of stimulating make-believe.

Meanwhile Etiquette is an intriguing oddity in which the objective requirements of obeying orders inevitably work against the quest for subjective immersion in a performative experience. 
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. 


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