Our Own Little Mess

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

22/02/2024 - 25/02/2024

Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2024

Production Details

Directed by Leo Gene Peters and Jane Yonge

Presented by A Slightly Isolated Dog (Aotearoa New Zealand)

Our Own Little Mess is a genre-bending live performance and immersive audio adventure. Follow the sprawling and seemingly unconnected lives of five characters as they navigate life’s big mysteries, from Wellington and Auckland to New York and Beijing, from the mundane to the unknowable, in this world première.

Directed by Leo Gene Peters and Jane Yonge
Presented by A Slightly Isolated Dog (Aotearoa New Zealand)

… wondrously theatrical mix of hyper-naturalism, magic realism and surrealism …the constant recognition of true human experience” – Theatreview on Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants

Circa One

To book click here

Leo Gene Peters
Louise Jiang: Mary Kay Evangeline
Laurel Devenie: Amelia
Maaka Pohatu: Te Whāinga
Jack Buchanan: Liam
Andrew Patterson: Albert

Dramaturg: Nathan Jo,
Production Designer: Meg Rollandi
Leo Gene Peters: Lighting Designer
Sound & Technical Designer and Audio Mix Engineer: Sam Clavis
Composer: Dr Jeremy Mayall
Producer: Sums Selvarajan (SquareSums&Co)
Show Operator: Tony Black
Technical Stage Manager & Audio Assistant: Joel Orme

Theatre ,

1 hr 40 min no interval

Sets a very high bar for NZ Festival shows worth going to; deserves a long life and to travel far and wide

Review by John Smythe 23rd Feb 2024

Only four more chances to see Our Own Little Mess in Wellington, at Circa One: tonight, twice tomorrow and Sunday. Book now – trust me – then read on.

If the sight of people wearing headphones in public puts you off, think again. It is the opposite of alienating when we are all listening to the same stories, intimately shared. Yes, we are all in our own little bubbles, yet we are collectively engaged in a communal experience at an even more intimate and personal level than theatre usually offers.

The paradox of human existence, of the emotionally and psychologically epic journeys in the everyday lives of ordinary people, is at the heart of Our Own Little Mess. While the central theme is loneliness, we all feel included.

As we settle and don our ’phones, the actors lurk round microphones in the half-light of a stage space where intriguing structures are semi-visible, observing us, murmuring to each other and to us. They promise everything will be peaceful and good, get us to breathe iiinnn and oooout together … and the journeys begin. I will sketch in the basic ideas of each but you have to be there to immerse yourself in the full empathetic experiences.

Mary Kay Evangeline (Louise Jiang) is visiting her mother’s grave at Makara Cemetery and grappling with her grief. Her inner monologue is interrupted by the arrival of a koro who talks to his late wife every day … Mary Kay will jump on a plane to the other side of the world and hostel-hop through an eclectic range of experiences …

As Amelia (Laurel Devenie) reads gently to her daughter Nova, in bed, folk tales about wolves blend with hints of Amelia’s own story. These recurring sequences will mash up the poetic and prosaic ways that make perfect sense despite their objective absurdity. Her husband heads overseas and their attempts to communicate via the internet break up (but they don’t). Meanwhile Nova (voice over) takes more and more control of the narratives …

A university academic, Te Whāinga (Maaka Pohatu), travels to conferences and takes the opportunity while at the mic to explain that because te ao Māori values the collective over the individual, there is no te reo word for loneliness – but there are words for related feelings, or rather for feeling unrelated. It will emerge Te Whāinga leads a solitary life – not to be confused with Pohatu’s fractured FaceTime appearances as Amelia’s itinerant husband.

We meet Liam (Jack Buchanan) at a Rita Angus Retirement Home, entertaining the residents with his fluffy glove puppet Eric. I’m thinking Buchanan has added ventriloquism to his many skills until they sing together about falling and longing for change. And Liam will also head off, to the USA in his case, in a quest that leads him to a desert …

Andrew Patterson, who has been busy facilitating other people’s stories – as they all do for each other, by moving mobile rooms, tables, a mirror, lights and mics, and playing or voicing incidental characters – becomes Albert, a Kiwi guy working as an Art Gallery Attendant in New York. He feels like a misfit until he finds connection in a gay club.

While familiar tropes from myths and our daily lives abound, everything feels very real and true. The seemingly random flitting between storylines is somehow familiar too and is in no way confusing. There is even space in our engagement with the rich stew of stories, conveyed ingeniously with simple sound and image technology, to feel wonder and admiration at the actors’ abilities to know who they need to be and what they need to do next. It’s a long-distance steeplechase for them – plus Show Operator Tony Black with Technical Stage Manager & Audio Assistant Joel Orme – and a mesmerising dreamscape for us.

The Co-Creator credits go to the five Performers and Leo Gene Peters, who is also the Lighting Designer and Co-Director with Jane Yonge. Their creative collaborators are Dramaturg Nathan Joe, Production Designer Meg Rollandi, Sound & Technical Designer and Audio Mix Engineer Sam Clavis, Composer Dr Jeremy Mayall and producer Sums Selvarajan (SquareSums&Co).   

The collaboration has also involved Victoria University of Wellington Cognitive Scientists Dr David Carmel and Dr Gina Grimshaw, and their “examinations of how the brain works, in particular the fascinating and murky territory of a person’s ‘inner speech’, the various ways that one silently ‘speaks’ to oneself” (well known in literature as the inner voice/ inner monologue/ inner dialogue).

Our Own Little Mess sets a very high bar for NZ Festival shows worth going to. It deserves a long life and to travel far and wide, like its characters and their audiences who accompany them vicariously. If you haven’t already, book now!

In seeking “to create live performances where audiences can communally reflect and celebrate life [with theatre that] meets a unique and vital need for human connection”, A Slightly Isolated Dog established their brand with such memorable experiences as Don Juan, camping it up in faux-French accents while exploring profound themes. But it all started with Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants in 2009 which was revived in 2011 and a quote from my second review is used to promote Our Own Little Mess: “…wondrously theatrical mix of hyper-naturalism, magic realism and surrealism … the constant recognition of true human experience.” Yes, all that is still true but this is ‘next level’, thanks to the headphones. Not to be missed!

UPDATE (24/02): Sadly, due to cast illness the Sat 24 and Sun 25 Feb performances of Our Own Little Mess by A Slightly Isolated Dog have been cancelled. 


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