BATS Theatre, Wellington

23/02/2015 - 28/02/2015

NZ Fringe Festival 2015 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Ember Attack proudly presents our Fringe debut play Fax of Life, at BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce. Written and produced by Emma McAuliffe, the show will run from the 23rd- 28th February at 6:30pm.

Fax of Life follows the story of Hannah who wakes up in Hell after a rough night. There isn’t any fire or brimstone; just a fax machine, Sam and the vague nostalgia for 1998. Turns out Hell is kind of boring.  Luckily, she can get out. There’s just one small catch…

“But I just don’t get why I’m here… like, I never even say yolo.”- Hannah.

Ember Attack! is a theatre collective co-founded by Emma McAuliffe and Taryn Burley in 2014.We believe in creating more visibility for women and queerness in the arts both on and off stage. We believe theatre can be an open forum for discussing hard to talk about subjects, such as mental illness, and strive to do this with Fax of Life.

Writer Emma McAuliffe commented “I always wanted to write about Hell, that’s where ‘Fax of Life’ came from. Hell to me was always a state of being, I don’t know if Hell would have fire and brimstone or if it’d have no reception. I wondered if maybe the scariest thing for my generation was silence; being somewhere and being unable to use an app to get out. That’s what Hannah’s Hell is; silence.”

Directed by Taryn Burley the cast includes Aimee Smith, James Ruscoe, and Christopher Watts with set design by Flavia Rose, and sound design and operation by Laura Gaudin. Taryn Burley plans on putting the cast through the ringer and taking them to Hell and back in her first time directing at BATS Theatre and in the New Zealand Fringe Festival.

Join Hannah and Ember Attack! in the non-adventure of life as we try to figure out how to go back and live it. It’s time for Hannah to face her demons and the facts of life. 

Venue: BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce 
Date: 23rd – 28th February 
Time: 6:30pm
Ticket prices: $16/13/12 (adults/students/fringe artists and addicts) 
Book online www.bats.co.nz or call (04) 802 4175 


90s play in need of work

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Mar 2015

Being faced with the facts of life in some sort of purgatory and having to deal with these is the dilemma the central character faces in the early evening production this week at Bats Fax Of Life.

After a rough night out Hannah (Aimee Smith) finds herself in a coma which is an office occupied by Sam (James Ruscoe) an HR administrator.  Somehow it is back in the late 1990’s with no computer but a fax machine.

How she got there and why is the essence of the play, and to disclose more here would be to take away what little surprises there are in this production.

As the play progresses and Hannah, like the audience, tries to work out what is going on Sam receives faxes that reveal aspects of Hannah’s life that only she thought she knew about, like what she did on her 7th birthday. 

These faxes are the facts of her life, hence the clever double play on the title of the show, which, with the help of Sam, she has to confront. And when all becomes known at the end, the situation Hannah finds herself in is one all too common these days. 

Which is why this theatre collective Ember Attack!, that comprises the writing and directing team of Emma McAuliffe and Taryn Burley, are to be commended for tackling this particular subject matter and trying to present it in an original and uniquely theatrical way but unfortunately this is never realised until the end of the play. 

The publicity material says that where Hannah finds herself “is kind of boring” and for much of the show that is also true for both the script and the production as it rambles through the middle stages losing its way. 

There are moments when the play does spark though, particular on the occasions when the Boss (Christopher Watts) enters with an energised performance that is vocally articulate.  

And Hannah’s genuinely felt and well delivered final big speech of revelation does bring to close an interesting idea that needs a lot more work to make it a piece of interesting theatre. 


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Intriguing exploration

Review by John Smythe 24th Feb 2015

To even begin putting Fax of Life into context may require a spoiler alert but being the third NZ play to explore this idea, it does seem a genre has emerged. Slow reveals are essential to their dramatic structures but I’d argue the values that make them worth seeing are not so much where they are set as why each young person finds themselves there, how they deal with it and what happens next.  

Conceptually, Jean Paul Sartre Huis Clos (No Exit), written in 1944, is an important theatrical precedent. He gave us the phrase “hell is other people”, quoted as a question – “I thought hell was other people” – in Emma McAuliffe’s play. Set in an outer office-cum reception area at the doors of hell, Fax of Life’s logline is ‘Hell is 1998’.

Coincidentally, Gary Henderson’s An Unseasonable Fall of Snow premiered in 1998. Also set in an outer office, it literally interrogates the whole question of … (spoiler averted). Likewise Sarah Delahunty’s Affinity (2013), which is set in a lift lobby and also references Sartre. McAuliffe makes due reference to Dante’s ‘Inferno’ too (which begins his 14th century epic poem, Divine Comedy). 

As we settle into the Bats Theatre Propeller Stage space, a bespectacled man occupies a desk covered in retro stationery and a standard issue Telecom Pert phone. Stage right, a fax machine sits atop a small filing cabinet. A large digital clock hangs from the ceiling and displays real time. Set and lighting designer Flavia Rose has added to the authentic feel with a desk lamp and neon lighting. The man is alternately fastidious in arranging the stationery just so, and bored, as he waits …

At 18:35 precisely a young woman arrives, wanting to know where she is and why. “But I just don’t get why I’m here …,” is quoted in the programme, “like, I never even say yolo.”*  As the clock speeds on, suggesting the onstage animation is somewhat suspended, clues arrive via the fax. It is soon revealed she is in a coma. This her imagined idea of hell, then: being stuck in a boring old office with an equally tedious clerk?

He knows she is Hannah and she knows he is Sam but doesn’t know why she knows that. As they await further fax-fed developments, it emerges that, having had a customer service job in Cuba Street which she loved, and despite believing she has moved on from her girlfriend breaking up with her, Hannah’s day turned seriously bad and … (spoiler averted). As for why Sam is here … (ditto).

Aimee Smith brings a feisty energy to Hannah in contrast to James Ruscoe’s assiduously passive Sam. His boss (Christopher Watts), who emerges from the ‘inner sanctum’ from time to time and is a rather nasty employer, is also quietly biding his time … Both men are soft in their vocal delivery which matters most when Laura Gaudin’s appropriately disturbing sound design kicks in.

As with the precedents, we are in existential and ontological territory here, rather than a theological belief system where judgement is visited upon humans by deities, according to a prescribed moral code. Hannah’s destiny remains self-determined.

Ably directed by Taryn Burley to ensure a play about waiting is dynamic, this is the debut production of Ember Attack (co-founded by McAuliffe and Burley to “create more visibility for women and queerness in the arts” and utilise theatre as “an open forum for discussing hard to talk about subjects, such as mental illness.”

There is nothing heavy-handed or over-earnest about Fax of Life, however. Although Hannah is increasingly self-aware and exhibits the behaviours that have contributed to her situation, her perspective is relatively objective and dispassionate. And Sam seems passively fatalistic as he awaits the outcome.

Given its premise, the play could be more confronting and challenging but as it stands it explores its themes intriguingly. And yes: yolo.
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*you only live once


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