BATS Theatre, Studio, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

19/11/2015 - 21/11/2015

Production Details

I’ve always felt as if there were several versions of me, stretching out into the past like a trans-dimensional version of one of those Newton’s Cradle toys. All crammed together and vibrating. This is the story of who I have been; hopefully it will make you laugh.  

It premieres at
BATS Theatre Studio, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
19-21 November 2015
8pm each night 
Full Price: $16.00
Concession: $13.00
Groups of 6+: $12.00

Theatre , Solo ,

Rigorous interrogation required?

Review by John Smythe 20th Nov 2015

When is a story worth telling, a journey worth sharing, an enquiry worth pursuing? Andrew Clarke’s urge to account for himself with this solo theatre piece seems to be predicated on his imminent departure – from Wellington, that is. 

Fair enough. Ancient Greek theatre embodies the human quest for how to live well in the face of various god-named forces. In the 15th Century morality play The Summoning of Everyman (aka Everyman; author unknown), which may be Flemish or Middle Eastern in origin, the title character seeks Christian salvation by trying to prove his good deeds outweigh the bad ones in God’s ledger.

So the genre has a very long pedigree. Indeed the battle between good and evil (or right v wrong, or good v bad), which informs our universal quest for respect and self-esteem, is arguably at the core of most story-based theatre, either within its text or in the way its audience responds to the inherent human values and behaviour. It underpins stand-up comedy, too. And in a secular society, who better to turn to, seeking judgement, forgiveness and redemption, than a live theatre audience: the people’s court.

The trouble is Andrew Clarke, in his early twenties I’m guessing, doesn’t have much to account for. He has a charming personality, a facility with words, a relaxed and affable manner … Fifty minutes in his company is a pleasant experience. He clearly loves theatre so this is the mode by which he has chosen to tell “story of who I have been”, before moving on to the next phase of his life. “Hopefully it will make you laugh,” he adds in his publicity blurb.

When we arrive in BATS’ tiny studio, a cloth-capped Clarke is perched on a red chair beside a large blue disc denoting a pool, dangling a stick-and-string fishing line. Adrift in the pool and pegged on lines above are multiple paper people – snipped, presumably, from the paper chain of the title – with words scrawled on them. I only note one in passing – ‘Liar’ – but we are not invited to survey them all and, given their placing, it would be awkward to do so.

His ebullient  “How are we all? Good?” greeting is stock standup fare, albeit pitched for a larger venue, and being akin to tele-marketers’ “How has your day been?” I find it a bit off-putting. But his opening banter is lively and friendly as he works up to introducing himself; to trying to define himself by star sign, what he fears, what he likes … When he quotes the adage, “To understand yourself you have to realise you are the villain in your own narrative,” I anticipate something nitty-gritty: a chewy moral dilemma perhaps?

I guess the question of telling the truth about poached eggs and the implications for flatmate, girlfriend and parental relationships can be seen as indicative of something bigger; allegorical, even. Likewise the issue of what emoticons a dad should use. And breaking up with your first live-in girlfriend, and the “tiny lies” involved in that, is clearly something we can all empathise with. Even so …

“Thinking a lot about death” doesn’t deliver the wit or profundity one might hope for either. And I have to take issue with Clarke’s contention that the horizon is “something we have made up ourselves” because we can’t cope with the infinity of nothingness. It’s a physical reality cause by the curvature of planet Earth and forever in human history it has incited our desire to discover what’s beyond. As he happily notes with a couple of ‘gags’ that don’t work, this needs a rewrite too.

Things get more interactive when he “makes art” with a felt tip on a white board. Will he draw how he feels or will we commission him? We choose the latter, the results are quite amusing and of course this will change every night.

Back on ‘relationships’, Clarke traverses territory well-trodden by standup comedians (Tinder, etc) but his audience recognises the syndromes and so are engaged. Amid his quest for a ‘proper’ version of himself there is a story about getting drunk and giving a friend his bed then texting someone who may or may not be the same friend. I don’t think I’m the only one to get confused and this too needs reworking to make its point, let alone get a laugh.

[Possible spoiler alert]
It turns out the paper people and notes thereon represent regrets and his strategy for overcoming them is to write notes of apology and let them go. He invites us to do the same simply by calling out, “I’m sorry for …”. Now obviously no-one is going to reveal a moral crime-against-nature of oedipal proportions in public among strangers, so it would be unfair to judge the tameness of the offerings as indicative of the Millennials who readily offer them. It is actually worth considering how heavily such seemingly trivial misdemeanours can weigh upon a conscience; how great the relief and release can be when confessing and letting it go. (Of course seeking redemption through confession has been a human practice for about as long as theatre itself.) [Ends]

That the conclusion Clarke comes to is a cliché simply proves it is inevitably true. I’m left contemplating the validity of the metaphors in his title – Paper Chains and Black Holes – and the role he ascribes to fish. This too needs work.

Having referenced science in his show, I am surprised Clarke doesn’t play more with the notion of black holes. There is a ‘Chekhov’s gun’ aspect to his having them in the title and not using them. And given the price he paid because “I was too busy looking at myself,” surely that pool, his major design element, could be used to reference Narcissus in some way.*  

With just three shows in this season, I’m not sure if it’s ‘in development’ for a future life. If so he must interrogate his artefact rigorously. If not and it really is just a parting gift, I’m sure his friends and family will appreciate it.

*I was tempted to quip that ‘EveryMillennial’ is a narcissist, or at least very self-absorbed, but I actually think that’s a function of age; of the key transition points in the lives of every generation. 


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