Old Knit World, Left Bank (off Cuba Mall), Wellington

26/02/2015 - 13/03/2015

NZ Fringe Festival 2015 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

Get lost on a dark, magical adventure 

Labyrinthine is an exciting, ambitious new show from the team who brought you the award-winning, sell-out season of last year’s hit Fringe production, Traces. Ghosts From the Archives

As well as being a stunningly designed production, Labyrinthine also has an important story to tell. “This has been a sneaky work-in-progress over the last few years. It had been forming in the back of my mind until I began discussing the concept with people and realised this is a work that has a strong voice, and is a story that needs to be shared,” says Arthur.

Director Tabitha Arthur says to think of a dark Alice in Wonderland and the beloved classic film The Dark Crystal. “Labyrinthine is a dark fairy tale for grown-ups; the world is surreal and surprising, poetic and playful.”

The concept for Labyrinthine originated from a time in Arthur’s life when she had felt she failed on an important project, and was surprised to be subsequently invited to direct a musical, [title of show]. “It was the first musical I had ever directed – I wondered why on earth the producers wanted me! Then I listened to a song from the show, ‘Die, Vampire, Die!’ which is about those voices you hear inside your head that say, ‘You suck! You can’t do this; who do you think you are?!’ I got goosebumps when I heard it – I couldn’t believe others felt like this, and that they’d made a Broadway musical about it! So of course I directed that show.” She goes on to reveal “[title of show] made me feel a heck of a lot stronger, and that experience drives me to make work that matters. Labyrinthine has shades of the themes from ‘Die, Vampire, Die!’, the times in which we lose confidence in ourselves”. 

With Labyrinthine the audience will experience something fresh and unexpected from a traditional theatre environment. In this ambitious promenade performance, the audience will wear masks so they remain anonymous voyeurs as they traverse the labyrinth-like environment. An exciting, immersive experience, Labyrinthine brings the world alive for the audience in a sensorial way; smell the forest, taste the delicious baking, feel a curious mist on your skin… Wander through mysterious forests, surreal waiting rooms, and a crochet-and-knitted world of syrupy-sweet grandmotherly affection – or is it…?

Labyrinthine will have very limited audience numbers, and Assistant Producer Franki Petrie warns people to book early. “Last year our show Traces sold out, and we had waiting lists every night. Although a fabulous problem to have, it was heart-breaking to have to turn people away.” 

Part of the New Zealand Fringe Festival,
Labyrinthine plays 26 February – 13 March 2015.
The location will be announced closer to the time.
Audience numbers are strictly limited.
For more details, and to book tickets, visit

Jessica Aaltonen
Josh HoptonStewart
Stacey Neale
Cathy-Ellen Paul
Hazel Oxborough
Maria Jones
Lisa Aaltonen
Alan Carabott

Assistant Producer: Franki Petrie
Composer: Ryan Smith
Production Designer: Rachel Hilliar
Technical Producer: Jason Longstaff
Costumes and Masks: Louise Macpherson
Props and Masks: Jonathan KingstonSmith

Thur, Fri, Sat only

Where Lost is found

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 04th Mar 2015

Yet another production that delves into the mind, questioning one’s self esteem and how to stop sinking into the depths of depression is Labyrinthine.

Although promenade theatre, where the audience moves from space to space, is not a new or original idea, in this production it does create some quirky and interesting aspects to it.

And although not known until afterwards when the programmes are handed out, the main character is Lost who leads the audience, all who are given masks to wear, on a journey through a labyrinth of passages and rooms.  Along the way many masked characters appear. There are 15 in the cast, creating confrontations for both Lost and the audience.

To explain more would be to give away the many fascinating surprises that turn up; suffice to say it was a bit like Alice in Wonderland meeting the Greek god Hades and his henchmen.


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Experiential but not profound

Review by John Smythe 27th Feb 2015

Self esteem. We all want it but where do you get it? And how do you lose it? And when you do fall down that hole, how do you climb out again?

Given the declared driver for Labyrinthine is “those voices in your mind that tell you ‘you suck’, ‘you can’t do this’, ‘who do you think you are’…”, it would be a very ruthless critic who said this show sucks. Who would he think he was? 

Fortunately Labyrinthine doesn’t suck. Nor does it blow a breath of fresh air into contemporary theatre practice, let alone blow my proverbial socks off. But who says it should?

Director Tabitha Arthur’s programme note describes it as an “ambitious work”, and repeats the (I believe misguided) notion that immersive and interactive theatre is intrinsically more interesting and involving than theatre “where the audience are over there, watching in the dark, while the performers are working over there in the light.”

A claim also seems to be made that this play has therapeutic powers, given just talking about it to a “theatre-curious tourist”, who was feeling she didn’t know what she was doing with her life and was “lost”, apparently brought tears to her eyes because she realised she was not alone, and it turned her life around. That’s as maybe; the question is what does the experience of Labyrinthine actually offer?

Let me say at this point that, as a layman, I do not believe it is a remedy for anyone suffering clinical depression, or other forms of mental illness that involve irrational or distorted perceptions of their personal experiences. Whether the immersive nature of the Labyrinthine has the potential to stimulate a psychotic episode in an at-risk person is something only an expert could answer. But it does raise the question of whether ‘arm’s length theatre’ – where audience members respond empathetically and intellectually in the relative privacy of their seat “in the dark” – might be more socially responsible.

And so to the show itself. You have to know there’s an alleyway down to the left of Viva Mexico towards the far end of Left Bank Arcade (off Cuba Mall) to find the venue itself. Just gathering in that alley with others, mostly strangers probably, on the shared assumption this is the place, may, in itself, be relevant preparation for a show about self-doubt versus self-esteem.

The venue accommodates about ten audience members, who progress through a number of spaces. Initially we sit to observe a young woman in storybook clothes – a flimsy pale green frock and a short brown hooded cape – in a forest of notes dangling on string, interspersed with glowing orbs. The notes are upbeat – “Just keep smiling”; “Have a lemonade” – and she sings an upbeat song to reflect this, until the lights dim and two black-caped figures wearing malevolent-looking masks glide in to replace the notes with negative ones.   

The girl, called Lost in the programme variously played by Jessica Aaltonen, Hazel Oxborough and Cathy-Ellen Paul, is the person whose journey we share. One-by one we are summoned into the adjoining spaces (black plastic walls separate the different environments) … and I won’t be too specific about what happens next because the trepidation of not knowing is a germane to your experience.

Suffice to say that from behind our own self-selected masks we get to experience the aforementioned voices and put-downs in different ways, to write down our greatest fears (although nothing overt happens with that) and to transition back into a place of light and joy. And there’s a neat trick done with magically lighting up orbs. Oh, and en-route, look out for the amazing blinking eyes in a mask-maker’s studio …

Some of the actors (there are 13 in the cast) work quite well in the white, grey and black character masks (made by Jonathan Kingston-Smith), while others seem to have had no training in this convention. Likewise the audience is obliged to contradict the whole idea of character masks by hiding behind them, whereas the provocation in theatrical terms is to discover, embody and express their characteristics with total emotional honesty.

It has to be said that character masks – be they commedia, larval, or oriental – can be extremely powerful and have been known to ‘possess’ wearers who are not properly trained in a safe environment. It is probably better, therefore, that we have no idea what we ourselves are wearing, even if we feel short-changed by the lack of animation in the masked faces around us.

As Arthur intends, we get to “travel through as anonymous voyeurs”, which is not that different from sitting in the dark, is it? 

Over all there are opportunities to engage, from a personal standpoint, with the common human experience of self-doubt, crises of confidence, feeling isolated and alienated … As for the way we transition, there is no rhyme or reason offered; it’s just a state of mind. Fair enough I suppose.

While Ryan Smith’s music and song lyrics (written with Tabitha Arthur, Moragn Bach and the cast) sound rather cheesy to my ears, his sound design throughout adds a lot to the feel of the experience. We get to touch tea cups (in fact one was ripped from my fingers and it hurt) but if smell and taste are part of it, as suggested in the programme, I have no recollection of them.

For me there is nothing profound or moving about the experience; I might even call it rather trite. And on balance I think that’s a good thing because if it did dig deep and press psychological buttons, I doubt this well-meaning group would be equipped to deal with the potential outcomes.

As an experiment “in the setting of the give-anything-a-go NZ Fringe Festival”, there is every chance the makers of this show will learned a thing or three by doing it, which entirely justifies it existence. The season is sold out so it makes no difference whether I recommend it or not. 


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