Motherlock / pURe

The Williamson (old fire station) Private Meeting Room, Grey Lynn, Auckland

18/09/2012 - 22/09/2012

Production Details

Confronting Theatre: Addiction, Relationships and Reality  

Playwright and Director Melissa Fergusson brings a stimulating and contemporary piece of theatre to the stage in her latest work, pURe, which is premiering as part of a double-bill with Motherlock.

pURe is high impact dramatic work exploring the dysfunction of relationships through turbulent reality and drug use.  

Will (Alistair Browning) is seduced in to the world of methamphetamine through a surprise encounter with former fling, the calculating Anais (Rebecca Parr).  

pURe consumes all in its path, no relationship is spared from its devastation, and it is difficult to escape its grasp.  

Fergusson said she was inspired to write ‘pURe‘ because “methamphetamine is so prevalent in NZ society and effects families from all walks of life. Meth rapidly hooks people into the cycle of addiction and wastes life away. It takes a person’s soul from them.”

‘pURe’ is endorsed by outspoken activist and life coach, Christina Stroud; published author of two books and founder of the True Potential Trust and Hope of A Nation; organisations chartered to stop the supply and demand of methamphetamine into New Zealand. Stroud has provided expert advice on the use of methamphetamine and its effects to Fergusson and cast to enhance the credibility on stage through enabling the characters to replicate true to life physical and emotional behaviours.

Both Fergusson and Stroud hope people will learn from ‘pURe’ and be motivated to incite positive change in their communities.

Fergusson says, “I want people to be educated and understand how this drug takes people’s lives in to its grip. There may be audience members whose son/daughter is currently using and they are unaware, or even people in the audience itself who have a problem and are in denial. I want people to know methamphetamine is a real problem, potentially knocking at their door”.

‘pURe’ premieres as the second part of a double-bill with Fergusson’s earlier work Motherlock, which has been re-cast, re-mastered and had dramaturgy from Peter Matheson (one of Australia’s leading dramaturgs) with multi-media incorporated in to stage craft. Motherlock was critically acclaimed in its earlier seasons that included showings as part of Auckland, Wellington and Melbourne Fringe Festivals. This time Tara O’Brien is “the mother”, coming off recent successes in “The Intimate Confessions of Room 319,” short film “Going Live” and feature film “Someone to Carry Me.”

charlatan clinic continues to capture audiences and produce provocative, intelligent and insightful professional theatre. Film-making is on the agenda, Motherlock and pURe will be made in to a screen play and filmed 2012/2013. pURe is also set to take the stage as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival 2013. Motherlock and pURe will be performed as a double-bill in to Los Angeles in 2013 to show case its work to a growing USA fan base.

About pURe:

An educational theatre piece written and directed by Melissa Fergusson that explores drug addiction and the destruction it has on relationships.

Performed by:

Alistair Browning (August Osage County, Homeland, Anything Goes) is an accomplished award winning New Zealand Stage and Screen (Lord of The Rings, Siege, Rain), actor with six awards to his name including three New Zealand Theatre Critics Awards for Best Actor.

Rebecca Parr is an award winning British actor and voice artist, with a BA (Hons) in Acting and a Diploma with Distinction in Radio Broadcasting. Rebecca lived in Beijing, China as a full time actor and voice artist for four years and in Auckland, Rebecca has been the lead in over 14 short films, 2 plays and is news reporter Julie Caulder in Shortland Street (up and coming episodes).

About Motherlock:

Motherlock is a brazen contemporary piece of theatre based on the true experiences of New Zealand playwright and director Melissa Fergusson, following one woman’s journey through four pregnancies to different British men.

Performed by:

Tara O’Brien modelled for 3 years in the UK, before moving into her true passion – Acting. Since arriving in New Zealand Tara has taken an active role in the New Zealand film and theatre scene. Recent successes include: The Intimate Confessions of Room 319, short film Going Live and feature film Someone to Carry Me.

Further information

pURe/Motherlock double-bill
The Williamson Private Meeting Room, Grey Lynn, Auckland
Premiere on September 17 (invite only), then
18 – 22 (public performances) – 7pm.
Tickets are available through  

Sex and drugs but no rock ’n’ roll

Review by Lexie Matheson 19th Sep 2012

The theatre can be a curly place at time, a place to watch – and engage, if we’re lucky – with souls unravelling.  

The late, great Bruce Mason, an affectionate arm around my shoulders, once reminded me that there are no plays about happy marriages and that you can’t tell an audience that war is hell by showing them that war is hell. He said there were reasons for this and that they lay in the innately voyeuristic nature of humans. 

We love revelling in the anguish of others is what I took him to mean. The coin always has a reverse, he said, and that can be humour or, in the case of war, stoicism and courage.

I’ve never forgotten those wise words.

It’s been a wild seven day ride. I’m reminded of Kerouac as I get into my car for the 25 minute ‘on the road’ drive home.  The story of love, Kerouac wrote, is a long sad tale ending in graves.  It felt pertinent at that moment – and still does today.

Resonances. I sat for a few minutes thinking about what I’d just experienced and the three other productions I’d had the privilege of seeing and writing about already this week. It’s a rare privilege to write about the work of others, a responsibility I’m sure we all take seriously.  I certainly do.

Adding the eternal quest for intimacy (Motherlock), drug addiction (pURe)to the three earlier themes – depression (The Boy and the Bicycle), love and dementia (Hypothesis One) and finding ways to make love last forever (Honey), I understood, somewhat, why I felt more than a tad disjangled.

I was meant to. That’s what the theatre experience is supposed to do for you.

If your audience goes away feeling something deeply then you’ve been successful. If what I’ve experienced in the last week is any reflection – and I am certain it is – then theatre in Auckland is in excellent, if somewhat crumpled, hands.

Satisfied, I turned on the radio in the car and, as if to remind me that expressionistic angst was alive and well outside The Williamson. I got a blast of a Builder’s dubstep remix of Tom Waits’ What’s He Building.  Sometimes the universe just won’t leave us alone.

Melissa Fergusson is like that: once she’s got you she just won’t leave you alone.

If you decide to experience her work, expect no compromise; expect confessional, warts-and-all, autobiographical, in-your-face theatre. It’s what the previously staged Motherlock is all about and, as a unique form; it’s developed even further in her new work pURe. 

I suspect it’s ‘I like it / I like it not’ theatre – and I like it!

As with most of what Fergusson does, the venue is non-traditional. The Williamson started life as the Ponsonby Fire Station and has been reinvented many times but never better than now. It’s a quaint café and the Private Meeting Room is anything but your standard meeting room. Upstairs, the room is next to a tastefully decorated and beautifully lit small bar.

The performance area seats approximately 40 and it’s a bit of a squeeze; a nice squeeze though, intimate, welcoming and immediate. The general lighting is subdued, the seating comprised of Bentwood chairs of the non-squeak variety and it’s all very tasteful and attractive.

There’s a three level performance area: floor level, a riser at about 20cm and another at about a metre in height. There are times when it gets a bit tight particularly in pURe but that doesn’t detract from the action in either work. At audience left there’s a flat screen TV via which a number of stationary images can be accessed and live action can, from time to time, be seen.

For Motherlock, a comfy, high-backed chair is centre stage, various fabric items are draped across it and everything melds attractively with the ark-shaped ceiling of the room, the two cathedral windows at the rear and a rather magnificent faux medieval chandelier suspended overhead. The Mother (Tara O’Brien) is onstage preshow and there is a sense of a less than conventional breaking down of the fourth wall immediately as she’s close enough to touch.

I’m not going to suggest that either of these productions is easy going because they’re not. They’re complex, straight down the middle, experiential dramas. They make us ask why we go to the theatre, why this experience is different and, of course, whether we like it or not. I’m not ashamed to say that I like it. I’m also happy to say that, on a different level, they left me drained. I should go further and suggest that some of the content could be triggering so don’t say you weren’t alerted by the kind lady on the left in the back row. [See further notes below]

Motherlockis a fascinating work. It doesn’t rely on gaining audience empathy for its single character but simply says this is how it was. Tara O’Brien is an attractive performer both physically and vocally. She mostly manages the emotional complexities of the text and the litany of lovers and others who inhabit the narrative.

Motherlock is essentially the story of “one woman’s true life experiences of four pregnancies to different British men.” So says the programme.

It would be easy to dismiss this as fly-on-the-wall confessional stuff and to some extent it is but it’s also a lot more than that. The text, at once blunt and uncompromising – “I asked him to leave” pitched alongside “he rearranged my womb as though he was going through my handbag” and lyricallyphilosophical: ‘‘my mother was the one who always accepted my truth” and the richly significant “why do we try to use our bodies for intimacy” – it is largely taut and exciting.

There are moments of black humour – essential in a journey of this nature which obdurately records an impressive exercise in world-wide bed-hopping from New Zealand to London and back again with the odd sojourn in Papua New Guinea.

There are fun episodes such as the exploding vehicle and subsequent police car experience but overall it’s an unapologetic and serious autobiographical chunk of someone’s life.

It’s a big journey for the actor and mostly O’Brien is up for it. It could, in lesser hands, be a bit of a dirge, a horror story maybe, but that’s not what Fergusson has written, nor is it what O’Brien plays. She’s likable, touching, staunch and not at all self-pitying. She handles the massive responsibility of an episodic and somewhat expressionistic text in an appropriately claustrophobic space with relative ease and will, as she slides further into the role, find a variation of pace that will make the work even more accessible than it currently is. 

The play ends with a reprise of the text that began the journey, just so we remember that this has been a very personalised, one woman exploration of ‘what is a mother’. What she’s given us is, of course, much more than that. 

Fergusson is a gutsy playwright and I admire her for that. We are ultimately our own raw material – even The Ridges prove that – and Fergusson has contributed significantly to a genre of work that opens up the soul and allows us a peep inside. It’s a take-home peep so don’t expect to experience this work and walk away feeling the same as you did when you arrived. (I can’t say you’ll get the same from Sally and Jaime, however.) 

Part Two of this two hour plus interval evening is Fergusson’s new work pURe. 

The set has changed and we move from a stylised whole-world setting to a series of small and personal spaces that are realistic in nature. There’s even a fridge! 

The central area has a table, wine glasses, cubes for seats, the lighting is subdued. It’s clearly someone’s home. The upper raised area has throws and cushions, again probably someone’s flat. 

The house is full and there’s an expectant murmur pre-show. The lights fade and we see a body in space, in the semi-darkness, lurking. It’s a man.

The programme has alerted us to the fact that this is a five-hander. It’s also told us that pURe is about drug addiction and the havoc it wreaks on relationships.

The lights come up and we meet Will (Alistair Browning).

I’m excited by this because Browning is one of our senior practitioners; a courageous actor always prepared to take risks; a man who always delivers.* Equally at home on the stage or the screen and equally comfortable with the classics or contemporary work, Browning is the type of actor you want in all your productions. A coup, Ms Fergusson, well done!

Will, in confession mode, tells us he’s an addict. He gives a once over of how it’s come to pass. He’s everyman, the point being that, there for the grace of God, go all of us.

We find out that he’s divorced, employed, has a daughter who lives with him and his life is pretty much OK. Apart from the addiction – he’s angry about that. Otherwise, pretty much OK.

Browning eats up the text, spits it back at us, pause, phrases with care, he’s articulate, tells us everything, he’s the master communicator hiding nothing.

We see him with daughter Tomasina (Moana McCarney). There’s a lovely father daughter scene, snuggly affectionate stuff. It’s happy families and we are warmed by it.

Enter Anaïs (Rebecca Parr). She’s gorgeous, sexy; he’s celibate (has been for 12 months he tells us) and it’s all downhill from there. She’s a junkie – methamphetamine – and works in a book shop. He asks “do I know you?” She replies “you were in my bed sixteen years ago.” She’s fidgety, annoying, a user in every imaginable way, she introduces a very compliant Will to his downfall and she never thinks twice about it. He asks naïve questions like “what’s it like to be …?” and they share the drugs. Oh, do they ever share the drugs.

The actors are given plenty to do, lots of naturalistic action playing, and the text is minimal at times which leaves Fergusson’s powerful subtext to scream at us. We want to scream right back.

Tomasina has a boyfriend. His name is Cole (Alex MacDonald) and he plays rugby. He’s a bit of a sleaze and eventually Tomasina calls him on it. A mightily stoned Will meets the boyfriend in a scene rich with comic potential and the actors milk it for what it’s worth. It’s funny and touching and Browning is sublime.

AsAnaïs and Will delve deeper into their shared world of drug use and addiction, they are strangely connected by a sixteen-year previous shared love of poetry and in particular the self destructive Sylvia Plath’s Ariel. You’ll remember, I’m sure –

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else …

It’s perfect, and Fergusson, having chosen Plath to enrich and connect her narrative, doesn’t leave her there – but no spoilers, sorry …

The web unravels … And they share more drugs.

It’s a bleak and nihilistic world that Fergusson crafts in pURe. Tomasina and Cole hit crisis point. He can’t do serious and she wants him and not just as a fuck buddy. Her Mum, it turns out, is a lesbian, she even has a girlfriend. He seems not to deal with it and she seems to not really care. They’re important these throw-aways and there are quite a lot of them. There’s fine writing. I’m engrossed.

Then it’s curtains – as it always is – and the world turns.

The acting throughout is fine, Browning outstanding. He does spun better than DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries and that’s praise indeed. His nods are to die for. He has a depth and maturity that lends itself to the requirements of a Fergusson script and this is nowhere better evidenced than at the play’s height.

The crisis comes, but it’s not quite what we anticipate and the play cranks itself sideways in a clever realignment. It’s a particularly effective ploy and allows for a possible light at the end of the tunnel for Will where previously there seemed to have been none. 

As if to reinforce this, Will’s opening Narcanon speech is repeated – “I am chasing the dragon. I am in control” – before we are given a sweet, domestic coda.  Sylvia Plath’s The Departure is part of it.

Retrospect shall not often such penury-
Sun’s brass, the moon’s steely patinas,
The leaden slag of the world-
But always expose

The scraggy rock spit shielding the town’s blue bay
Against which the brunt of outer sea
Beats, is brutal endlessly.’

And the answer, as any woman knows, is chocolate.

pURe is an excellent script, fully realised. It’s well directed and has performances of serious quality. See it for Browning alone. Don’t be fooled though, it’s not a comfortable night. It’s a rough, but thoroughly worthwhile, ride.

As a pairing the two plays work well together and integrate into a fine night of challenging theatre. Fergusson has great courage and it’s to her credit that she is attracting quality people to perform her work; credit to her that Charlatan Clinic continues to present work that is different and in non-traditional venues – The Williamson is a doozy! – and credit to her that she is building a loyal audience for her work.

I left the car tuned to Radio Hauraki before I went into the venue. It turned out to a fine piece of intuition as Motherlock / pURe is an evening of sex and drugs but no rock ’n’ roll.

I needed a blast of Builder to end the night. You might, too.

– – – – – –
*I’ve seen Browning’s Hamlet, shared the stage with his excellent Antony in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and followed his career with considerable interest and admiration. He’s won awards (‘Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film’ at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards 2001 for Rain)and been in almost every TV series and film that’s come out of New Zealand since the year dot – Damrod in the final two films of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Barry Harrison in Shortland Street, and my personal favourite, De Jong in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) to name a mere smattering.

Eugenio Barba, in conversation with Maria Shevtsova (Reinventing Theatre) refers to making theatre as ‘an act of provocation’ and this is what Charlatan Clinic – and Fergusson – specialise in. 

Barba, founder of the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA) and board member of The Drama Review, Performance Research and New Theatre Quarterly, goes on to say that this type of work is “nevertheless recognized for its artistic, innovative, or socio-cultural efficacy.”

Bravo to that!

He reminds us that Stanislavski, Meyerhold, Vakhtangov and Brecht were described as pioneers and came from outside the theatre establishment.They had, he says, “a completely different mentality from the theatre people of the establishment; and they erupted in the field of performance because of specific personal obsessions and intimate wounds.” 

He may well have said the same about Fergusson whose personal obsession is with an interiority which, along with the aforementioned, involves “an emotional nebula which prompts a meaning to our life and actions.”

As with Barba’s understanding of Meyerhold and Brecht in particular, for Fergusson, like it or lump it, “defeats and wounds are part of her innermost interiority”:an interiority she exposes for our most intimate examination.


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