Hear to See

Opera House, Wellington

19/03/2011 - 26/03/2011

Capital E National Arts Festival

Production Details

A young boy Ollie climbs through his window to chase the creatures he glimpses out of the corner of his eye, his bedroom slides away, and a miniature world is uncovered.

Transforming The Opera House stage through the artistry of Sydney puppetry company ERTH, magical lighting, large-scale projection and a cinematic score from Richard Nunns, Ollie’s journey is part exquisite dream, part adventure.

From the everyday to the extraordinary, this is bona fide theatre magic for the whole family.

Hear to See
The Opera House, 111 Manners St
Saturday 19 March, 7pm and Saturday 26 March, 2pm
Mon 21 – Fri 25 March, 10am, 11.30am and 1.15pm as available, call Capital E to confirm on 913 3740
Bookings: Capital E 04 913 3740
Tickets: $16.50 each or $33.00 each for 3 shows

Performed by Robert Hartley, Cian White, Rawiri Jobe & Jessica Aaltonen
Production Manager – Charlotte Gordon
Stage Manager – Bek Sherratt
Operator – Paurtie Dean
Design realisation – Brian King
Puppetry Construction – Kyleigh Adrian-Brown, Chris Covich, Brian King, Robin Yee & the team at ERTH workshops.




The old-fashioned brilliance of magical tricks

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd Mar 2011

“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy” is roughly what Ollie (Robert Hartley), the teenage hero obsessed with video games, learns in Hear to See, the flagship production of Capital E’s National Arts Festival. It was received with rapturous applause on Saturday.

The story is simple and though Ollie’s miniature doppelganger at one point says to him that he’s fed up with all the Harry Potter crap around there’s a lot of mystery and magic about in the world that Ollie finds himself exploring beyond his bedroom window, after a large persistent butterfly has enticed him outside.

Ollie doesn’t seem surprised by anything and it is not until he is attacked by some furious insects (superbly presented) does he seem upset and not until he’s left alone on a rock in the sea with a sleeping taniwha does he get scared, even though the taniwha had given him CPR after he nearly drowned.

I was expecting technological wizardry (at the start an automated voice warning us about exits/a cleverly projected video game) but what delighted me and the rest of the audience was the brilliance of the good old fashioned magical tricks of theatre brought about by lighting designer Nigel Percy, sound designer Thomas Press, and the music of Richard Nunns, but above all by the astonishing puppetry from Sydney-based ERTH under the direction of Scott Wright. 

It has all been welded into a triumphant, often beautiful, always arresting theatrical spectacle by Sara Brodie. Even the restless little boy next to me became still and laughed in amazement as the tiny doppelganger started throwing his weight around with karate kicks when trying to get some sense into Ollie’s thick head.
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Amazing puppeteering in a story that could work better

Review by Peter McKenzie 20th Mar 2011

The story follows Ollie as he tries to get back to being one with nature. Or actually he does not try to get back to nature, nature tries to get back to him. He travels from his bedroom window through to a beach with Maori spirits, through a dreamscape and back into his bedroom, collecting taonga throughout his journey. Once home he shows his sister the taonga and goes down to dinner with his family.

This story structure reminds me of the book Where the Wild Things are (not the movie which is a different beast). Ollie ias similar to Max in that he goes on the same journey, the result being that both Max and Ollie come out as a nice person. However I still reckon that Where The Wild Things Are is a more detailed psychological journey, and easier to follow. 

I am a 12 year old boy with 3 annoying sisters so I really see why Ollie gets so irritated. Yet he could still have a bit more compassion. The way he behaves makes the audience lose sympathy for him. He certainly has a journey to make before he gets even close to being a worthy friend for Rimu, his sporty friend who makes a brief visit at the beginning of the play. I would not like to have Ollie as a friend, because he is quite self-centred at the start of the journey and is unkind to the people around him. 

The other story this reminds me of is the ancient story of The Odyssey in which Odysseus travels from his homeland to Troy to fight with the Greeks, travelling back through many trials and challenges. Odysseus finally gets home a wiser man. This is one of my favourite stories because it is a combination of both historical fact and Greek and Roman mythology. On his travels Odysseus collects not objects (like Ollie’s taonga) but knowledge and experience in order to find his way home.

The highlight of Hear to See for me was when Ollie met an alternate version of himself in a smaller form. Of course having a mini-puppet who jumps up and punches people will always make anything funny! I also really enjoyed the battle Ollie had with his own alter-egos. I guess he is at war with being split between virtual and natural worlds. However sometimes I found that the story was quite hard to follow and made points without explaining them and without making any reference to them in the rest of the play. 

One of the most visually memorable for me was the moment when Ollie met two spirits of rock and water on a beach in his dreamscape. But I could not see how meeting these spirits made any difference to his story. 

I also loved it when Ollie was being attacked by the bee-like electric things at the start of the story. What did those bee-like elements mean? How did they advance the story? I am not quite sure. 

The four performers [plus the stage manager] do a great job of the puppeteering and it was amazing to see the skill they brought to the multiple characterisations. At the end the Mum (who also must have played the Maori rock goddess) calls out, “Come on Ollie it is time for dinner!” He says, “Coming…” and a child in the audience replied “Come back!” So Ollie obviously had enough going for him that that kid wanted to see him again! 

As I walked away from the theatre with my sisters I went through the show in my mind. I wondered what it all meant and what the character’s real change was. I realised that when Ollie shared his newly-found taonga with his sister, we saw him being kind to his sister and showing the advances he had made on his journey, putting to good use the knowledge he had gained. 

However I would have liked to have seen Ollie using the instruments more, developing his skill to mirror their influence and power. This show was called Hear to See. I wanted to SEE Ollie LISTEN more!  

[Peter McKenzie is 12; a year 8 student at St Mark’s school.] 
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Presentation tail wags storytelling dog

Review by John Smythe 20th Mar 2011

“Amazing visuals,” is the buzz in the foyer after the world premiere of Hear to See. And the music. And the sound. All stunning. The performers, seen and unseen, do a great job too.

It’s the story, such as it is, that has people grumbling. Too simplistic? Too heavy, or obvious, on the moral? Somehow not very satisfying at the end of a rather gripping journey.

Ollie (Robert Hartley) is fixated on his X-Box. His sister Sophie (Jessica Aaltonen) seems to want his attention despite being permanently plugged into her own headphones. His mate Rimu (Rawiri Jobe), who taps at the window and climbs through when Ollie opens it, has a basketball and wants Ollie to come out and shoot hoops. And his Mum (Cian White, I assume; a voice off), who is annoyed with him for not picking up his uniform, wants him at the dinner table.

This opening sequence is soaked in a cacophony of competing sounds (Thomas Press: a superb soundscape throughout). Encased in a black scrim box, featuring his bed and a sash window in the back wall, Ollie plays his X-Box game with a projection on the front ‘4th’ wall (AV design, John Nortje).

It is more tapping at – or beyond – the window, and a silent but persistent moth, that turns Ollie around, draws him out of his antisocial space and ultimately reconnects him with the forces of nature; but not before he goes through a Harry Potter-style confrontation with his self in the form of a ‘mini me’ who insists that the only important thing in life is his next X-Box level.

Ollie’s mindless attempt to whack the moth with a pillow offers a rare moment of gut-level connection; many of us treated nature like that as children. His journey into a starlit night is wondrous; the headspace this brings him into, of spinning and dancing stars, is a magical effect. The eye-in-the-sky, the nature of Richard Nunns’ sublime taonga puuoro compositions and a head-tickle from the moth precede Ollie’s discovery of a wooden flute. But he cannot get a peep from it, so throws it away, precipitating the first of many electro-magnetic storms …

Now his cellphone rings and turns – brilliantly – into a ‘micro me’ that later grows to become a ‘mini me’: an especially good piece of puppetry in both form and execution. “Man, you the bomb,” it tells him, perched on Ollie’s shoulder – as a Seagull splats on his other shoulder …

A beach sequence sees Ollie suddenly in the sea (a rather clumsy transition). He strives to get to the safety of a large rock which animates with a formidable Maori female persona (voiced by White). She interacts with an ocean demigod (Jobe) who sings to calm her stroppy highness down. And it is here that Ollie finds the conch shell he has to listen to in order to see, appreciate and become at one with the natural world. But he resists that for a while yet …

Two bits of fire-blackened wood and a large piece of pumice also command his contemplation as his confrontations with his hoodie-wearing self become more life-sized. His ‘mini me’ physically attacks him when he listens to the shell, declaring, “All this Harry Potter stuff is starting to offend me.” (Given HP spends his time battling the forces of evil rather than trying to commune with nature, does this mean Ollie’s alter-ego is offended by his own role in this drama?)

Ollie’s attempts to decode and/or connect with the pumice, the two bits of wood (was that the tapping sound that summoned him from his room in the first place?) and the conch shell (manifestations of earth, air, fire and water?) precipitate another brainstorm, a projected message, “I OWN” – as opposed, presumably, to “I AM” – and a major cacophony of sound before subsiding into a congregation of evaporating vapours, leaving him with the moth and the flute. And at last he gets the hang of the flute, producing a note or two …

Back in his room, Mum is still calling him to the table – and now he is nice to his sister, promising to show her the flute after dinner. And the sounds of his world are altogether more harmonious.

The lighting design of Nigel Percy, the light/sound operating of Laurie Dean, the additional puppetry of stage manager Bek Sherrat (along with that of Aaltonen, Jobe and White) as developed with concept designer and puppetry director Scott Wright, along with Nunns’ music, Press’s sound and Hartley’s performance, all under the overall direction Sara Brodie, have conspired to create a remarkable spectacle. And yet …

The title emerges as an excellent play on words. But can it be that all that performative skill and ‘theatre magic’ has been wrought just to tell us there is more to life than reaching the next level in an X-Box game?

Thinking back, the ‘uniform’ reference must be a clue that Ollie is on the verge of going to high school and this is therefore about the trauma and catharsis of moving on to another level in life. But that is an academic analysis, in retrospect; not one enjoyed in the presence of the performance. Besides, if we are talking generalities – given we never get to know Ollie as anything other than a stereotypical teenage boy – he has doubtless got a few more years of being an anti-social, self-centred brat-cum-prat before the hormones release him into this more humane space.  

As it stands, Hear to See offers an objectively appreciated theatrical spectacle of high accomplishment that falls short of engaging our empathy by offering credible insights into the experience of moving from childhood to adolescence, from intermediate to high school, or from pain-in-the-bum brother/son to someone who is a pleasure to have in the family. So why are we not engaged subjectively?

In attempting to discern what’s missing, we may consider classics of the genre, like J M Barrie’s Peter Pan, which questions the fantasy of an everlasting childhood, or Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, where a naughty child regains his self-esteem by becoming king of all the wild things and getting home again in time for supper. And just last year Capital E produced Rachel Callinan and Kate Morris’s End Game, in which an alienated son and mother reconnect via a life-and-death adventure in cyberspace.

In all these otherwise diverse works the protagonists form important relationships with other people or creatures in the process of reaching their next level of humanity, through which their own personalities are revealed. That Ollie’s battle is with himself is valid, in principle, but in this case it doesn’t deliver subjective insight or emotional catharsis. He functions mostly as and object; a means by which theatrical skills and illusions may be displayed.

Methinks the presentation tail has wagged the storytelling dog.
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