Basement Theatre Studio, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

30/06/2015 - 03/07/2015

Production Details


From Balinese masked performance and urgency for environmental responsibility comes Alice Canton’s new theatre work ORANGUTAN, premiering at The Basement Theatre this winter from 30 June – 3 July. 

ORANGUTAN is a story about curiosity and survival. Set in the native rainforest of Borneo, an orangutan silently witnesses extraordinary moments in human history. The tale is told through a rich theatrical score of mask and puppetry that rapidly unravels the past. 

Canton, of Welsh and Chinese ancestry, draws on the vivid images and experiences of her adventures through Southeast Asia. After receiving a grant from the Asia New Zealand Foundation in 2011, she travelled through Malaysia and Singapore researching traditional performance practices before arriving in Indonesia to learn the art of Balinese mask carving and dance. The show features hand-made masks by Canton. 

The show was created after a five week artist residency in Christchurch with Movement Art Practice, an organisation committed to fostering research and shared practice with dance artists across New Zealand. It has provided the ideal setting for Canton to incubate and test her ideas, with plenty of room to monkey around, including trips back to observe the behaviour of the local apes at Auckland Zoo. 

“They are extraordinary creatures. The way they move and connect to each other is profoundly human, full of grace, strength, and cheekiness. There’s no shortage of inspiration.” 

Beyond the curtain, Canton hopes ORANGUTAN will accelerate understanding and motivate awareness around current social and political concerns including decolonisation, post-war trauma, and mining in the Asia-Pacific. A graduate from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School, she intends to create pathways to speak to environmental responsibility whilst also exposing audiences to arts experiences layered with metaphor and poetry. 

“I’m interested in creating work that has a conversation with the audience. I start by laying out all the pieces – the funny, absurd, and tragic. Then we can talk, and hopefully make changes together.” 

Dates: June 30-July 3, 6.30pm
Venue: The Basement Studio
Tickets: $18/$16

Bookings: www.iticket.co.nz // 09 361 1000

Theatre , Puppetry , Mask ,

Not yet a Great Ape

Review by Matt Baker 02nd Jul 2015

In a black box conversion of The Basement studio, creator and performer Alice Canton sits and waits on a pile of dirt and bark. The elevated and shallow seating block doesn’t seem to manage The Basement studio 65-seat capacity, leaving audience members sitting on the floor, which I imagine results in false sightlines to which Canton’s mask-work plays.

In such an intimate space, it’s disappointing that, while not necessarily carved with the intention to perform in this specific space, we lose Canton’s eyes behind the mask. In addition to the lack of vocals in the production, this prevents us from connecting with the humanity (ironically) inherent in animals and, more specifically, her hybrid character: Hanoman (White Monkey King) and Topeng Tua (Old Man). [More]


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Captivating wordless character study deserves to be ‘heard’ worldwide

Review by Nik Smythe 30th Jun 2015

Atmospheric jungle sounds, emanating softly into the cool, dimly lit stairwell and landing, set the mood as we enter the Basement Studio to see our titular primate hunched peacefully, sleeping upon a large circular bed of dirt and bark. 

Creator /performer Alice Canton created her distinctive ‘old man of the forest’ orangutan mask as part of an exploration both of her own Malaysian heritage and the socio-political and corporate forces that continue to threaten the welfare and ecology of Southeast Asia and the world in general. 

By no means a super-realistic depiction, particularly given her white shirt and black pants, the curiosity and contemplation evoked by the mask and her superb expressive characterisation, effectively transport us into its world. 

Canton explains in her programme how this piece is in itself a small but important detail of her much grander original vision of a huge full-scale production, designed to address and help solve all the issues relating to colonisation and global industry.  It’s hard to imagine what she describes as not overwhelming to the point of detracting from the message and its impact, given how poignant the experience of seeing one lone ape quietly, cautiously engage with it’s changing environment. 

This prevailing minimalism belies just how much thought must have gone into each detail, even the decision to have the audience sitting up and/or slouching on cushions, evincing a subtle degree of identification with our venerable subject.  The painstaking process of an activity so innocuous as eating a mandarin has the entire full house on tenterhooks with supportive anticipation, and empathy with the victorious extended yawn that punctuates every morsel consumed. 

The minimal narrative, refined with the assistance of dramaturges Holly Chappell and Leon Wadham, comprises three acts in which the passive protagonist is displaced from its natural habitat and ferried to a zoo or circus where, he’s ultimately exploited for human entertainment.  The implication is only partly of undue suffering in captivity; it also examines the disadvantaging state of dependency forced upon the indentured beast. 

Visually bathed in Brad Gledhill’s discerning lights, Canton’s remarkable wordless character study is wholly reliant on the outstanding evocative sound design of Thomas Press.  One obvious advantage to the captivating non-verbal format, and the simplicity of the production overall, is that this will play virtually anywhere in the world.  And indeed it ought to, since the clear unspoken message is one everyone should ‘hear’. 


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