08/10/2015 - 10/10/2015


Production Details

“We’re here! We’re Queer! Now what the hell does that mean?”

Ancient Greece comes crashing into the modern day by way of 14th Century Italy in Janus, a collectively devised piece premiering at the 2015 Dunedin Pride Festival. Over a year in the making, Janus began as a series of independent vignettes devised by the Clsterfck Collective, an all-queer group of writers, poets and performers brought together by Daniel Goodwin, Jess Green and Alayne Dick.

Featuring music, dance, and sketches, the varied ideas were eventually shaped into a coherent narrative and tied together with a main story arc based on Dante’s Inferno. Inferno is the section of The Divine Comedy describing the recognition and rejection of sin; in this adaptation, we follow Meckledore (Mac Veitch), a straight rapper with a very high opinion of his own value to the queer community, as he is guided through hell by the ghostly Sappho of Lesbos (Kerry Lane).

On his journey through hell, Meckledore meets a range of people serving their punishments for crimes against the queer community, including the loud-mouthed and obnoxious Johnno the Heterosexual (Samuel Farr), a homophobic film producer (Ashley Stewart), and a group of sinners condemned to an eternity in one of the deepest circles of the inferno. All the while they are trailed by Sappho’s incompetent, pop-culture obsessed sidekicks, the former succubi Phobos and Deimos (Feather Shaw and Megan Wilson).

Woven through this main narrative are a series of vignettes including dance choreographed by Hahna Briggs, music by Zac Nicholls, and miscellaneous reflections on the queer experience of life, parties, Tinder, and the end of the world. 

The play deals with themes of violence, erasure and homophobia, but is at its core a story about stories. As befits a piece written by well over a dozen people, Janus is about recognising and celebrating the value in each individual’s experience, as well as learning that sometimes the best thing we can do as an ally is step back and listen.

Counterpoint is very excited to be working with such a large and diverse cast, as well as the lovely folks over at Dunedin Pride.

Dunedin Community Gallery
October 8 – October 10 at 7:30pm
General Admission: $20 | Concession: $15
Tickets can be purchased online or on the door (cash only) 

In collaboration with Dunedin Pride
Generously supported by Dunedin City Creative Communities

Mac Veitch – Meckledore, Janus
Kerry Lane – Sappho
Megan Wilson – Deimos, Megan, Child
Marama Pipepe – Gender Ranter, Erin the Dog Enthusiast, Ellen
Feather Shaw – Phobos
Tess Hazelhurst – GALA Presenter, Child, Mandy the Drunken Partygoer
Samuel Farr – Tinder Douche, Johnno the Heterosexual, Singer
Joshua Coles-Braun – Tinder Douche, Sebastian, Woman
Katherine Louise-Kennedy – Singer/Guitarist, Deer
Ashley Stewart – the Ferryman 

Hahna Briggs
Hannah Rouse
Samuel Wilson Farr
Katherine Louise Kennedy
Megan Wilson
Tess Hazelhurst 

Playwright:  Clusterfck Collective 
Director: Anna Sinton 
Stage Managers: Adam Rance, Ben McCarthy 
Operator:  Jordon Te Ohaere  

Theatre ,

Commitment, courage and creativity

Review by Terry MacTavish 11th Oct 2015

Only yesterday I was spinning in a taxi through Sydney’s gay heart, the driver squirming as my white-haired companion enquired brightly about all the rainbow flags, and now here I am, still slightly giddy, in our Community Gallery, surrounded by Dunedin’s own queer art works, watching the Clsterfck (all that’s missing is u) Collective’s intrepid effort to rework Dante’s Inferno. Gay Pride Week for sure.

Incredibly, it is 40 years since Gay Sweatshop originated in London, when some of its first plays were scripted by the likes of Edward Bond, Jill Posener and Martin Sherman. Sherman’s Passing By was described by Simon Callow as the most rewarding acting experience of his life, though initially Callow had worried the company might become a ghetto. “What next? Plays by accountants for accountants?” 

Increasingly, however, collaborative scripting was seen as the most democratic process for radical theatre, with its sincerity and inclusiveness, despite its potential for confusion and chaos. It is into this risky territory Clsterfck has bravely ventured, taking the slogan “We’re queer, we’re here,” and adding, “Now what the hell does that mean?” 

More than a dozen of its members have drawn on their own experiences of what it means to be queer to create a devised work that is a curious blend of myth, soundscape, dance and revue. 

This makes for a show that is somewhat rough around the edges, even a little muddled at times, but presented with an honest conviction that compensates.  The transitions are somewhat clumsy (this young company could learn from the dextrous handling of scene changes achieved in the Fortune’s recent productions) but director Anna Sinton has capitalised on the energy of the cast and their faithfulness to the stories they are sharing.

Wisely, the production does not take itself too seriously, even though the storyline is borrowed from one of the great classics: The Divine Comedy by Dante. The eponymous Janus is the Roman god who faces both past and future at once; the god of transitions. Very apt. 

In place of the troubled poet Dante is the cheerfully obnoxious Meckledore, acted with confident gusto by Mac Veitch. Like Scrooge in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Meckledore must be taught to see the error of his ways in order to earn redemption. (And perhaps a spot on the Ellen Degeneres Show!) His spirit guide is not Roman Virgil, but, appropriately, Greek Sappho, played by Kerry Lane, whose poise and dignity provide the necessary balance. 

Meckledore, a rapper, is giving an atrociously smug acceptance speech after winning an award. He employs every ludicrous cliché as he assures us of his support for the LGBT community and flashes his rainbow ‘Ally’ badge, while carefully identifying himself as completely heterosexual. 

To teach him a much-needed lesson, he is abducted by Sappho, flanked by cutely wriggling and giggling little demons (Megan Wilson and Feather Shaw) who prod him with plastic pitchforks. The gagged and near-naked Ferryman (Ashley Stewart), once a homophobic producer, drags him through the nine Circles of Hell so he can see what punishment awaits him if he does not mend his ways.  

The depiction of the Circles differs wildly, from chatty capping-style sketches to neatly ironic dance sequences choreographed by Hahna Briggs. Some scenes are chilling, like the drifting souls of ‘different’ children driven to suicide, or genuinely moving, like Joshua Coles-Braun’s slow, lyrical interpretation of a gender-fluid character whose time has not yet come.

Others are comical, like Samuel Farr’s desperately bored heterosexual condemned to an eternity of answering stupid questions about his sex life. (When did you know? How do you do it? Aren’t you handsome enough to get a boyfriend?)

It may seem that Meckledore’s crime – of being a patronising arsehole – is not that unforgiveable. I’ve just signed All Out’s petition to save a Tunisian boy jailed and tortured for homosexuality: he probably would not consider having to listen to some wanker endlessly boasting “one of my best friends is gay” was too bad. But in the West at least, times are a-changing, and Clsterfck shows the pitfalls of being fashionably different today, in a succession of amusing sketches, with some light-hearted song by Katherine Louise Kennedy.

Each vignette is illuminating as well as funny. My favourite is the scene in which a straight, wonderfully naïve party goer (Tess Hazelhurst) expresses her increasingly conflicted feelings for a delightfully laid-back lesbian (Marama Pipepe).  The audience rocks with laughter over the disastrous ‘Tinder douches’ attempting to date a young woman who describes herself as ‘Bi’. Basically, every one of the males is after a threesome, and not one that includes a rival stud.

The audience is seated on three sides, which increases the sense of involvement, while the lighting, often a problem in such a space, is managed so as not to be too distracting. The somewhat surprising conclusion to Meckledore’s journey appears to satisfy. Most patrons are eager to stay for the discussion after the show, and their response is enthusiastic. They don’t seem to be people who need a lesson in tolerance. Is this ghetto theatre as Callow feared, preaching to the choir? 

I am delighted to recognise an enlightened friend, who teaches theatre texts that deal with gender issues. How has she found Janus? She tells me she has been having horrible flashbacks to the 80s: the conversations with ‘open-minded’ people who could barely conceal their ‘nasty underlying oozing’ curiosity. “Look at how the world has changed – not!” she says. “It is still too, too hard to talk about gender issues.” She worries whether she herself is using the right words as linguistics change, is showing respect for fluid identities, not drowning the struggling voices of those who are still seeking to define themselves. 

Struggling voices: this is the value of Janus. It is a platform for these writers and performers to express themselves, and all that is asked of us is to listen.  My friend, like me, is moved by the courage of the young performers, and fearful for them. Even in more liberal countries, even today, declaring difference can be fraught with danger, and it is impressive that Clsterfck has stated that all in the writing team are queer.

Of course an actor should be able to take on any persona and invest it with truth, but when an audience member, trembling with emotion, comes up after the show and blurts out, “That’s me, you told my story! Thank you, thank you!” why, then it can seem a betrayal to reply, “Sorry, I’m just an actor, it’s not my story at all.” 

Gay Sweatshop, breaking fresh ground in the seventies, receiving bomb threats, made it policy only to involve homosexuals, concluding, “only a man or woman who had lived the life they had led could truthfully portray it”. While many actors would debate that conclusion, for the young collective of Clsterfck this is fresh ground.

Drew Griffiths, founding member of Gay Sweatshop, said, “We opened a new area of discussion… we started people thinking.” When my thoughtful friend says, “I worry that I am also that person, who seems to be showing respect but is only exhibiting my own tolerance,” I can see that Clsterfck too is starting people thinking and asking questions. 

So Clusterfuck, we need you, your commitment, courage and creativity. Even when Pride Week is over, keep those rainbow flags flying!


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