Noisy Shadows

BATS Theatre, Wellington

21/03/2006 - 25/03/2006

Production Details

Written by Branwen Millar
Director Rachel Lenart

Theatre Militia

Winner of the Corwin Award for Best New Play 2005.

An evening of sex, CNN, apathy, peanuts and lies.
Buy now and receive a bonus discussion of world politics and an extensive geography lesson at no extra cost.

Amazing! Vibrant, original, and theatrically inventive. This is the voice of a new generation of playwrights.” Santa Barbara News-Press, California.

Luke Hawker
Nathan Buller
Sarah Hampton
Simon Smith
Tania Nolan

Designers – Felix Preval (set/costume), Aimee Froud (lighting) and Emile De La Ray (sound)

Theatre ,

Inner turmoil amid chaos

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 23rd Mar 2006

Hard on the heels of their success at the Fringe Festival, Theatre Militia are now embarking on their next project, producing a new play by Branwen Millar which debuts at BATS this week.

Described as an existentialist piece of writing, Noisy Shadows tries to portray the inner turmoil individuals have within themselves in trying to justify their existence in a world of increasing chaos. And while there are certainly many elements running through the play relating to this they are all somewhat disjointed and superficial, never really getting to the heart of what the play is about. In front of a large white cloth where the noisy shadows dance about – those nameless individuals we continually see on our TV screens – a Newsreader (Luke Hawker) pronounces the news of the day – the global world outside. 

Juxtaposed with this are two couples out the front, Curtis (Nathan Buller) and Carlie (Sarah Hampton), trying to form a relationship and the platonic friends of Robbie (Simon Smith) and Jen (Tania Nolan) each of the couples trying to learn about themselves through their relationships/friendships.  Curtis is the only one that comes to some realisation about himself while Carlie is still searching.  Jen’s personnel tragedy supposedly makes her a better person, through the support of Robbie.

However although the concept of the piece is innovative with punchy succinct dialogue, the structure is such that it becomes difficult to engage with the characters and to empathise with their plight.  And while the acting is confident and secure under the direction of Rachel Lenart with the use of naturalistic and surreal styles, the naturalistic elements are almost too laid back and introverted, compounding the problem of disengagement with the audience. 

This is not to say that there aren’t many moments that resonate as each of the characters are going through real life experiences and there is a lot of humour through the piece, but while some of the parts work well the writing and production as a whole needs more work.


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Shadows casting reality

Review by John Smythe 22nd Mar 2006

In an assured playwrighting debut Branwen Millar captures states of being that reek of reality in a world of relentless news. Her Noisy Shadows captures realities that ‘reality’ shows don’t show.

Director Rachel Lenart has four actors playing for emotional truth while a fifth satirises a range of television news readers, who may or may not be delivering truth. Backstage, three performers stylize the televised or mirrored truth via shadows thrown up on a large, loose backdrop. The designers – Felix Preval (set/costume), Aimee Froud (lighting) and Emile De La Ray (sound) – place the episodic and juxtaposed action within non-naturalistic conventions.

The audience arrives to a frozen moment in time. Three weapon-wielding combatants crouch, defending their patches. A newsreader sits at his mic. Humanoid shadows adorn the backdrop. The floor is a nine-square grid defined by neat ridges of sand and lit from above to flash, on occasion, like game show prize panels. The first action sees the top corners chalked with a nought and a cross.

Presumably these devices are introduced to distract the audience from fearing this might be another humdrum flat-mate play. Apparently this production is very different from its more naturalistic premiere at last year’s University of California (Santa Barbara) Summer Theatre Lab, where it beat 90 contenders to win the Dorothy E Corwin Award for Best New Play (the first time the award went to a non-American).

In the course of the show some of the rigid lines will collapse. The literal noughts and crosses game will progress no further but we may take all the ensuing action as a follow-through of that idea. Indeed a geographical name game between just-best-mates Jen (Tania Nolan) and Robbie (Simon Smith) is a recurring image. One names a country and tosses a peanut and the other has to name a town or city in that country before catching the peanut in their mouth. This marks them as the intellectual superiors of Carlie (Sarah Hampton) and Curtis (Nathan Buller) … or does it? The peanut goo Robbie masticates becomes an ingenious test of priorities.

One of the strengths of the play and production is that our evaluations and judgements are constantly challenged. In the midst of information overwhelm – largely generated from the ever-present news desk by NZ, US and UK newsreaders and a Foxy gossip-monger in fishnet stockings (all played with wit and relish by Luke Hawker) – the four friends reveal different ways of battling the odds.

While Jen does her best to be a responsible consumer and user of knowledge, breaking news might break her. Robbie uses knowledge as a screen by which to avoid intimacy or any level of real friendship. Carlie responds to a world where hurt and tragedy win you attention, or make you feel real, by making things up. Or does she? As for good old dependable Curtis, in his basic male quest to find love or just get laid, he discovers reliability is a liability. In this transitional phase of their characters’ lives, which could end up anywhere (even on the news), all four actors compel our empathy.

I’m not sure the literal shadows add much to the show, for all the dedication of Milo Haigh, Sherilee Kahui and Jake Preval, although one mirror-shadow effect is ingeniously disturbing. Given the attribution of "noisy shadows" to the omnipresent TV news, shadows thrown back and up by the TV itself might have had more impact. On the plus-side, the verbal weaving of topical (well, yesterday’s) news into the reports brings the wallpaper of TVNZ, CNN and BBC into stark relief.

The production’s light touch with comedy-of-insight, rooted in emotional truth, makes the moments of pathos and genuine terror all the more effective. Forget your post-Fringe and Festival torpor. Noisy Shadows is well worth catching. (Ends Saturday.)


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