BATS Theatre, Wellington

13/10/2012 - 27/10/2012

Production Details

Point, line, square, and sphere.
Lunatic, prophet, charlatan, and visionary.

A new theatre work, the premiere season of Flatland opens at BATS Theatre on 13 October 2012 as part of the annual STAB Commission funded by Creative NZ, designed to encourage the development of ground-breaking original theatre. 

Inspired by Edwin A. Abbott’s 1884 ‘romance of many dimensions’ novella, Flatland asks: what do we do when we think we have been enlightened? What comes next?

The audience is invited to explore an unthinkable world where only two dimensions exist, like a sheet of paper. The story told explores what happens to the character Square, when his concept of the world and all its possibilities implode as he is revealed a world in 3D. 

Set in the 2D and 3D worlds, Flatland traverses the art of digital puppetry; the real-time interplay between live bodies and projected image, interactive audio and digital reactions utilising Xbox Kinect technology and wearable electronics.

Technology, design, digital puppetry; they’re all equally important live performers in this exploratory, totally original work which plays with and questions what theatre looks like in an increasingly digital world.

Interactive Designer Johann Nortje had the idea to develop Flatland into a piece of theatre after working as a designer in Wellington’s theatre scene and on his own design as part of multimedia design house Interrupt Collective. His installations and interactive designs have been presented internationally and in 2011 he received the Critics Wild Card Award at the Chapman Tripp Theatre awards for outstanding AV design. 

To bring the idea for Flatland to the stage, Interrupt Collective is partnering with local creative and performing arts production house Cuba Creative. Arts Producer for Cuba Creative, Adrianne Roberts, has nursed the Flatland idea to production and has a knack for developing innovative theatre. This is Adrianne’s fourth time working on a STAB Commission show. A leading local producer of original theatre and dance, Adrianne has previously worked on STAB shows Live At Six (2009), EOK: Everything Is OK by Storybox (2010), and Tinderbox by The PlayGround Collective (2011).

“The STAB commission is a fantastic platform for creatives to really push the boundaries, but still within a safe environment. Too often really exciting ideas never get funded because they’re just too risky, so it’s always nice seeing these come to fruition, and be kick ass.”

Directed by Ralph Upton (of Binge Culture Collective), Flatland will push, pull, and play with what we know and understand about theatre and design, marrying Abbott’s satirical treatment of class and politics from 1884 with the timeless question of what it means to become ‘enlightened’. What are the implications, challenges, and risks of discovering your world has more than two dimensions?

As well as a thoroughly surprising and unique piece of theatre, Flatland brings something else unusual to the local arts scene. In association with Victoria University of Wellington and a team led by Kah Chan (Lecturer – Media Design), the Flatland team is developing an interactive online game to generate interest in the work and communicate some of the key ideas in a new and engaging way. The overarching concept of the game will be to ‘escape the 2D’, and once in the 3D, the player’s goal is to generate as much energy as possible to reach ‘enlightenment’.  The main character of the game is a Cube, and the game can be played on computers, mobile devices, and by way of large Kinect projections on the streets of Wellington in the run up to opening night. Watch out at www.flatland.co.nz for the launch of the game, on September21.

at BATS Theatre
13-27 October 2012.
Bookings via BATS, 04 802 4175, www.bats.co.nz.

Presented by Interrupt Collective as part of STAB 2012 (with thanks to CNZ)

Simon Haren 
Thomas LaHood 
Melanie Hamilton 
Brigid Costello

Adrianne Roberts:  Producer
Angus Woodhams:  Sound Designer
Stu Foster:  co-Designer
Uther Dean:  Lighting Designer
Melany Lazarus:  Production / Stage Manager
Emma White:  Production Assistant
Mark Westerby:  Marketing Manager
Frith Armstrong:  Design Intern
Anna Hunt:  Design Intern 
Kelly Spencer:  Publicity Design  

A flat look at today’s society

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 26th Oct 2012

Part of the philosophy of the annual STAB season at BATS, funded by Creative New Zealand, is to encourage the development of groundbreaking and original theatre, and while the first play in this year’s season, Flatland, is not wholly successful as a production it is certainly original.

The characters in the play are geometrical figures that inhabit a two-dimensional world referred to as Flatland.  These shapes act as digital puppets, projected on large white sheets across the stage.

The audience is then asked to imagine the unimaginable, what life is like in a two-dimensional world when used to one in 3D.

The play is based on a 1884 satirical novella by Edwin A Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which made pointed observations on the social structure of Victorian society. This production, designed and created by and directed by Ralph Upton, tries to do likewise with today’s society.

Square is the Father, very effectively animated by Melanie Hamilton with Brigid Costello as the voice. Hexagon is the inquisitive son, both animated and voiced by Thomas LaHood.  LaHood also does the animation and voice for Square’s boss Circle and a group of hooligans called Triangles.

Outside all this is Simon Haren as Sphere, commentating on the action like some dry mathematics professor giving a lecture, trying valiantly to animate as best he can endless lists of unconnected words.

From a technical perspective this is a fascinating production to watch and trying to work out how it’s all done. The lighting design of Uther Dean and sound design of Angus Woodhams are particularly impressive. All that seemed to be missing was the theme tune to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

And while there are dramatic moments within the production, in the end Flatland, like its two-dimensional characters fails to connect with any sense of purpose, leaving it like its name sake, flat and uninspiring. 


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Variously interesting, puzzling, intriguing, frustrating, moving, amusing and tedious

Review by John Smythe 14th Oct 2012

The introductory sequence in Flatland orientates us to a two-dimensional world then invites us to imagine the unimaginable. And now I feel as if my challenge is to explain the inexplicable, or at least find a way of capturing its nature, without spoiling it – which is unlikely since it is very much a visual, intellectual and at moments emotional experience that each audience member will evaluate differently.

Inspired by English schoolmaster Edwin A Abbot’s Flatland (a novella written in 1884, a full century before Orwell set his portrait of a totalitarian society), this Bats / Stab production cannot be described as an adaptation. Abbot’s novella was an allegory for the social strictures and structures of Victorian society. Men are polygons while women are merely lines, but dangerous to men because when they approach they are just points and therefore able to stab a man if he doesn’t notice her coming.

This iteration – conceived and created by digital designer Johann Nortje and directed by Ralph Upton who co-wrote the text with Alex Lodge through a devising process with the performers – doesn’t get into the gender politics, presumably because they are so last century (yeah right). ‘Now’ in this version is 2012.

The narrator is a Square father, voiced by Brigid Costello and actively animated by Melanie Hamilton to create digital projections, on a hanging curtain screen, of a vertically or laterally expanding and contracting rectangle that reverberates with straight lines on the same plane. Or that’s the idea.

Is it relevant to mention it hardly ever forms a square as such? And that the waviness of the curtain puts wobbles in the lines and actually makes the image three-dimensional so that part of our imagining task is to re-imagine it as flat?

The son of Square is Hexagon, animated and voiced by Thomas LaHood. He goes to school and comes home full of questions for his father, invariably found in the kitchen, including “where do we come from?” But his mother is never mentioned, let alone how it is that a Line procreating with a Square produces a Hexagon (rather than a Pentagon). 

The boss of Square and all the straight-edged shapes is Circle (LaHood), benign but assertive where necessary. And on the periphery of this two-dimensional society are the Triangles (also LaHood), who chant their identity to give themselves a sense of status.

My take is that they’re street kids and when the black-clad and hoodied LaHood and Costello lurk at the sides and beneath the world of the better endowed squares and polygons, and scavenge for goodies, they are being feral Triangles – not that there are any two-dimensional projections at such moments to suggest that, it’s just that when three-dimensional beings become actively involved in this essentially two-dimensional world, my literal brain has to compensate somehow.

Beyond the imaginations of the Flatlanders is Sphere, played by Simon Haren. He is the one who enjoins us to imagine in a way that seems to require us to first imagine we live in a world that does not encourage imagination, at least when we reach adulthood. Or is it that we are required to imagine a world that fears the unknown so that we can then celebrate our capacity to do what we innately do virtually every waking moment of our lives?

By way of proving the value of imaging things into existence, Sphere is given to reciting progressive lists – e.g. from cave art through photography to digital images stored in ‘the cloud’; the stick through sword to modern weapons; etc, etc. (With the progression of explorers, by the way, I think Kupe would be a better starting point than Magellan.)

This contrasts with the rigid containment of Flatlanders within prescribed confines. For me the most compelling element involves Square’s repressing of Hexagon’s inquisitiveness by imposing the “point, line, square – nothing else” mantra only to have it thrown back in his face by his son when he, the father, becomes joyously enlightened thanks to the influence of Sphere. It is this that gives the 70 minutes its dramatic structure and emotional content, for which much thanks.

Technically the two-dimensional projections are interesting, especially as you attempt to work out how they are achieved. And when – as happens a number of times – the line is crossed from the known to the imagined, the chaos that ensues is visually and sonically spectacular. (Click the title above to see the extensive design and production credits.)

The ever-growing blob of three-dimensional substance that follows each ‘revolution’ and is purloined by the underclass is something else again; interpret it as you will.

All four performers commit fully to articulating their concepts and bringing depth to them where they can. From an audience perspective – or mine, anyway – the experience is variously interesting, puzzling, intriguing, frustrating, moving, amusing and tedious, not necessarily in that order. I include “tedious” because of two attenuated sequences that seem indulgent and lead me to wonder who is testing whom and why, or whether it’s just padding to get the show over an hour.

For a show that values imagination, I would have liked to be more imaginatively engaged. Instead I realise my appraisal is relatively objective; more preoccupied with decoding what is unfolding before me and appreciating the historical, social and moral lessons it offers than discovering points of access to further flights of fancy.

Consequently it leaves me feeling curiously flat: unusual for a Stab production.


Ralph Upton October 14th, 2012

Thanks for this review John. There is criticism here that is helpful- particularly in regards to those 'attenuated sequences' which you address. -Ralph [Director].

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