07/02/2014 - 10/02/2014
Artistic and political celebrities cameo in Fringe 2014 murder-mystery play
Audiences will recognise a few famous faces popping up as cameos in modern murder-mystery, Immaculate Deception, which premieres at the 2014 Wellington Fringe Festival from 7 to 10 February.
Producer and director Tanya Piejus says, “Immaculate Deception includes several scenes set in the remand wing of a prison. Characters are brought into the scene by a Corrections officer and it was the inspired idea of the playwright to ask prominent Wellingtonians from the artistic and political fields to cameo as the prison officer.
“I don’t want to spoil the surprise about who will be appearing, but we have four cameos in each performance and the audience will have fun spotting who they are as they come on stage to deliver their lines.
“Immaculate Deception is being performed as a fundraiser for youth and sustainable development charity, Raleigh International, to which all the profits will go. The response to our request for cameo performers has been fantastic and we’re hugely appreciative of the support from all who said yes.”
Immaculate Deception is the debut by New Zealand’s medical hypnosis expert, Dr Pat McCarthy, who has also performed on stage, TV and film.
It will be performed from
7 to 10 February 2014, 8pm
at the Whitireia Theatre, 25-27 Vivian Street.
Bookings at www.thetheatre.co.nz.
Gabrielle Wright: Anna
Victoria Seymour: Penny
Daniel Pooley: Charlie
Talia Carlisle: Belinda
Toni-Marie Westcott: Jess
Matt Todd: Stage manager
David Murray: Lighting design
Review by James McKinnon 08th Feb 2014
The author’s note in the program stresses that “all the information about hypnosis used in the play is factually correct,” a claim backed up by the author’s reputation as the only medically qualified hypnotherapist in New Zealand. It also exhorts spectators “not to reveal the ‘immaculate deception’ to others who may want to watch this production.”
This piqued my interest and made me wonder if the play would boldly try to hypnotize its audience. Sadly, it does not, although it does have a powerful soporific effect. While I won’t reveal the ending, the play’s only cunning deception is its fiendish plot to convince people to listen to long diatribes about hypnosis and legalese by telling them they are at a play.
The problem with Immaculate Deception is not that the information about hypnosis is incorrect, but that it consists of almost nothing else.
A very large proportion of this two hour play is exposition about hypnosis or events that occurred prior to the beginning of the play. Character A will say something like, “Doctor, I heard you mention something about a ‘fugue state’; could you explain to me what that is? Please do not use too many technical terms, for I am not a specialist.” And Character B happily obliges: “I’m glad you asked, and I will try to explain it as simply as I can. A fugue state, you see, is a rare form of amnesia that sometimes occurs when the mind tries to protect itself from trauma by forgetting the traumatic incident.”
At one point, one of the characters even uses a flip-chart and markers, completing the transformation from play to lecture. Two hours [note: not the 80 minutes advertised] of overwritten expository dialogue is not sufficiently traumatic to trigger a fugue state, but you might wish it was.
‘Drama’ means ‘action’, and for 2500 years most playwrights have defined their craft as the art of arranging and revealing action through conflicts between opposing forces, or characters. We watch because the struggle creates tension, particularly if we care about the characters.
The key action in a murder mystery like Immaculate Deception is typically the search for the killer, countered by the killer’s evasive action. But in this play, the chief action of most scenes is not a clash between accusation and denial, but a congenial revelation of information from one character to the other. The plot is not advanced by one character’s intelligent detective work, but by the accidental discovery of a piece of evidence, which she then takes to another character so that they can explain its significance.
“I need to speak to you urgently because I just accidentally found a key piece of information!”
“Really? Tell me more.” A few moments later, she even realizes out loud that the play she is in would be over by now if not for this accident: “Imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t made this discovery by random chance!”
This, the play’s most shocking confession, is repeated a few scenes later when, after yet another reversal, the hypnotherapist character – that is, the one who most resembles the playwright – admits, “Not even I am capable of such a ridiculous twist!”
The absence of dramatic action is aggravated by an absence of physical action. The set consists of different configurations of tables, desks, and chairs, and each scene consists of two or three characters sitting in the chairs. The actors rarely move and are given little to do except explain facts to each other. It looks like a conspiracy between the director and the set designer to make the actors uncomfortable – but in another surprising metatheatrical turn, the director and the set designer turn out to be the same person.
The actors have little to do but say their lines, and their discomfort is evident from their unnatural breathing and the tense posture that comes from being very aware that you have been delivering dialogue with your back to most of the audience for 10 minutes.
Because the characters are little more than conduits for facts and information about antecedent action, hypnosis, and trivia about single malt Scotch whisky distilling localities, the play gives the audience few reasons to care about them.
At first the play asks us to worry that a character will be wrongfully convicted of murder, but she is strangely combative and snarky with the one person who offers to help her, and then disappears for most of the play. Our interest then shifts to the lawyer /detective, but all she does is wait for the clues to be brought to her and explained.
The next character we might become interested in is the hypnotherapist, and Daniel Pooley does try really, really hard to let that happen, but the play goes out of its way to emphasize that he is an awful alcoholic, misogynist, gambling addict scumbag, so we don’t really care what happens to him, either.
Ultimately, the only person I feel any sympathy for is the actress, Tania Carlisle. Twice during the play, her character is stranded by herself on stage with exposition to reveal but no other character to reveal it to, forcing Carlisle to choose between talking to herself for no reason or breaking the fourth wall and awkwardly unburdening herself to the audience. The playwright and director hang her out to dry, making her the play’s true victim.
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