Gene Pool

BATS Theatre, Wellington

16/10/2010 - 06/11/2010


Production Details

Set in the not too distant future, a time when advancing genetic technology is challenging our sense of what it means to be human, Gene Pool is a visceral meditation on the nature of existence.

Following a worldwide pandemic and subsequent medical disaster, humanity has been wiped from existence, or so it would appear. Somewhere in New Zealand, an abandoned shed holds the last vestige of a creator’s dream. A giant incubator containing the final experiment of a leading genetic engineer. A human being. 

Alone, he is born from this artificial womb; alone he must make the discoveries vital to survival – his body, his soul, his self. The machine acts as a surrogate, seemingly alive – and he must find ways to understand and communicate with the machine in order to finally break the bonds of his own need and forge his own freedom and his own identity. 

With a set created by multiple award winners WETA Workshop, Gene Pool is the first of the 2010 STAB Commissions. 

Gene Pool
Is part of the STAB festival
Bats Theatre
Saturday 16th – Saturday 6th November 2010
(no show Sun/Mon)
$20 Full / $15 Concession / STAB Season Pass $30 
Book tickets! 

Actor:  Francis Mountjoy

Set design:  Greg Broadmore

Set construction:  Weta Workshop 

Choreographer and understudy:  Patrick Sunderhauf

Dramaturg:  Jonny Brugh

Sound Design:  Mike Newport

Audio engineer:  Howards Rogers

Machine lighting design:  Michael Craven

Theatre lighting design:  Jennifer Lal

Stage Manager/Lighting operator:  Gabrielle Rhodes

Art design:  Matthew Fitzgerald

Publicist:  Phil Reed @ Message Traders

Producers:  Matthew Norton and John Wenger @ hoi polloi

Executive Producers:  Martyn Wood and Sarah Rooney @ BATS Theatre 

Clone machine gives birth to magical man

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 18th Oct 2010

There’s a simplicity and limpid beauty in Gene Pool that has been rare or non-existent amongst the shows that have made up the STAB seasons of experimental theatre in the past few years.

While Gene Pool is a very short solo piece of physical theatre it is also that rare thing in the theatre: a piece of Science Fiction. Dominating the stage is a large realistic capsule/incubator with winking lights, dials, pipes and a control panel. It is a machine that gives birth in a scene of extraordinary tension and emotion to an adult human male clone.

The clone has no name but I will call him Adam. He slips into the laboratory and slowly discovers the capabilities of his body and then he becomes aware of his surroundings as he explores and plays with the object that gave him life. He discovers he has a sense of humour, he feels fear, and in a magical scene, beautifully acted, lit and directed, Adam sees himself for the first time. 

While the sound design (Mike Newport), the lighting design (Jennifer Lal) and the incubator design by Greg Broadmore and its construction by Weta Workshop is impressive and the incubator’s solidity and stolidity vital to the reality of the performance, the evening belongs to Francis Mountjoy. He covers an amazing range of emotions as he scampers ape-like about the laboratory, and explores, smells, tastes and reacts child-like to his surroundings. It is a sterling performance. 

Before Adam’s birth there’s a long blackout during which we hear what sounds like a futuristic radio talkback show but as usual these days it is played far too loudly and some of it is hard to follow. The gist of it is the future of the world and humanity is bleak. However, what is surprising and heartening is that Gene Pool does not leave Adam in a slough of despond but soaring on a flight of optimism.  
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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The premise has promise

Review by Hannah Smith 17th Oct 2010

Gene Pool, the first of the two 2010 STAB shows, is a marvel of technical accomplishment. Set, lights, sound, and performance all achieve a degree of excellence that surpass the thin material of the story.

The premise of Gene Pool taps into contemporary medical concerns – the kind we see routinely amplified by media scaremongering – think of the SARS, bird flu, and swine flu epidemics. In the not-too-distant future a totalitarian state warns against the dangers of germy-jims. New Zealand has been ravaged by some kind of horrible pandemic, possibly engineered by evil drug corporations. There is a pressing need for donor organs, and people look to the potentialities of genetic engineering and cloning to provide some kind of solution. 

What we know of this world is gleaned from a series of clip-art-esque public health message posters that decorate the foyer and toilet of BATS, and a montage of talkback radio clips with which the show begins. As these disembodied voices argue the ethics of harvesting cloned organs we watch the giant-womb-machine in the centre of the stage as it slowly cycles through a spectrum of colours. It is beautiful and vaguely disturbing.

Performer/devisor Francis Mountjoy oozes slowly out of the machine’s strange birthing orifice and begins to explore the world around him. With no words and no clothes, his performance is physically expressive and impressive. But it is the giant robot-womb-clone-machine (designed by Greg Broadmore and constructed by Weta Workshop) that dominates the space and the work. The set is as a second character: its beeps and whirrs and flashing lights are every bit as expressive and informative as those of the human actor on stage. The interaction between man and the machine that has given him life allows us to see aspects of similarity between them – a moment when he discovers a certain physical similarity being particularly successful.

Jen Lal’s stage lighting design supports this action beautifully. The passage of time, and shifting moods of exultation and fear are ably rendered. The machine lights (designed by Michael Craven) allow it to be both alien and human, seeming to communicate through various gleaming bulbs and flashing consoles. Mike Newport’s sound design is also integral and excellent. A series of low hums and throbs and the gentle whoosh of air moving through tubes and vents are necessary to the action allowing mood changes and shifts of direction to be expressed.

The sound design is particularly crucial as the play is entirely without words – bar the radio montage at the beginning and an expositional series of answer phone messages partway through – and without these sounds we would have virtually no story. In fact, all the design elements are vital components to keep the show moving. 

The problem is really that there is not quite enough content. The framework of a post-apocalyptic New Zealand is more intriguing than the thing that it frames. I was more interested by the past drama than the present one being enacted (essentially a man crawling and climbing around a machine).

In her director’s note Cara Brockliss states that that the creative team already have plans for how to extend the work, and I very much hope they do. The premise has promise and all the production elements are already excellent. This certainly has the potential to become an intriguing and impressive piece of theatre. 
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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