Familiar Strangers

Meet at The Paramount, Wellington

12/02/2008 - 01/03/2008

NZ Fringe Festival 2008

Production Details

Outsider Insights on Life, Love and Wellington

Familiar Strangers is an exciting promenade theatre adventure through the alleyways, pavements and curbside philosophies of Courtenay Place; a compelling and carnivalesque exploration of how we experience community on the streets.

Our ten characters will each lead you on an adventure of discovery. Brief encounters with Familiar Strangers will reveal unfamiliar perspectives and experiences of the inner city Wellington you thought you knew.

From the makers of Fringe favourite Lovers of Central Park and Theatre Militia’s Bouncing with Billie, Familiar Strangers is a new site-specific work that allows the audience to experience compelling theatrical portraits of characters in the real outdoor spaces which have inspired them. Get to know their likes and dislikes, what led them to spend much of their time on the inner city’s streets, and the quirky rituals they’ve developed in relation to the space and passers-by.

While these characters are strangers to each other, gradually the audience will piece together echoes and connections between these individuals which tell a bigger story of shared community.

Featuring: Barry Lakeman (Demeter’s Dark Ride), Rapai Te Hau (Pighunt), Karen Anslow (Lovers of Central Park), Nina Baeyertz (The Kreutzer), Jean Sergent (A Bright Room Called Day), Belinda Bretton (Lovers of Central Park), Jack Shadbolt (The Henchman), Jared Edwards and Brooke Smith-Harris. 

Bookings: email connectproductions@gmail.com or door sales at the Paramount Cinema from 30 minutes before the show

2 hrs, no interval

Assured performances on the Fringes of Community

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Mar 2008

What more could you ask for?  Entertainment, education and exercise, all rolled into one. Familiar Strangers makes for damn fine entertainment, it is filled with messages but you’re not banged over the head with them, and it’s a good two hour trot around the streets of Central Wellington. Many of those you meet along the way you really don’t want to say goodbye to – prostitutes, good time girls, lost souls, beggars, the kind of people, let’s be honest here, most of us pass by without a second glance, or thought.

Along the way you’ll find Andrew, who clutches a map, he’s lost his way and his mind with the death of his wife and estrangement from his children.  Mere also has mental health and drug issues, but eventually she finds a sense of purpose.   Alice Cheshire perches in a tree while Wendy does tricks as she trys to work out the murderer on her block.  

Familiar Strangers is as much about community as it is about some of those living on the fringes of urban society, so the audience is carved up into small communities to walk around together, follow the map and clues (neither are tricky) and encounter the actors en route.

It’s just as entertaining to watch the passersby watching the actors.

James Hadley and Rachel Lenart have hand-picked an exceptional cast, most new faces but you’d never know it from their assured performances.  To pluck out a few from the nine would be wrong, this is pure ensemble theatre, so congrats to them all: Belinda Bretton, Barry Lakeman, Jean Sergeant, Rapai Te Hau, Jack Shadbolt, Karen Anslow, Jared Edwards, Nina Baeyertz, Brook Smith-Harris. 


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Gathering round diversity

Review by John Smythe 13th Feb 2008

Courtenay Place, its environs and the people who inhabit them will never look quite the same after you have seen Familiar Strangers. Billed as ‘Outsider Insights on Life, Love and Wellington’ it is another Connect Productions site-specific ‘promenade theatre’ work, produced by James Hadley.

Last year’s Lovers of Central Park was written and produced by Hadley, who was joined by four other directors in the process of ‘staging’ the diverse segments that traversed more than a century of history as its characters were discovered in different parts of the park.

This year Hadley directs five and Rachel Lenart directs three of Familiar Strangers‘ eight scenarios. Each director is credited with co-devising each piece with the actor(s) involved while the actors get the scripting credits [click on the title above to find the full credits]. And this time all the character-driven scenarios are contemporary, or at least not set in the past.

We gather at the Paramount bar, able to fortify ourselves against the two-hour stroll – with mostly standing pauses – ahead. Here we sign in, get assigned to a playing-card-coded group and receive a briefing. The starting point for your circuit of viewing, or encountering, the scenarios differs according to the group you are in.*

In ‘Fighting Connects’, when international backpackers Franke (Brooke Smith-Harris) and Alexi meet in Waitangi Park, the rules of conversing with strangers cause initial friction, then sexual energies add a more anarchic spice to the proceedings. At least one voyeur in our group wanted to follow them rather than move on to our next brief encounter.

‘A Beau Je Beau Retour’ finds Alice (Jean Sergeant) up a tree on the Welsh Dragon Bar (aka, The Taj) traffic island. Her fanciful view of life, shared in rhyming couplets, includes tea-towel origami, an observational anecdote about birds and one of her 52 stories about the Market Place at the Top of the Sky. I feel strangely touched by a sadness that suddenly peeks from beneath her ebullience.

On the island further south (that divides Kent and Cambridge Terraces), Mere (Rapai te Hau) is crooning ‘Nobody’s Child’. This lost soul, abandoned by her mother, has had issues with drugs and sojourns in psychiatric wards. Now we stand in for her best friend George who is perhaps more attentive than she can handle at present. It’s when an uncle finds her and hooks her into a hikoi that she finds focus, proudly holding a Māori sovereignty flag in front of the statue of Queen Victoria. Hence the title: ‘Turangawaewae’.  

‘Neighbourhood Watch’ finds an unusual stalwart in Wendy (Belinda Bretton), first encountered emerging from a public toilet with a young man who scuttles away. As clues to the past that led her here also emerge, along with her future dreams of fame and fortune when (married) Michael from Auckland with his camera, her preoccupation with a recent murder and the well-endowed local bar-owner Jack becomes the immediate issue.

Up the alleyway beside the St James, a dishevelled old man called Andrew (Barry Lakeman) has lost his way. His story (‘Gone Fishing’) of love and loss, of being marginalised, emerges as he chats animatedly, eager to hang on to the company we offer.

In a laneway beside the Opera House, a harmonica-playing busker – Richard (Jack Shadbolt) – calls it a day and takes us to his lair in the James Smith car parking building. As his journey from the family farm to the big city filters through, he opens our eyes to architectural phenomena and the street-dwelling culture. A nice touch is that we are asked to drop his busker taking into the bucket outside the Downtown Ministry.

Pidgeon Park is dubbed ‘The Island of Silent Echoes’ in the experience we share with Kit (Nina Baeyertz). The science of sound is her main fascination, along with light waves and smell, as she muses on questions most of us are too busy to consider. She leads us into the prow of the ceramic waka … But the rest cannot be silence in a city.

Melody (Karen Anslow) is not a happy girl when we find her abandoned by her so-called boyfriend in a Blair Street doorway. But there’ll be others. She has a swag of strategies for surviving in the mean metropolis, for which the rise of the Exchange Atrium from the demolition site it once was (a photo tells the tale) is a clear metaphor.

The over-riding metaphor, reinforced as we finally gather beneath the Weta Sculpture at the Calzone end of Courtenay Place, is the pack of cards: a gathered diversity that, well handled, can offer access to countless pleasures.

And as these rehearsed scenarios have been played out, the real world has walked and driven on by, or watched or ignored the weirdos we must seem to be … Familiar Strangers is over now, but the theatre of real life continues. Now we see that the familiar may be even stranger than we thought it was, and yet we are now more familiar – and at home? – with what seemed strange.
*For the record, here’s how it works: the Diamonds group starts with the backpackers at Waitangi Park, the Hearts group starts with Nina’s performance at Pigeon Park, the Clubs group starts with Barry’s performance behind the St James, and the Spades group starts with Rapai’s performance by the Queen Victoria monument. All four groups move around the circuit in the same direction with a gap of one other performance in between each group so that hopefully they don’t catch up with the group ahead. Ingenious.


Great Krikeys February 14th, 2008

a great peice of art, full ov wonder and joy. Ohh such talent we have.

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