IN SPITE OF HIMSELF
30/04/2012 - 30/06/2012
17/05/2012 - 17/05/2012
EnsembleImpact’s 2012 Schools Tour
Touring May / June 2012.
The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again
Stephen St Claire, secret agent, part time Hobbit and animal psychologist, is in New Zealand and spying for us. Weapons, women, a dastardly villain and nothing – not even attack trained killer robots – can stop St Claire from unearthing this evil.
The December Brother
The extraordinary story of how Tim Spite’s father, Tony, found his birth family in 1995 (based on Tony’s memoir The December Brother) and secondly, an event that shocked New Zealand in 1994, that of the Bain family Murders.
1850’s. An English couple, Sara and Gabriel Plowright, arrive on New Zealand shores, bringing with them the desire for a new life and the body of their recently deceased father…our colonists soon discover they are not the only Europeans to have come this way.
An organic seed farmer and his wife are confronted by an invasion of genetically modified crops. And, if mutated bees and the multi-national on his patch weren’t enough, there’s the issue of Graham’s own sterility and the overly attentive hired hand who’s keen on a very different kind of ploughing.
It’s 2039 and the death rate is now lower than the birth rate. Gabriel Plowright’s has Alzheimer’s disease but is refusing medical intervention despite the fact that his daughter, a Nanotechnologist, can now rebuild his brain from the molecular level up.
The Remedy Syndrome
Rebecca and Joe they face the issue of vaccinating their baby girl. Overwhelmed by all the information they receive, they negotiate their own blueprint for parenting while personality differences force them to question their couple compatibility.
The Brilliant Fassah
Nathan Clenick, sceptic and maths teacher, discovers he can channel an ancient spirit called Fassah. With the help of his neighbour and his wife, Nathan starts to make some serious money. Suddenly, however, his spirit fades and Nathan has some choices to make.
A serial killer is stalking paua poachers. When government turns a blind eye to the killings, questions get raised about what townspeople will tolerate if there is a financial benefit to the community. Set in the small town of Waiwhero, it is part environmental wake-up call, part whodunit, part thriller and part slasher movie.
Wind farming provides the backdrop for The SEEyD Theatre Company’s sixth play Turbine. Mark Lachlan from the electricity company visits the self-sufficient Gusten household in Ohaunui to complete his consultation process before seventy turbines are erected in their ‘backyard’.
Various Schools and Community Venues
30 April-30 June 2012.
For the up-to-date schedule and study guide, go to: www.ensembleimpact.com
As at 30 April 2012:
Pataka, Porirua: 1:25 Wednesday, 2 May
Puki Arki, New Plymouth: 11:00 and 2:00 Saturday, 26 May.
Te Aroha Centre, Te Aroha: 7:30 Monday, 28 May
Hawkins Theatre, Papakura: 10:00 Wednesday, 13 June
Te Kotahitanga, Whangarei: 10:00 Thursday, 21 June
Turner Centre, Kerikeri: 7:00 Friday, 22 June.
Wellington/Waiarapa: April 30 – May 4th.
Christchurch /Wanaka/Queenstown: May 7th – May 11th.
Dunedin/Timaru/Christchurch: May 14 – May 18.
Manawatu/Hawkes Bay/Taranaki: May 21- May 25th.
Hamilton/Tauranga/Coromandel: May 28 – June 1st.
Auckland: June 5th – June 15th.
Northland: June 18th – June 22.
Fight choreography: Allan Henry
Italian coaching: Antonia Bale
Innovative and challenging work plants seeds of further enquiry
Review by Sharon Matthews 29th May 2012
EnsembleImpact’s latest touring show, In Spite of Himself, directed by K. C. Kelly, is an engaging, fast-paced and good-humoured show.
The astonishing level of energy on the part of the EnsembleImpact quartet of actors — Brad McCormick, Bianca Seinafo, Nancy Kniveton and Adam Tatana — is truly remarkable in the face of Spartan performing conditions and a punishing touring schedule: 63 performances to 72 schools including eight community showings in Porirua, New Plymouth, Whangarei, Te Aroha, Kerikeri, Whangamata, Keirunga Homestead, and Papakura.
The show is, however – and this is in no way a reflection on the commitment and skills of this troupe – a strange beast to review. In many ways, a performance designed for a school audience must of necessity become a reversal of what I would consider a ‘normal’ theatrical experience. I assume that the primary intent of any performative piece – dance, theatre, music, performance art or other – is to engage and entertain. But a performance piece aimed at a specific audience must surely conform, even if only in part, to the needs of the ‘client’, such as, for example, the tuitional requirements of the large majority of school drama teachers who (according to EnsembleImpact’s website) make “viewing a professional production” a component of their drama curriculum.
It would be easy, therefore, for any enjoyment to be compressed under a weight of ‘discussion points,’ or to be hijacked by the joint constraints imposed by the demands of a school time-table and the necessity of performing in a bare school hall without any of the theatrical supports which we take for granted – lights, sound, setting – and with a minimum of props and costume. EnsembleImpact are to be congratulated, therefore, that they rise to these multiple challenges with such flair. This is a very well put together and professional piece which evoked a warm response from their Bayfield High School audience.
Performances are strong, with a clear-cut delineation between multiple characters and excerpts, and the show overall is notable for its nicely judged blend of intense drama and comedy. In fact, the minimalist use of props and costumes imposed by such a no-frills touring production becomes a virtue in the hands of this talented team, reflecting a low-fi aesthetic which draws on, as much as it gently mocks, ‘can-do Kiwi values.’
There is a delightful playfulness in their use of props adapted from random objects: a microphone made from wood and gaffer tape; a quasi-James Bond jet-pack constructed from Speight’s beer crates and number 8 wire.
Costumes are basic black, period styling is used with restraint, and the tongue in cheek comedy of The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again is further reinforced by the hero’s truly appalling (in a good way) wig. The sheer panache of this bare-bones story-telling is truly inspirational, and with any luck will encourage the next generation of theatre-makers to experiment.
EnsembleImpact (I quote again from their website) are committed to creating and promoting New Zealand work for all New Zealanders. As part of this, they aim to reach out to a broader audience – through with their schools programme and performances in regional communities – and introduce that audience to the rich treasure trove of New Zealand play writing.
In Spite of Himself is a one hour pick-’n’-mix of excerpts from the multi-award-winning plays devised and performed by the Wellington-based SEEyD Theatre Company. Written by Tim Spite and members of the SEEyD Company, excerpts, in order, are from: The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again, The December Brother; the trilogy inSalt, SEEyD and SAnD; The Remedy Syndrome, The Brilliant Fassah, Paua and Turbine.
No trove can come richer, nor could there be a more invigorating choice of texts for a school audience. In 2002 SEEyD Theatre Company declared that their intention was to “use theatre to creatively present complex scientific issues in an innovative and accessible manner,” and the majority of their plays dramatise the moral and social dilemmas that loom large in the problematic relationship between fragile humanity and scientific developments. International issues of sustainability, ecology and the right of the individual to make free choices are set within a local and domestic context.
I relished this opportunity to revisit past SEEyD productions – a particular favourite being The Remedy Syndrome, a challenging piece which questions (among other things) whether the modern quest for ‘hygiene’ has weakened our bodies’ natural antibodies to the point where medical intervention is an essential tool.
Nonetheless, I initially found this episodic format disconcerting, and wondered whether an audience unfamiliar with the originals could keep up. There seemed to be two oppositional operational frameworks: a desire to include the entire SEEyD Theatre Company oeuvre, and a restrictive time frame tailored for a class-room lesson length and a five minute attention span. This results in an almost dizzying combination of slo-mo attack-trained killer robots, a brief dispute over the ownership of land in colonial 1850s New Zealand, genetically modified crops and mutated bees, invasive medical treatment in the year 2039; invasive medical procedures in the present day, channelling an ancient omniscient spirit, dealing to homicidal paua poachers and resistance to a wind farm.
That said; it was fascinating to watch the response of the audience opposite, which is one of the advantages of a traverse staging. The adventures of Stephen St Claire, James Bond gone kiwi,in The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again,starts the show with a bang and a hee-yah, and sets the pace for what follows.
In most cases, the excerpts chosen maintain the thematic thread writ large in the more substantive plays. Underlying the SEEyD trilogy are consistent tropes of control and choice, and the payments that may be demanded for those choices – literalised in InSalt as English settlers Sarah and Gabriel Plowright come in contact with a Maori woman and a Latin-speaking priest. The chosen scene succinctly raises issues of land acquisition: ownership, trespass, and land values.
I noticed that the audience seemed particularly engaged with the intense SEEyD, in which the owners of an organic farm deal with problems of personal and chemical (in)fertility. The thought-provoking SAnD is set in a futuristic New Zealand at a time when the birth rate is lower than the death rate. Gabriel Plowright’s family face difficult issues of control. Gabriel has Alzheimer’s disease, but refuses medical intervention even though his daughter, a Nanotechnologist, can now rebuild his brain from the molecular level up and restore his memories by download.
After a tense domestic dispute about the pros and cons of vaccination from The Remedy Syndrome, we return to comedy and the marvellous section in The Brilliant Fassah in which Nathan Clenick, sceptic and mono-lingual math teacher, visits a hypnotist in an attempt to cure his narcolepsy, and discovers he can channel an ancient multi-lingual spirit called Fassah.
Paua is about a small town community dealing with a serial killer who is killing paua poachers. The play as a whole is part environmental wake-up call and part slasher movie. The snippet chosen here briefly introduces the topic of paua poaching before it shifts to the scene in Turbine in which an environmentally conscious rural family with an expletive-uttering autistic son (cue giggles from the audience) are being confronted with the prospect of huge wind turbines being constructed over the back fence.
As John Smythe has already noted in an earlier review [see link below], there is enough material in this 50-minute show to inspire class activity in every subject for a year, and a study guide for teachers and classes is available on the EnsembleImpact website for this purpose. Every excerpt can serve as a discussion-starter concerning the ecological and ethical problems either created by a previous generation which this generation will be left to deal with, or being created by this generation for future generations to confront.
I would also suggest a visit to the EnsembleImpact website for those interested in broader issues related to national or local arts and cultural funding. EnsembleImpact have posted the results of their Professional Need(s) survey, which makes for fascinating reading — especially a question about whether the schools surveyed had an ‘arts fee’ in place that will allow students to experience professional theatre. The question: ‘who funds your arts dollar?’ is a resonant one for all those struggling to create theatre in a recession. It is an especially pointed question for those of us lucky enough to live in Dunedin, as revealed by the Dunedin City Council’s inadequate provision for arts and culture funding in their Draft Long-Term Plan / Annual Plan.
So, for many reasons I salute EnsembleImpact, not least because without their commitment, the innovative and challenging work of the SEEyD Theatre Company would not be seen at this lower end of the South Island. I urge all schools, and other communities, to immediately sign up K. C. Kelly and company, and look forward to experiencing any future touring productions.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Much to enjoy and ponder
Review by Lindsay Clark 17th May 2012
They know how to claim attention, this group, and they know how to sustain it. Set cleverly in transverse fashion across the body of a school hall, with the audience facing each other across the playing space, this series of issues-based pieces keeps ideas flowing and the adolescent audience – who could not all have wanted to be there – nicely attentive.
For a start, it’s Agent 009’s cool dispatch of various balaclava-clad attackers and his trialling of new devices. Fast moving fun with a surprise a minute, this is the hook for more serious material to come, and the shock of moving seamlessly into a naturalistic treatment of meaty excerpts from SEEyD’s repertoire is a striking effect.
The issues are topical and debatable, shaped into artfully human situations, where differing points of view and familiar emotions can engage our attention and consideration: a prisoner’s tale, colonial land grabbing, genetic modification of crops, vaccination, hypnotherapy, paua poaching, wind power… It’s a solid line up, presented here as dramatic tasters, frequently lightened by the humorously mismatched points of view being enacted.
The human faces behind the issues are intelligently highlighted by K C Kelly’s taut direction and his quartet of actors – Brad McCormick, Bianca Seinafo, Nancy Kniveton, Adam Tatana – whose varied physical and vocal strengths allow an impressive range of characters to take shape within a few words and actions.
One of the best aspects of this performance is its steadfast refusal to patronise or play ‘teacher’ to a captive ‘learner’ gallery. The material is today’s, the language and attitudes are of our communities, but the hard work of where to take insights and responses next is left admirably negotiable.
In the necessarily brief dialogue after this morning’s performance, the common territory of the excerpts was made clear, but it is doubtful whether this added to the overall experience. Some audience may feel stretched by the leap of imagination and analysis called for, as apparently unconnected scenes rolled by without reflection time between.
The audience I was part of seemed to relish the challenge and although 009 was the favourite nominated by one student, this polished and provocative group provides much more than that to enjoy and ponder. The model of impossibly diluted performances of classic plays, reduced to shreds to fit into a suitable time frame, is a thing of the past. And a good thing too.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
Proving we live in a resource-rich world for play-making
Review by John Smythe 30th Apr 2012
Once more and EnsembleImpact quartet of actors – Brad McCormick, Bianca Seinafo, Nancy Kniveton and Adam Tatana this year – directed K C Kelly, is out on the road to introduce Kiwi schoolkids and regional communities to a rich treasure trove of New Zealand play writing.
She’ll Be Write (2009; to be revived in 2013) extracted scenes from 16 plays to dramatise a history of New Zealand and NZ Theatre. A Baker’s Dozen (2010) sampled 13 plays to create a veritable ‘taste treat’ of scenes from homegrown plays. Womanz Work! (2011) focussed on the perspectives of our women writers through a cross-section of 11 plays.
This year, In Spite of Himself dips into all nine plays that Tim Spite’s multi-award-winning SEEyD Theatre Company* has devised and performed since the germinal SEEyD took root in the 2000 Fringe Festival. Usually issue-based – in 2002 they declared their aim was to “use theatre to creatively present complex scientific issues in an innovative and accessible manner” – most of the plays ingeniously dramatise the social, political and moral dilemmas that confront us in contemporary life, including as a result of past actions and in anticipation of our possible future.
The ‘Bondacious’ The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again (2011), which opens the show, could be seen as an exception, although it does covertly confront energy and intelligence issues. A slo-mo combat sequence serves as a lively warm-up; the gadgets Agent 009 is given in his quest to track down 008, who has infiltrated New Zealand Intelligence will, I venture, hook the boys especially; the reference made to the Tall Poppy Syndrome also makes for a good starting point.
An excerpt from Act 3 of The December Brother finds a young man, Kane, in prison on a murder charge and offers two scenarios – the prosecution and defence cases – to explain the deaths of his family. The question of ‘where truth lies’ in the justice system is always worth confronting.
The SEEyD trilogy is visited according to its historical chronology. InSalt brings English settlers Sarah and Gabriel Plowright face-to-face with a Maori and Italian-speaking “savage” and a Latin-speaking Padre. The scene succinctly raises questions of land ownership, trespassing and what might be a fair price for its acquisition.
SEEyD (where it all started) is captured in a scene where the soil of an organic farm is found to be vulnerable to drift from a neighbouring GE crop, which also threatens natural pollination via the bees from local hives. The intense and riveting dramatic seriousness is alleviated by a satirical ad for ‘Genes Filler’ – a genetically engineered aphrodisiac – played out by two of the characters.
The sequence chosen from the futuristic SAnD refers back to the SEEyD couple who could not have children (until she found out she was fertile but he was ‘shooting blanks’) and focuses on an old man’s choice to refuse medical intervention for dementia, even though nanotechnology is seeking a cure …
At this point, having revisited my reviews of the premiere seasons to remind myself of the context for each excerpt, I want to say loud and clear that the time has surely come for InSalt / SEEyD / SAnD to be performed as a whole. The trilogy was developed for sequential performance in one venue back in 2003/4, but was not picked up by the NZ International Arts Festival, to its everlasting shame (in my humble opinion). The concept certainly fits the values and objectives espoused by Downstage and I call on them to take it on.
But back to the EnsembleImpact excerpts:
Having become new parents, a lawyer and a builder come into conflict over whether their baby girl should be vaccinated, in The Remedy Syndrome. The question here is: are natural antibodies are sufficient, or have we ‘cleaned up’ our world so much that we are more vulnerable than ever without more medical intervention?
A dramatic sequence from The Brilliant Fassah sees Nathan, a mono-lingual maths teacher seeking a cure for narcolepsy, hypnotised and suddenly channelling an ancient multi-lingual spirit called Fassah, who knows a great deal more about the hypnotist than he (Nathan) does. He’s not short on advice, either, on everything from relationships to the scar on his (the hypnotist’s) hand. The unspoken question here (thoroughly explored in the full play) is what would you do if you discovered you had such ‘powers’?
Paua (which exploited the full Downstage space in its premiere production) zeroes in on the murder of a paua poacher and a diver being caught with excess and undersized paua in his bag. Again this serves as a discussion-starter concerning conservation, sustainability and legal processes.
The vexed question of wind generation hits the fan in Turbine, when an environmentally conscientious rural family with an expletive-uttering autistic son is confronted with the prospect of huge wind turbines in their ‘back yard’.
Despite the relative sophistication of the design and production values brought to the original productions (see the awards list below), this no-frill touring production, played in the traverse by a talented team with minimal props and costumes, proves content is ‘king’ when it comes to engaging our interest.
Quite apart from attracting the audience to the more substantive plays, there is enough material in this 50-minute show to inspire class activity in every subject for a year (that’s my assessment, anyway) – and a study guide is available on the EnsembleImpact website for just that purpose. The welcome uptake in evening performances in community halls and regional theatres also means adults need not miss out.
What excites me most about the venture is that it proves to school children, who are constantly exposed to international entertainment products, that they are living in a world that is rich with resources for play-making and story-telling in whatever form they choose. On that level alone – apart from all the other values – these EnsembleImpact seasons are to be applauded and supported.
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*The SEEyD Theatre Company (originally the Claw Footed Tomatoes) has produced:
- SEEyD, The Nucleus Theatre (now known as the SEEyD Space), Te Whaea Basement (2000) – Most Original Production of the Year, Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards;
- InSalt, Studio 77, VUW (2001) – Most Original Production of the Year, CTTA;
- SAnD, Old Herd Street Post Office (2002) – Most Original Production of the Year, CTTA;
- the full trilogy: InSalt, SEEyD and SAnD, (SEEyD Space, Te Whaea Basement (2004); radio adaptation, winner Best Radio Drama, NZ Radio Awards 2005;
- The Remedy Syndrome, Bats Theatre then Circa Studio (2005); nom. outstanding New NZ Play, CTTA;
- The Brilliant Fassah, Circa Two (2006) – James Ashcroft, Most Promising Male Newcomer, CTTA;
- Turbine, Bats (2006); Downstage (2009); nom. Most Original Production of the Year, CTTA;
- Paua, Downstage (2008); Tim Spite, Director of the Year, nom. Production of the Year, CTTA;
- The December Brother, Downstage (2010); Jennifer Lal, Lighting Designer of the Year, CTTA;
- The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again, Downstage (2011); Gillie Coxill, Costume Designer of the Year, CTTA.
Note: My National Business Review critiques of the earlier plays, 2000-2005, are no longer available online. If you would like a copy of any or all, email me at email@example.com
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer