BATS Theatre, The Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
05/03/2023 - 09/03/2023
New Athenaeum Theatre, 24 The Octagon, Dunedin
16/03/2023 - 19/03/2023
Co-writers: Marea Colombo & Bronwyn Wallace
Director: Bronwyn Wallace
The award winning team from Late Bloomers is bringing another show to NZ audiences. Their new piece Flow is set in an absurd purgatory that provides everything you need to process your grief. For the protagonist, Brooke, that is a bath. It would be nice to sit down, given that she’s just watched her own funeral. Brooke takes time alone to reflect on what we grieve, how we grieve and the rules around grieving, because let’s be honest, there are a lot: feel your emotions, but not in public. Reflect, but not for too long. Heal, but could you also become a better person in the process? Oh, and drink water. You must drink water.
The work is an original creation by two queer theatre practitioners from Ōtepoti. Wallace and Colombo co-wrote and devised the hour-long work, which will premiere at NZ Fringe 2023. When asked about creating Flow, Wallace says, “We wanted to create something that didn’t provide solutions or a self-help guide. We use humour to encourage people to look at grief, with interest and wonder. ” The piece showcases Colombo’s strength in solo performance; she delights audiences by combining her experience in stand-up comedy and improvisation. Their previous works together have garnered positive reviews about the pairs obvious artistic connection.
“Colombo’s academic research has given her a shrewd understanding of human behaviour, and her continued practice in improvisation means she handles the audience superbly…Co-writer Bronwyn Wallace is obviously the perfect choice as director, professionally experienced and seemingly on just the same wavelength. She ensures Gaslight Me is elevated from a good stand-up comedy routine to a fully theatrical experience with satisfying physical and vocal variety.” – Theatreview
CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of death
You can see Flow in
Wellington at BATS Stage
from 5 – 9 March 2023
Sun 5 March, 2pm & 8.30pm
Tue 7 – Thur 9 March, 8.30pm
Dunedin at The New Athenaeum Theatre
from 16 – 18 March 2023
at 8pm and on 19 March at 4pm.
Tickets available here: https://www.dunedinfringe.nz/events/flow
Late Bloomers was established in Dunedin 2021 by Wallace & Colombo. The company aims to create original, progressive works and provide opportunities for local artists in Dunedin. Wallace and Colombo have extensive experience within the Ōtepoti Arts Scene.
Wallace has been producing theatre since the age of seventeen when she co-produced Young, Wild and Fortunate, a youth theatre festival at the Fortune Theatre. She went to study Theatre & Gender Studies before taking on the role of Artistic Director for Dunedin-based Counterpoint Productions. Wallace has since travelled overseas to complete a Masters Degree in Event Management.
Colombo, originally from a dance background, came to theatre through the Dunedin-based comedy troupe Discharge in 2014. She has since become an integral part of the community, producing for Arcade Theatre Company and becoming the Artistic Director for Dunedin’s only improv-troupe, Improsaurus.
The combination of Colombo’s quick wit and high-class performance skills with Wallace’s direction and passion for creating new work has created a new space within Ōtepoti for exciting, female-led theatre that highlights local talent. Late Bloomers is proud to be a queer theatre company and prioritises progressive, homegrown stories.
Performer: Marea Colombo
Theatre , Solo ,
A poignant exploration of love, death, grief, and what it means to live a life that subverts expectations
Review by Ash Dawes 17th Mar 2023
It is the first night of the Dunedin Fringe Festival, and the atmosphere in the foyer of the New Athenaeum Theatre is excited for the Dunedin premiere of Flow. Recently debuted at New Zealand Fringe, Flow is a new theatre piece from Late Bloomers, an award-winning Ōtepoti-based theatre company created by Bronwyn Wallace and Marea Colombo. Wallace and Colombo have co-written Flow, with Wallace directing and Colombo as the sole performer. (Disclaimer: Flow is presented as part of Dunedin Fringe, and reviewed here by a member of the Fringe staff. In Dunedin, as in other theatre communities in New Zealand, the theatre community is small and linked by one degree of separation at most.)
As we enter the black box theatre, we are greeted by an inflatable paddling pool on a rostrum, lit from opposite sides by purple and blue LED bricks. The production design feels deliberately pared back, and effectively so. The lighting is consistent throughout the performance, and interacts beautifully with the water in the pool, reflecting ripples on the ceiling of the theatre. The sound effects are equally subtle: we hear the rush of the ocean fade in and out, and the soft sound of rain (although the ground outside is wet when we leave the theatre, so the rain was perhaps a happy coincidence).
The blurb for Flow describes the protagonist—Brooke—as “doing what they always do when they are grieving: taking a bath.” This is true, with a twist (spoiler alert): she is grieving her own death. I justify revealing this because it is integral to the premise of the show: it takes place in an afterlife which consists of a series of rooms. In the first room, we gather, one witnesses one’s own funeral. The purpose of the second is less clear, because it is in the second room that we meet Brooke. Just as we see her, she sees us: we are also dead, but have advanced beyond our own second rooms, and now bear witness to Brooke’s journey.
If I have one criticism of the show, it is that I spend much of the performance with my head all but resting on my girlfriend’s shoulder in an attempt to see past the person in front of me—especially when Colombo kneels or sits in the paddling pool. This is, unfortunately, often unavoidable, especially in black box theatres without raked seating, and is less a reflection on the artists or the art, and more a reflection on the benefit of choosing a spot in the foyer to wait that is close to the door to the theatre.
Colombo’s performance is phenomenal. It is no mean feat for a single performer to keep an audience engaged for an hour, especially when there is nothing else happening on stage to hold our attention. She accomplishes this by balancing the heavier emotions inherent to the subject matter with moments of lightness and humour—perhaps I find it particularly resonant because I am only a decade removed from the creators, so the pop culture references land and I catch glimpses of myself reflected in the character. There is no narrative, per se; rather, Brooke reflects on her family and friends and the way they process grief, tied loosely together by connections to and metaphors of water. Her best friend, she tells us, grieves like a waterfall, while her own grief is like a dam. The characters she evokes for us are fictional, but there is truth in them, and it is this that keeps us interested.
The overall feel of the show is very stream-of-consciousness; we are witnesses, but as Brooke reminds us, this is not a conversation. It’s a difficult dramaturgical structure to execute effectively, but Colombo and Wallace have done it well: everything in the performance serves the journey, and I am only rarely left wondering if a certain excerpt needed to be included. For an hour, we are guided on a very deliberate journey that asks us to stop, to watch the constant push and pull of the currents, to observe and reflect on our own grief—in death, yes, but in a million other things too.
I walk away from the show feeling profoundly moved, knowing that I will be turning it over in my mind for some time. The provocation to question our expectations about the grieving process is an important one, as is the encouragement to hold space for unconventional forms of grief. Flow is a celebration of the things that make us human: the way we love, the way we live, and the way we grieve. It resists easy definition, but isn’t that true of its subject matter as well? It does not offer easy answers, or perhaps any answers; rather, it asks us to ‘go with the flow’ of our feelings and trust that we will come out the other side of the grieving process intact.
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If the purpose is to set us adrift in a Limbo where things that may once have seemed important are no longer so, then Flow succeeds
Review by John Smythe 05th Mar 2023
Having seen and reviewed Late Bloomers’ Gaslight Me, under the headline, ‘An extremely intelligent, insightful and entertaining exposé of a persistent psychological condition’, I inevitably arrive at their new show, Flow, with high expectations.
The condition being explored in Flow is grief. Or is it death itself? Or both? One flows from the other, I guess. “We wanted to create something that didn’t provide solutions or a self-help guide,” says Co-writer and Director Bronwyn Wallace on their production information page. “We use humour to encourage people to look at grief, with interest and wonder.”
The blue and white inflated bath that furnishes the BATS Stage space links to their poster image, and the rainbow bathmat attests to Late Bloomers being “proud to be a queer theatre company”.
They call the setting “an absurd purgatory” but I’ve always thought of mythological Purgatory as a self-confrontational space where one purges oneself of one’s sins and seeks forgiveness in the hope of entering the equally mythological Kingdom of Heaven. None of that terminology or tone is present in Flow, however. This intermediate state where, as they put it, “Brooke takes time alone to reflect on what we grieve, how we grieve and the rules around grieving, because let’s be honest, there are a lot,” feels more like Limbo to me.
Although Co-writer and Performer Marea Colombo’s Brooke arrives in bodily form, in what a crackly voice-over calls “Room Two”, she has been on the outside looking in on a just-finished funeral, and her reflections about what’s gone before are dispassionate. One might say she is having an out-of-emotions experience, which does make sense since – spoiler alert (although it doesn’t take long for the proverbial penny to drop) – the funeral she’s just observed was hers. It’s valid to think there is no point, now, in her battling with such things as guilt or unfinished business. But what does that leave as options for generating comedic drama?
The way Brooke acclimatises to the unfamiliar space and situation is engaging, as is the story behind why the hosts have allocated her a bath for this stage of her journey. There is even a bit of dramatic tension in our wondering if and when she will actually get into the bath. But until that happens, the flow of her monologue about the people at her funeral, and some who were not, is – for me, at least – hard to get into.
There is a swirl of parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins and friends from school days to imagine and maybe recognise but they tend to pass by like bits of flotsam. Rather than feeling invested in, or amused by, the various ways they are dealing with the situation, I find myself objectively wondering about such tangential things as why one relative has a New York accent and another comes from a southern state of the USA. Piquing our interest with such questions and making us wait for the answers can be a good dramaturgical strategy but in this case there is no reveal; that’s just the way this family is.
I’m also a strong believer in the alchemy by which individualised stories can resonate with universal and timeless truths but, for me, that’s not yet happening with this one. There are, however, many excellent turns of phrase and vivid mental images to be enjoyed. Marea Colombo is a highly accomplished performer, it’s just hard to lock on to where her Brooke stands in relation to her life, herself and all her friends and relations, and where, therefore, we might position ourselves, relatively speaking.
We do seem to be cast as other beings adrift in Limbo, and more than once Brooke asks us question then checks herself: “Sorry, this is not a conversation.” So Colombo’s stand-up and improv skills are not brought into play this time. The material does feels as if it has the potential to generate deeply insightful comedy, as with Gaslight Me. Perhaps as this premiere season proceeds, it will achieve a rhythm and flow that will prove more engaging. Or maybe the premise and purpose need to be interrogated further, and the material reworked accordingly. That said, if the purpose is to set us adrift in a Limbo where things that may once have seemed important are no longer so, then Flow succeeds.
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