One Day [2010]

St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt, The Octagon, Dunedin

09/10/2010 - 14/10/2010

Otago Festival of the Arts 2010

Production Details

Sometimes the smallest collisions can shake worlds.

RBS Productions creates two pieces of essential theatre, exploring chance encounters between strangers. In Vauxhall, Summer, 12:05pm – 12:55pm, Karen and Paddy are caught in a current of unexpected attraction; in Albion Place, Winter, 10:20am – 11:10am, Carl and Jordan compel each other to reassess their plans for the future.

“… the extraordinary contained within the ordinary.”

For these two plays RBS Productions has adapted the playmaking strategies of theatre and film director Mike Leigh. The process involves developing a meticulously detailed background for each character. When the two characters are brought together, even the most commonplace of exchanges seem charged and nuanced by authentic, vivid past experience.

“In this play the characters talk over the top of each other, interrupt, trail off, repeat themselves and stumble over words in a way that is closer to real speech than most scripted drama.”

Dunedin theatre stalwarts Simon O’Conner and Barbara Power along with director Richard Huber, have created this unique theatre experience for Festival audiences.

One Day is performed in traverse. Audience numbers are limited to 40 people each performance.

St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt
Sat 9 – Thur 14 October
2 hrs


Chance encounters in uniquely Dunedin settings

Review by Sharon Matthews 12th Oct 2010

RBS Productions is a Dunedin based theatre company that specialises in the production and development of devised theatre. One Day, directed by Richard Huber and featuring Barbara Power and Simon O’Connor, comprises two separate pieces, both exploring the idea of chance encounters between strangers. In an interview, Simon O’Connor describes their aim as being to keep these works as “non-drama” as possible, “to encourage people to look at our everyday encounters with people as significant.”

The first piece, ‘Vauxhall, Summer’, is an extended version of the work RBS Productions premiered at the Fringe Festival last year, also called One Day. That earlier version was performed in a seminar room underneath Allan Hall, with transverse seating and lit only by the normal fluorescent lighting of the room. I remember it vividly for its extraordinary depth of emotional connection between two strikingly realised ‘ordinary people,’ a relationship highlighted by the deliberately non-theatrical setting.

I am fascinated therefore by this re-production which, in the much larger area of the St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt, seems to place it within a more conventional performance space. I remember that the strangely confronting quality of the transverse formation, in a small brightly lit room, meant I was acutely aware of the normally hidden reactions of the audience members opposite. In this version, although the group keeps the transverse seating, I am aware that we are in a space that has been re-created in order to shape a theatrical space.

This effect is heightened by the lighting, designed by Martyn Roberts, which uses large round light shades which bring to mind, for me, an operating theatre in a hospital. Although the audience and actors are still equally lit, I am aware of dark space beyond us; a space artificially created by turning off the lights native to the room in order to mark the beginning of the play.

To me, the construction of theatrical space reminds us of the paradox that lies at the heart of any theatrical creation of ‘reality’: we may experience these plays in ‘real time’ but what we are watching has been composed, and is intended to invoke an emotional response.

On the plus side, the larger space allows the physical space between the actors to be extended, creating a fascinating effect whereby it is not possible, from where I was sitting, to see both actors simultaneously. Thus, because the action of and reaction to dialogue could not both be observed at the same time, the sense of ‘watching’ a performance is broken. And because I have to keep moving my head, my body, I feel physically engaged in the process. 

This transverse formation also adds a depth to the second piece, ‘Albion Place, Winter’, which is set in a public space, as the audience members opposite become visible representations of the footfalls on the soundscape.

According to a published interview, these plays are devised by first making biographies for each character before causing them to meet. The strength of this approach is apparent in ‘Vauxhall, Summer’, the story of Karen and Paddy, who meet by chance on a local Dunedin beach. I shall not map their interactions, their conflicts, and their eventual discoveries of the commonalities of human experience. To do so would reduce this play to a list, and the emotional impact of their shared stories is far greater.  

However I feel that the possible dangers of this approach are demonstrated in ‘Albion Place, Winter’. In this piece Power’s character – Jordyn, a busker – performs a selection of folk songs. While it seems ungracious to criticise this, as Power’s vocal performance is evocative and powerful, I feel that the repeated use of the songs is not dramaturgically necessary. The sadness and melancholy of these folk tunes seem included in order to underline the sadness in the character; an emphasis I consider is not needed. To me, the mythic power behind the folk songs seems to unbalance Power’s delicate, skilful, and achingly real characterisation of Jordyn.

When paired with such a strong performer it would be easy for a less experienced actor to be overwhelmed, but Simon O’Connor is astonishing. In the fifteen minute interval O’Connor discards the colourful patterns of Paddy and assumes the character of Carl like a well-worn coat, so finely moulded to him that I had difficulty remembering he had been anyone else.

There is an absolutely exquisite passage, as Carl is left to look after Jordyn’s possessions and sits holding the guitar entrusted to his care, in which he conveys wordlessly worlds of intense discomfort at human interaction. For me, this moment is so satisfying that I could have spent the rest of the performance there. 

In comparison with ‘Vauxhall’, ‘Albion Place’ has a strong sense of ending. I cannot imagine these two people ever meeting again. In part, this reflects the differences in the setting. The soundscape in ‘Albion Place’ endlessly reminds us of the one way passage of the urban landscape whereas the story of Karen and Paddy has a transitory but potentially repetitive quality, which seems encoded in the reverberation of the waves beyond our seats.

However, I find this second piece less rewarding overall although I am not sure why, and I keep poking at this place of discomfort as though it was an aching tooth (I should note at this point that I consider this nagging quality to be a sign of excellent theatre). On the surface it is a more accessible piece of theatre, the characters are more engaging, and I feel a much stronger sense of narrative. Perhaps there is something forced in its exploration of the dualities already established: sea, city, summer, winter, man, woman and – in this piece – younger woman, older man.

Nonetheless I strongly recommend this production, especially for all Dunedinites. Through linking so strongly location and the stories of those ordinary people who have ended up here, this production evokes for me that aspect which is uniquely Dunedin, that this is a city at once solidly rooted, but also in transition. I think it is important that we support local performers who create works which reflect this specifically Dunedin identity. 

I also consider this to be a very New Zealand work. To me, the stories told within express the national duality of identity, containing both the dark presence of death and that sunny Aunt Daisyish (is there such a term?) belief in the comfort found in the rituals of food and drink.

But this production also has a universal quality in its precisely observed delineation of the interactions of strangers and those elements that form the bridge to relationships.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council