BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
22/09/2015 - 26/09/2015
Respect existence or expect resistance
“Society has parted men from man, neglectful of the human heart”
There are defining moments in people’s lives which cause change, a transition, moments that create a movement internally and shape them into a unique being, created by these experiences. Our personal experiences are vastly different from each other’s, and so, we are all by nature diverse. We are all different. We are in a constant state of change.
The Whitireia Stage & Screen students are proud to present ME/YOU/US/THEM; part verbatim, part fact, part fiction, it is an exciting new devised work exploring the tolerance/intolerance of diversity.
Both confronting and questioning, moving and revelatory, this is an honest and personal insight into those who live with labels, of social conditioning, of how people see themselves changing from one state to another.
The company will share real stories from the transgender, disabled, mental health and wider communities, posing the questions: How do we deal with change? What expectations do we place on ourselves and society? How do we accept reality as opposed to the ideal?
Through the highs and the lows, the acceptance and the hurt, ME/YOU/US/THEM aims to celebrate, not condemn, to highlight and normalise perceived differences, and to show that society is constantly transitioning.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee.
BATS Theatre, Wellington
Tuesday the 22nd to Saturday the 26th of September 2015
Yasmin de Visser
Lighting Designer: Tony Black
Sound Designer: James Dunlop
Photography: Zoe Webb
Poster: Allen Murrell
Technical Operator: Tony Black
Verbatim , Theatre ,
Review by John Smythe 23rd Sep 2015
An overarching theme for these first decades of the 21st century is embracing diversity versus intolerance of difference. “Respect existence or expect resistance” is how The Breakthrough Company puts it in the programme note for me/you/us/them.
When it comes to resistance, however, the optimism we may feel at our growing understanding and acceptance of each other’s different ways of being is offset, at the opposite extreme, by fundamentalist atrocities in Western Asia / The Middle East and parts of Africa. Globally humanity’s timeless quest for ‘yin-yang’ equilibrium morphs, as ever, into an infinity of conflict.
Fully devised by Whitireia’s third year Stage and Screen students, using “real words from real people” who claim to only be speaking for themselves, “me/you/us/them explores what difference means to people and celebrates the diversity that surrounds us. Part verbatim, part fact, part fiction.” Using the particular to imply the general is a very valid and well-seasoned theatrical device.
Comparison with the recent LGBT/Queer-oriented Scene, which played out on the same BATS Propeller Stage last week, is inevitable, not least because me/you/us/them also recounts transgender experiences in some detail. But absent, this time, is that special quality of ‘being’ achieved through direct connection with the recorded verbatim interview material and emphasised by ‘becoming’ different characters as different voices are channelled.
The whole show starts with each actor – Mark Atkin, Lucy Barclay, Tommy Berridge, Justine Bouchard, Sasha Delamere, Yasmin de Visser, Victoria Gillespie, Joel Hardwick, Rachel Harrison, Matthew Savage, Matt Sole – stating a name and defining their point of difference with such phrases as: “I was bullied at school”; “I’m gay”; “My family is dead”; “My biggest fear is being forgotten” … As an exercise in clear vocal communication it has to be said not all of them pass.
Although it’s clear they are not the actual people they name, these character ‘thumbnails’ whet our appetite for a show that aims “to raise our own awareness around issues existing in our society” concerning “difference”. But it turns out the stories that emerge are not directly related to those initial statements.
We can only guess which words are verbatim, which represent fact in a more edited form, and which play into fictional realms. As well as solo voices we get group manifestations of single voices, often enhanced with pleasing physicality, including a recurring signing motif which is impressive in itself, although the difference of being deaf in a hearing world is not directly addressed.
Some verbally poetic sequences, well rendered, bring a different quality of expression to someone’s subjective reality – most memorably as a way of sharing what it is to be bi-polar.
An interview with a woman who has escaped from a closed religious community and so lost contact with her family speaks to the quest for self-acceptance as much as acceptance by others, not least because sexual abuse was involved. It reminds me of interviews on Campbell Live about Gloriavale but I have no idea if that was the actual source material.
A French woman gives us – or most of us – the experience of being ‘other’ when she speaks to us in French. An ensemble rendition of ‘Silent Night’ in French leads to an impassioned speech that intensifies the experience for us while the ensemble hold what appear to be family photos: each with their own. What they do with them and her final sentence, in English, have a dramatic and thought-provoking impact.
The most richly dramatised sequence involves a mother character whose four children are manifested in stylised ways by the ensemble. At the first pass they are idealised, then they are real-ised. When it transpires we are witnessing hopes and dreams in conflict with fears and forebodings, the richness intensifies. Apart from better-written because it is more ‘showing’ than ‘telling’ and therefore more ‘three dimensional’, a more active energy is generated by someone whose present state is stimulated by a future possibility (rather than pushed into being from the past).
The underlying quest is to achieve happiness by accepting – indeed celebrating – our own differences and helping others to do the same. The freedom to be who you are and do what you want [assuming you are not a homicidal bigot, presumably] is declared to be “a vital part of being happy” – and who can argue with that?
When the show concludes with the same name/phrase introductions, this time each actor seems to own their name and differentiating phrase. This is a book-ending device, tehn, for saying we’re all different – including each of us in the audience – and in the end it’s the same difference. “Vive la différence,” as our French friend would say.
The BATS Propeller Stage is used to full advantage, enhanced by Tony Black’s lighting, and James Dunlop’s sound design emphasises a sense of impending … something. It feel like doom initially but turns out to be happiness.
Overall me/you/us/them offers an absorbing hour-long demonstration of individual and ensemble performance skills, which I guess is the object of the exercise. As a piece of theatre, however, it does feel as if we have been treated to an array of enticing ingredients which have yet to be wrought into the full banquet for head, heart and soul that good theatre can be.
Once more I feel compelled to note that this trend of creating performance without the skills of a writer and director too often reduces the result to a list of ingredients with potential, if not something less than the sum of its parts. Audiences don’t come to watch actors perform (unless they are family or friends), they want performance to be a means to some greater end. It takes alchemy to achieve that and I hope these students will make that their future objective.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer