HUSH a Verbatim play about family violence
25/11/2020 - 28/11/2020
This show is an important piece of New Zealand theatre and it is incredibly fitting that our season of hush coincides with the ‘Zonta Says No to family violence’ campaign and White Ribbon Day.
With humanity, simplicity and occasional humour, hush stages family violence stories, giving insight into a complex issue that touches the lives of many New Zealanders.
After every performance, audience members will have the option to stay for a forum moderated by a qualified community psychologist, clinical psychologist or consultant.
In order of appearance:
Family Court Coordinator: Conor Maxwell
General Practitioner: Georgia Pollock
Policewoman (Regional Family Violence Coordinator): Kelly Petersen
Policeman (Regional Family Violence Coordinator): Jared Wooldridge
Rose, victim of abuse: Sara Young
L.E., agency worker and victim of abuse: Georgia Pollock
Doug, victim and perpetrator of abuse: Conor Maxwell
Amanda, mother of an abusive daughter: Julianne Boyle
Psychotherapist: Nicolas Wells
Prison nurse: Missy Mooney
Jessie, abusive towards her mother: Missy Mooney
Neighbour to a victim and a perpetrator of abuse: Jared Wooldridge
Agency worker: Kelly Petersen
Counsellor: Missy Mooney
Age Concern Social Worker: Kelly Petersen
Lawyer for Child: Jared Wooldridge
Voice of Sarah's letters: Mary Rinaldi
Director: Gaye Poole
Production manager: Gaye Poole
Stage manager: David Simes
Lighting designer: Logan Cook
Lighting/sound operator: David Simes
Marketing: Hannah Mooney, Gaye Poole & company
Graphic designer: Ashleigh Murray
Production stills photographer: Michael Smith
Headshots: Megan Goldsman
Theatre , Verbatim ,
Brilliant, harrowing, tender, hopeful and important
Review by Stephen Henderson 26th Nov 2020
Verbatim theatre is a form that absorbs a lot of theatre practitioners or enthusiasts at one point or another. The ability to tell stories as people, instead of characters, and work with rich real dialogue with all of the original phrasing, that says as much as the stories themselves, is an effective, passionate, understated and beautiful way to create a live theatre experience. Cut that together with a subject that has impacted everyone in one way or another, and mix it with a powerful message of hope, and you have Hush.
The play itself was written in 2009, in New Zealand, and as we’re told before it begins, we hear every pause, umm and stutter exactly as it was originally said by interviewees, but now being presented by actors. This production doesn’t hide that there will be parts that can be difficult and uncomfortable, and then makes good on that; this show is brilliant but be warned, it can also be incredibly triggering.
The piece explores domestic violence and abuse through a few different lenses. The majority are unexpected, such as of perspectives of a police officer, a mother and daughter, a woman talking about her marriage, a man talking about his father, and many more. These different talking points and unique perspectives ensure that the show is not one note, or preachy. Instead they facilitate a real, in-depth and varied conversation about an ugly side of our country. Whilst it is a show that concerns itself with violence and abuse, the show is full of hope and puts a strong emphasis on being a survivor instead of a victim.
Carving in Ice Theatre is well known throughout the community, so I’m not going to go in depth about the company. I do, however, want to praise the ticket price as Poole seems dedicated to not only keeping people engaged in Hamilton theatre, but also in getting this particular show, and its message about family violence, as much exposure as possible.
The production elements are cool and crisp, and are what I’ve come to expect from Carving in Ice Theatre shows. The set is minimal, mostly consisting of chairs, couches and a table, but under the blue and purple hues of the light and the beautiful atmosphere created by director Poole, it really pops.
The direction too, is wonderful. Keeping all of the actors onstage and using lighting to direct audience focus, helps to remind us of the artifice of what we are watching. This isn’t some pretty piece of fiction, this is real and happens right in front of our eyes; perhaps most importantly, there are not any entrances and exits.
The actors all excel and it’s impossible to find a weak spot in the piece. There are Carving in Ice Theatre veterans and regulars on display here, which only serves to heighten the piece as you can tell there is a real sense of trust that is needed when tackling such a sensitive topic.
Missy Mooney and Julianne Boyle present a heart-breaking story of hope masterfully and with an extraordinary amount of chemistry. Likewise Kelly Petersen slips from a light and even somewhat cheerful presentation to clinical and cold with ease, and stands in contrast to Sara Young who gives a more consistent presentation of one individual, delving into the specifics of a story that are truly harrowing, but never gratuitous, with grace and poise.
Georgia Pollock has some wonderful moments where she skilfully bounces from a general practitioner, who can clearly outline models such as the cycle of abuse, which really helps to make the show’s message clear, to someone recounting violence in their youth and how it still haunts them. Then there’s Conor Maxwell, whose performance both adds levity, with some wonderful comedic timing, and also brings a male survivor’s voice to the piece that is both vulnerable and powerful. These juxtapositions create a wonderful mesh of experiences that are beautifully portrayed and feel authentic.
The show is excellent and incredibly hard to fault. The only issue I have is with audibility as some of the performers move between scenes from a raised stage to the ground floor, but that is so minor – it only happens once – and does not impact my experience much at all.
As excellent as the show is, the after-show forum is something I recommend strongly. It will likely be different each night, so I won’t go into depth, but the maturity, honesty and rawness of the conversations produced on opening night are excellent examples of why shows like these are so important. I hope the cast feel extremely proud after generating them.
Hush is a brilliant, harrowing, tender, hopeful and important piece of New Zealand theatre. I strongly recommend you check it out, and I give huge congratulations to the cast, crew and director for not only being brave enough to put on a show that really matters, but for doing it so artfully that its message still sits with me now.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Strong performances, engaging material, challenging at times
Review by Ross MacLeod 26th Nov 2020
Verbatim theatre in an interesting genre, both with strength and limitations. It takes interviews and replicates them on stage, mimicking, as close as possible, the exact words and inflections of the original subjects. This means that there aren’t always crafted narratives or themes but there are authentic and engaging perspectives that feel more like a documentary than a staged show.
Hush deals with the issue of family violence in New Zealand, taking interview material from multiple people and different viewpoints, and structuring them into an exploration of it.
We get pieces from psychologists, social workers, police and off-siders but most of the focus is placed on those directly involved, both the abused and the abusers.
Hush is structured to shift through the origins and explanations of family violence, the way in which it intensifies, the challenges around addressing it and the possible solutions. The interviews are stark, reflecting some of the impact that long term abuse can have, but they are also hopeful, discussing ways out for both abuse and abusers.
They benefit from the most stage time and the performances of Sara Young and Conor Maxwell stand out as strong, both well cast for the roles. Young has a composed grace to her role, balancing fragility, strength and decorum as she works her way through difficult memories and revelations. Maxwell has a knack for blokeish roles with emotional depth to them. A flipside of Young’s character, he is unpolished and forthright but bears similar scars. As a man who tries hard to avoid the path of his father, he offers one of the lights of hope that dot the play.
The cast do a nice job of capturing the pauses, stumbles and vocal tics that give the genre an authentic feel and, while Verbatim theatre seldom has you buying into the illusion of the actors being the person, there’s an almost eerie sense to it as if you’re listening the real voices. It goes to show just how much of what we say is between the words.
There are a few limitations in the play. Some characters get only one of two short pieces, which feels a bit imbalanced in an ensemble cast piece. And due to the decisions of the creators as to what makes the script, some aspects feel overlooked. One story does cover a story of a mother coping with a violent daughter, and there is discussion of emotional abuse, but the core focus is on violent men. Sadly this reflects the reality of most abuse but, as someone with a male family member who lived through a decade long abusive relationship with a female partner, I feel there is ground uncovered. Likewise I feel there isn’t as much focus on cultural reflections of abuse, especially in light of the current upheaval of Oranga Tamariki.
As mentioned earlier, this is likely one of the limitations of Verbatim Theatre; a portrait focus rather than a landscape view. The script was created in Dunedin in 2009, the creators only had access to certain material for safety and privacy concerns and 80 minutes on stage can only cover so much. These elements don’t make any of the interviews less real or any of the solutions less relevant. If anything they demonstrate the scope and scale of the issue, inviting further thought and exploration.
Hush is a show with strong performances and engaging material, putting a spotlight on some of the real stories of domestic violence. It’s challenging at times but it never wallows in unpleasantness, with hope and the importance of connectivity its ultimate message.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer