19/01/2008 - 16/02/2008
What happens when the poachers are poached?
Award winning SEEyD Theatre Company presents PAUA at Downstage Theatre
PAUA – an exciting new comedy thriller from the award winning Wellington based SEEyD Theatre Company opens the 2008 season at Downstage Theatre. Playing in Wellington from 19 January to 16 February, the production deals with the topical problem of paua poaching in New Zealand with humour and robust theatricality. According to the Ministry of Fisheries the theft and illegal sale of paua is a costly issue particularly around the lower North Island, including Wellington’s south coast.
As in their recent productions, including critically acclaimed "Turbine" and "The Brilliant Fassah", Director Tim Spite, a passionate paua diver, and his team once again tackle a topical issue with a high priority on the political agenda. The SEEyD Theatre Company is known for their meticulous research and attention to detail. With PAUA they present a new site-specific play at Downstage Theatre, Wellington’s longest running professional theatre, which utilises the entire venue space. Set in the small town of Waiwhero, it is part environmental wake-up call, part whodunit, part thriller and part slasher movie.
PAUA is playing at Downstage Monday to Wednesday at 6.30 pm and Thursday to Saturday at 7.30 pm. There will be a $20 preview on the 18 January and additional $20 performances on the 22 & 23 January. Saturday afternoon matinees will be on Saturday 2 & 9 February. Ticket prices range from $39 for a full price ticket, $30 for a concession and $20 for a student standby ticket, including a free show programme. Special group discounts apply. Tickets can be purchased online, at Downstage’s box office or by phone at 04 801 6946.
PAUA is directed by Tim Spite, devised and performed by Aaron Cortesi, Emma Kinane, Robert Lloyd, Nikki MacDonnell, Sam Selliman, Tim Spite and Te Kohe Tuhaka. It was also written with Phil Braithwaite.
The show is supported by the Paua Industry Council and the New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry Council, who recently launched a joint campaign with the government on paua poaching to help to secure sustainable fisheries for future generations.
DSS Clayton, Constable Mike Roberts,
Reporter, Bobby, Missy, MICKEY: . . . . . . . . . . AARON CORTESI
DI Vebke Anders on, Beverly, Nancy, Linda. . . EMMA KINANE
Tala, Winiata, Mary Rose, Hapi Whetuhaka,
Al, John Edwards, Jimmy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .ROBERT LLOYD
Anita Bryant MP, Bailey, Janice,
Rona, Fiona. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . NIKKI MACDONNELL
Mei Ling, Shirl, Veronica, Raewyn Rose. . . . . . . SAM SELLIMAN
Thomas, Dave, Perry Klinkhoven, Pop,
Murph, Kent Star. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . TIM SPITE
Kepa Tawharangi, Ranger, Dan, Mamat,
Scotty, Pete, Hema Kimaki, Pronk. . . . . . . . . . . . .TE KOHE TUHAKA
Sound Design and Composition: Gil Eva Craig
Lighting Design: Natasha James
Production Managers: Natasha James, Sonia Hardie
Stage Manager. Sonia Hardie
Set Design: Tim Spite and Company
Costume Design: The Company
Publicity: Colleen McColl
Production Photography: Stephen A'Court/Markus Stitz
The price of paua
Review by Timothy O'Brien 04th Feb 2008
The SEEyD Theatre Company has a justified reputation as one of Wellington’s most innovative devisers of new plays. The company specialises in placing topical subjects like genetic modification and infant immunisation within intense personal-relationship dramas. Added to this has been the use of unusual locations where spatial properties have been exploited to maximum theatrical effect.
This last element is key in the company’s production of Paua at Downstage, where the theatre’s famous capacity to be reconfigured allows an incredible variety of movement and swift cinema-style cross-cutting from scene to scene.
But although the space enables a dazzling three-dimensional production, the personal aspect of SEEyD’s former work hasn’t survived the company’s ambition to stage a mainstream genre piece in this more commercial-theatre context. [More]
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Action, intrigue, overt physicality with political/ecological message makes for a must-see winner
Review by Simon Sweetman 30th Jan 2008
Paua is the seventh play by award-winning Wellington theatrical company The SEEyD. And it is the best way for Downstage to kick off 2008 after a rather dire run of plays last year.
This is a comedy-thriller with plenty of action and intrigue – and the complex plot plays out as a series of brilliantly conceived interludes, cleverly lit and staged – using the irregular shape of Downstage and the crafty minds of the actors/writers who devised this sequence of sketches; creating a theatrical work that manages to poke fun at CSI-styled TV shows, 20/20 infotainment news programmes and post-modern stabs of crime-noir (there are nods to Quentin Tarantino, Dan Brown and Robert Rodriguez) while serving something of a political/ecological message that is relevant to New Zealanders.
In the small coastal town of Waiwhero bodies are mounting up; the paua poachers are being dealt to by a slippery vigilante eco-terrorist (Tim Spite manages to make the loading of a blow-gun a shadowy, theatrical movement in itself). This sees a team of local and imported cops on the chase, a black-market paua buyer who is totally ruthless and various other character cameos (in all, seven actors perform 40 different characters; yes, some are too peripheral and ultimately unwarranted – but the characterisations, even if split-second, are always strong even if a further edit of the script might find them redundant).
The story – which riffs on the action/thriller genre – burns through any plot-holes, and Spite’s homage to the blockbuster update of noir-cinema allows for some very funny exchanges – with a blatantly Kiwi humour running through the production. Surreal interludes include corpses rising from the slab to talk to one another and wicked fun-poking at the world of news reporters, politicians and TV-psychics.
Most impressive is the overt physicality of the play – this script calls for the venue to be used, and in creating a dramaturgical world where a row-boat and kayak can drift on a sea-scape, where armed defenders can dangle from ropes, and where talented actors can utilize mime, choreographed-fight skills and zany chase-sequences to help push a very cinematic story in to a theatrical space is no mean feat.
Add to this production a superb use of (often very sparse) lighting and a scene-setting soundtrack and Paua proves to be a winner; must-see theatre that manages to have something of a point whilst providing major entertainment.
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Trying to do too much ultimately does too little
Review by Helen Sims 26th Jan 2008
The SEEyD Company, helmed by Tim Spite, have a talent for taking issues that although topical, do not seem conventionally dramatic, such as child immunisation or wind farming, and turning them into gripping plays. The key to their success is both a thorough exploration of both sides of the issue without finally imposing a “correct” position and investing the story with realistic human experiences. Rather than exploring the issue at a national or international level, they show us a more intimate human face in the form of a community or even a single family struggling with it in their everyday lives. In Paua they fail to do this. The result is a show that fails to investigate the issue adequately and also fails to provide characters and storylines with which the audience can engage with in order to remain interested. The messages are as mixed as the ones received by the confused clairvoyant who briefly features and ultimately the moral dilemma was only weakly pursued. This was a shame, as the issue of eco-terrorism seemed ripe with possibility for the type of theatrical exploration SEEyD has provided in the past.
In Tim Spite’s director’s note he observes that the thriller/action/psychological drama genre doesn’t adapt well to the theatre. I’d have to disagree – I’ve seen plays that were plenty suspenseful, thrilling and/or action packed. The difficulty is that this production seems to be aiming at once to parody and emulate television style thrillers. The pursuit of these dual aims – trying to create suspense and action at the same time as trying to parody it the conventions of the genre – result in a general unevenness of tone that makes the play feel confused. Whilst there are obviously humorous moments, such as when corpses in the morgue sit up and talk to each other whilst an under-appreciated forensic scientist gripes about the cops, the audience also sniggered when yet another paua poacher got felled by the mysterious assailant in black. Another scene which is meant to be loaded with pathos – when the serial murderer practices target shooting with a picture of his next victim – comes off as ridiculous and heavy handed. Parody and satire are created by setting up the expectations of a genre and then failing to fulfil them, and that simply did not occur in this case.
This confusion in tone is not assisted by the self confessed “unrelated musings” that form the themes of the show – paua poaching is destroying both the p_ua and the legitimate industry around it and the world is over-populated by humans and in need of a “drastic cull”. The moral dilemma, helpfully spelt out for us at one point, seems to be paua poaching versus murder to help save the environment. To be honest, this didn’t seem like that much of a real moral dilemma to me – solving the problem with murder (even by the wonderfully ironic means of shellfish toxin) was too heavy handed. The play also hinted at far more interesting lines of inquiry – the forces of capitalism that create a desire for consumption and exploitatively harnesses the labour of the vulnerable to secure the needs of the wealthy; regulation that creates quotas with exclusive effect; cultural clashes over the use of p_ua and the negative effect that poaching (or commercialism) has on families. In the end however, none of these angles are really explored, and the main issue of the politics of poaching/ethical murder dissolves into a straight-forward action film type chase of one of the murderers. We never learn much about the ethics of the serial killer or the frustrations of the cop who changes allegiance to assist him.
Aggravating this further is an almost complete lack of characterisation. Despite an incredibly able cast, few of the characters rise above shallow stereotypes and clichés. There are a proliferation of minor characters, and whilst some are excellent, such as the gossiping small town girls, others felt superfluous to the plot and there simply for actors to show off their range. What seems amusing in the devising process does not always translate well to the stage. Because of the lack of connection with any of the characters we simply do not care enough about the fates of the murdered or the motives of the killers. I was not the only person at half time professing their boredom and/or disinterest. Whilst this is clawed back slightly in the second half, it’s largely due to a more conventional pursuit of action than a greater involvement with the play’s characters or politics. Whilst I’m not insisting on conventional characterisation, we should at least care a little about the fates of those in front of us. It may be a little Freudian, but part of theatrical enjoyment for the audience is derived from identification with characters and the occupation of positions within the narrative “world” created by the play. Particularly in a play that purports to explore a political and social issue we should be encourage to occupy these positions and challenged to consider others. This play lacked the “human face” that has made other SEEyD productions so excellent in my view.
One area in which this production is successful in is its technical design. There was a fantastic use of the Hannah Playhouse space, including hollowing out a pit in the centre of the space from which actors appeared as if from under water. I thought the use of under stage space and trap doors was excellent (I didn’t find out about the unfortunate incident involving the space until the next day). Actors also descended from the ceiling as well as the more conventional entrances. Particularly in the final moments the space is utilised to maximum effect. What appeared to be carpet underlay on the stage created a great grey stone pebble beach effect and allowed the cast to move swiftly around without sound during their speedy changeovers. Natasha James and Gil Eva Craig are to be complemented on their murky and atmospheric lighting and sound designs respectively. They create much of the thriller atmosphere; it’s just a shame the script doesn’t deliver upon it.
There are moments that are entertaining and where the promise of this play is revealed. However, they are too few, and in trying to do too much it ultimately does too little. Nothing particularly interesting or profound is revealed about either the genre or the issues that the company claim to have grappled with. So in all an unsatisfying and disappointing outing for me – compounded by the oddness of serving cold paua fritters to the audience on opening night.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
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Review by Lynn Freeman 23rd Jan 2008
Theatre really can’t get more topical than this. The opening night of SEEyD Theatre Company’s premiere of its thriller about paua poaching, a court case about poaching is all over the news. Both the court case and the play are cautionary tales for would be poachers. In Paua, the poachers pay with their lives.
We see few true thrillers on stage, even fewer New Zealand ones, and Spite creates a genuinely unnerving atmosphere as he and his cast dash around, over and under the opened out Downstage space. With beady blue lights armed officers search for their prey, while poachers land their paua laden boats in darkness.
In a fictional small town, poachers are being knocked off one by one. With near Shakespearean bloodthirstiness, the body count becomes alarmingly high. Perhaps to be honest a bit too high – more time developing some of the characters and less killing them off would be useful.
Obviously with a serial killer on the loose, police send in their top brass. There are suspicions of an internal leak. A plan is hatched to catch the murderer. And obviously to say any more would be to spoil the suspense. And suspenseful it most certainly is!
The cast of seven play almost 40 roles between them, brilliantly despite some jaw-droppingly quick changes. Spite’s direction is exciting, ingenious, bold and demanding on the cast, who don’t put a foot wrong.
Aaron Cortesi builds on a strong series of performances since graduating from Toi Whakaari, as, among other characters, the very pushy Constable Mike Roberts. Robert Lloyd’s Tala, who poaches to feed his family in between doing jail time for it, is a delight … as is seeing Nikki MacDonnell back on stage, though her Anita Bryant MP character needs another scene or two to flesh out.
Te Kohe Tuhaka earned a round of applause for his Māori news presenter and Sam Selliman was a very convincing poaching ring-leader. Tim Spite shows his versatility, equally at home playing a mad old psychologist and a man prepared to kill for what he believes, while Emma Kinane is particularly strong in the role of the increasingly frustrated D.I.
It’s a thriller with laughs along the way, though these fade away in an extremely taut second half. The first half, though, needs tightening up and too much of the action on ground level is lost to those seated more than a couple of rows back.
The quibbles are minor. Paua is thrilling theatre, enhanced by inventive lighting and sound design by Natasha James and Gil Eva Craig respectively.
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Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 21st Jan 2008
Theatre in Wellington went out with a bang not a whimper in the last two months of 2007 and it has started 2008 with an even bigger bang: a smart new play by a talented young playwright at Circa 2, a brilliant political comedy and a rip-roaring historical farce at Bats.
And now playing at Downstage there is a local rarity – in fact it’s probably unique in New Zealand theatre – and I can’t think of anything similar from overseas for that matter: an action thriller with a strong element of comedy in it and which is actually full of thrilling action.
What is so pleasing about Paua is that it brings back good old fashioned storytelling to theatre. While the storyline, which demands about 40 characters and numerous scenes that occur in a pub, a police station and a multiplicity of other places including a dinghy and a kayak out at sea, would seem to be ideal for and only possible on the screen, it is really the vibrant theatrical imagination at play that makes it such an exciting event.
Not since Warwick Broadhead’s The Tempest in 1986 has every nook and cranny of Downstage’s auditorium been so cleverly exploited as it is by Tim Spite in this outstanding production, even though some members of the audience may have problems seeing and hearing the odd scene.
The plot is far too complicated to go into except that it concerns a serial killer on the loose in a small coastal community. Paua poachers get murdered (I lost count of the dead bodies but it’s way over the quota even for most action-packed of movies) and the bumbling police (Emma Kinane and Aaron Cortesi), the Environment Minister (Nikki MacDonnell), local iwi, a seafood dealer (Sam Selliman), and shady entrepreneurs from Taiwan amongst others are all involved.
Paua borrows from movies and writers like Dan Brown and Frederick Forsyth but it rejoices in the fact that it is all taking place in a theatre and it gets away with things that couldn’t occur in a movie or a novel. So, dead bodies (Robert Lloyd and Te Kohe Tuhaka) on a mortuary slab talk to each other, a 20/20-like TV show is amusingly sent up in what is really a revue sketch, and every actor plays four or more roles with lightening quick changes.
Natasha James’s marvelously murky lighting and Gil Eva Craig’s brilliantly executed sound effects and the tension enhancing music that underscore many scenes all add mightily to the overall smoothness of the production. I shan’t easily forget the final five minutes of the show when marksmen from the Armed Defenders Squad seem to swarm over the theatre appearing from every corner high and low as they close in on the serial killer but even then there is a twist to the tale. Hugely enjoyable.
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A must-see for those who relish creative ingenuity
Review by John Smythe 20th Jan 2008
Wellington’s sudden mini-festival of top-notch homegrown plays continues with an ambitious new work from the SEEyD Company: their seventh since SEEyD in 2000, with Tim Spite being the common denominator throughout.
Paua is what you might call vertically integrated theatre: a physical spectacle that plays out, almost in-the-round, from the depths of a black hole squarely placed in the stage floor, and the heights of the equally black grid above, to delight those seated on the terrestrial plane.
The illusion of a floating rowboat, and later a kayak, in the bay at night, the surfacing of paua divers and the leaping of silent assassins from the dark depths, all lit by tiny torches or tungsten head lamps, are all splendid live theatre achievements. A secret subterranean hideout is also contrived through the judicious use of a trapdoor, joists and selective lighting. And an abseiling SWAT team of law enforcers brings this dynamic use of the flexible Downstage auditorium to a thrilling finale.
In creating Paua, the seven-strong core creative team also vertically integrates hands-on power from conception, research and development, through workshopping, writing, set and costume design, to rehearsal and performance, although team leader Tim Spite maintains executive control as the director.
To make their play on paua poaching they have integrated their enquiry into criminal activity at every level of the supply chain with the dramatic conventions of the crime-busting thriller genre, driven by two key questions: Who poaches the poachers? Are eco-terrorists for or against ecological sustainability?
Apart from the obvious pleasure of having the physical action play out in our immediate presence, what sets Paua apart from the film and television shows of the genre is that there is no central hero figure who solves the crime at the last heart-stopping minute, although the final sequence of cat-and-mouse pursuit and shoot-out resolution is extremely dramatic.
What we get instead is a jobbing lot of poachers, police, media reporters and a somewhat compromised politician, each doing their best to do their bit, as a lone vigilante paua protector slips silently beneath their radar, and one bent cop goes feral in his increasingly psychopathic attempts to alleviate the tedium of his life.
The programme names 40 characters distributed between the seven actors. Many, like the regular locals gathered at the Waiwhero (red water) pub and a couple of workers nattering away on their smoke breaks, are well established early on only to disappear from the subsequent action. Others disappear because they are murdered: the body count rivals a Shakespearean tragedy. Without exception the actors excel in their feature roles, and as ensemble performers, play-fit athletes and quick-change artists. I could have sworn there was triple the cast at times.
Te Kohe Tuhaka’s small-time poacher Kepa Tawharangi is an early casualty, in the dead of night in his dinghy, but his ghost returns to chat to Nikki MacDonnell’s Pommy psychic in a wicked send-up of paranormal practices. Tuhaka also plays a fisheries Ranger, is memorable as the disaffected son of recidivist poacher and absentee father (because he keeps getting caught) Tala. And he won a round of applause on opening night with his Te Kâea (Māori News) segment.
The early murder of Robert Lloyd’s poacher, Hapi Whetuhaka, frees him to play six other roles, the most sustained of which is Tala, who claims he is only poaching the paua to feed his large family. When the police make him the bait for the elusive, silent slayer, his fate means more to us because we’ve got to know him, although more could be done to encourage us to feel greater empathy with him.
Sam Selliman makes an impact as Tala’s quiet beauty of a face-fanning wife, only to surprise us with her strong demands that he be the man and do what he must (i.e. be the bait) for the family. Her most sustained role is as Mei Ling, the ruthless buyer, local black market seller and exporter of paua to the international cartel -personified by Aaron Cortesi as an American gangster.
Cortesi’s main role among six is Detective Senior Sergeant Clayton, well named for being the cop you have when his actions aren’t lawful. While the script could make his motives for such escalating violence much clearer, his dispassionate acquittal of the role is suitably spine-shilling.
The lead police role of Detective Inspector Vebke Anderson is powerfully realised by Emma Kinnane, as she embodied their growing frustration at being eluded by the serial killer while the hungry media mocks their ineffective investigation. And it must be added that one of the best ensemble moments in the play – aside from the group-vocalised theme tune – is the montage of media reportage with expert spokespeople and vox pop opinions.
Nikki MacDonnell’s quintet of richly-drawn characters includes one of the chit-chatting smokers (with Selliman), an unappreciated forensic scientist called Bailey, and the aforementioned psychic, who actually does contact Kepa but misinterprets his messages. Her major role is as the Minister of Fisheries MP Anita Bryant, who happens to be hiding out at the nearby Beachcombe Holiday Park with her secret speechwriter lover (Spite) when quiet Waiwhero suddenly become the centre of police and media attention.
The tireless Tim Spite plays a range of cameos to help set the scene, move the story along and enrich the texture but it’s the stealthy, masked, black-clad eco-terrorist that proves his most riveting role. It’s a tribute to his sense of dramaturgy as well as his acting and directing, that he can make such detailed action as preparing his poison darts so compelling.
The final negotiation between him, still masked, and Anita Bryant is a brilliant twist that brings what has evolved into high action drama to a thought-provoking conclusion: are we witnessing moral corruption or astute political pragmatism?
There are sightline issues that will vary depending on where you are seated. Static two-hander scenes (one seated, the other standing) will always mean masking for part of the audience. And I’m not sure all the characters are needed, given they’re not used later on. Of course it would be logistically impossible to bring them all back when the actors are needed for other roles, although the play often benefits from the ingenuity by which certain actors are freed from a scene so they can become someone else in the next, or the dialogue in one scene flows into the next, allowing for seamless storytelling even though those who convey it have changed.
Gil Eva Craig’s sound design and composition are excellent, happily honouring the clichéd pulsating of thriller music while genuinely helping to build the tension. The gunshots, too, are hugely effective. And Natasha James’ lighting design is all it needs to be, not least in the extended periods of darkness. The costumes, designed by the Company, are unobtrusively apt, with no obvious suggestion they’ve been designed to allow quick changes.
‘Tim Spite and Company’ are also credited with the set design which works well except for the sightline issues already mentioned. But on opening night it showed up an inexcusable gap in the relatively horizontal management structure between the SEEyD Company and Downstage Theatre. The hole in the stage was inadequately roped off down two sides only and because seats were not designated, arriving audience members tended to wander about, working out where best to sit. So while the ushers were otherwise engaged, a senior and long-standing supporter of Downstage stumbled into the hole, taking the loose-hanging rope and a metal pole down with her. Fortunately the floor, about 4ft down, is heavily padded so the actors can fall on it, but she twisted an ankle, hurt her shoulder and was too shaken to drive so had to call her daughter to take her home. It could have been much worse. And many in the audience who witnessed it were badly shaken and/or angered by it too. I am told remedial action is assured for future performances (my vote is to dress it as a ‘no go’ crime site before, during interval and after, with cast or staff throughly rehearsed to remove and replace the barrier system). Meanwhile I report the incident as a wake-up call for all theatres.
That said, Paua is a must-see for those who relish creative ingenuity and a good story well told.
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