Production Details

What should we sacrifice – history or humanity? 

Synopsis: What if the innovation of naturalism and humanism in art began not in Padua in 1305 with the famous Lamentation by Giotto, but in a derelict chapel in Bulgaria by an unknown itinerant painter, thanking the poor village for hospitality?

What if Gabriella Pecs, in the year 1993 can prove that her impoverished nation is in fact the seat of an innovation that changed art forever? 

She demands the attention of a visiting British art academic, and in turn the machinery of state. The excitement rises, could this be the most significant find since the excavation of Pompeii?

As the assembled politicians and art inquisitors debate a violent intrusion of dysfunctional Europe forces a reconsideration of not only art, but the true nature of humanism, and we are asked: What should we sacrifice, history or humanity?

John Davies directs Unitec’s graduating third year acting students in David Edgar’s thrilling drama set in post-Cold War Europe in the early 1990s.

10-20 November, 7pm
Unitec Theatre, Bldg 6, Entry 1, Carrington Rd, Mt Albert, Auckland
Book tickets at iTICKET or (09) 361 1000. Booking fees may apply. Door sales available.

RATING: 15+ some strong themes; violence

Unitec Year 3 acting students, directed by John Davies

"A complex political parable and an intellectual thriller.a broad and gripping narrative in which everything is both metaphorical and real" – John Peter, (London) Sunday Times 

Gabriella Pecs                      Sarah Trass, Maia Potier*
Oliver Davenport                   Jeremy Rodmell
Father Sergei Bojovic          Chris Neels
Father Petr Karolyi               Felix Schaefer
Mikhail Czaba                       Caroline Muller
Pusbas                                  Daley Winterstein
Leo Katz                                 Ashton Brown
Anna Jedlikova                     Stef Lawrence
Toni Newsome                    Imogen Miller
Teenage Girl                        Loren Mason
Swedish Man                       Ciarin Smith
First soldier                          Ciarin Smith
Second soldier                    David Rumney
Czaba’s Secretary               Loren Mason
Restorer                                Sarah Trass/Elise Whitson; Cathy Rood/Maia Potier
Policewoman                       Celine Wallace
Yasmin                                  Cathy Rood, Elise Whitson*
Raif                                         Loren Mason
Antonio                                   Oliver Parsons
Amira                                      Kate Lumb
Grigori                                    David Rumney
Abdul                                      Daley Winterstein
Cleopatra                              Celine Wallace
Nico                                        Ciarin Smith
* Please note the characters of Gabriella, Yasmin and the Restorer are double cast and will be played by different students on alternate nights.
Stage Manager                      Ruby Reihana-Wilson
Assistant SM                          Sarah Radford
Lights Operator                      Dan Breton
Sound Operator                     Zoe Hills
Sound Design                        Kurt Choromanski
Set design                              Rebecca Isemonger
Props                                       Amy Simpson
Costume:                                Danielle Kiss Jade Berg-Newman, Madison Wright, Clare Hoey, Lisa Dysthe, Kasserine Ross-Sheppard, Debbie Moore (Year 1 costume students) 
Director                                  John Davies
Lighting design                     Michael Knapp
Costumer Supervisor          Suzanne Sturrock
Costume Tutor                      Erin O’Neill
Voice                                       Kirstie O’Sullivan
Production Manager             Mark Ingram
Publicist                                  Peter Rees

2hrs 30 mins, incl. interval

Physically, emotionally, intellectually demanding

Review by Caoilinn Hughes 11th Nov 2010

UNITEC’s Year 3 acting students bravely take on the arduous task of staging British playwright David Edgar’s play about politics, puns and paintings. Pentecost is an epic play on many levels: its three hour duration; its frenzied 20 characters on stage in their fragmented ethnic representations and cultural identities; and its heavy-handed social commentary. 

The play is set circa 1994, in an abandoned church in an unnamed eastern European country (Serbia or Bulgaria, most likely), which has been governed by various conquerors and religions over the past forty years; the most recent being a one-party communist system lead by Slobodan Miloševiæ (if it is Serbia) – overthrown by a multiparty democracy only in 1990. The context is a country is fraught with social turmoil, conflict, and loss of cultural –particularly European cultural – identity and contribution.

Native art curator Gabriella Pecs (played with commitment and authenticity by Maia Potier) brings British art historian Oliver Davenport (Jeremy Rodmell plays the gauche British intellectual to the tee) to the church, in the hopes that he will confirm that a painting she has discovered buried inside a brick wall of the church is in fact the hugely important national discovery she suspects it to be: a painting which would be as important a discovery to the art world as that of Pompeii.

The play goes on to debate the ownership and authenticity of the painting, which is suspected to be a precursor to Giotto’s iconic ‘Lamentation’ by an unknown ‘Eastern’ painter. Because the painting uses techniques that were to become the foundation of the Renaissance – combining styles of classicism, humanism and naturalism – its authentication would change the history of early medieval art (and the history of art in general) and the history and cultural identity of Serbia / unnamed eastern European country.

In the second half of the play, the painting is given even more significance, as it is given hostage status – along with the art historians and Gabriella – by a group of asylum seekers of sharply differentiated ethnicities being pursued by border patrol. To describe the plot of the second half would take up the rest of the review. Suffice it to say, Walt Disney would take notes. 

Coming away from the production, I was very impressed by how the UNITEC actors stood up to this (arguably malevolent) monster of a play, but I couldn’t help but wonder: could anyone pull it off; never mind third year drama students?

Pentecost has rarely been produced since it was written in 1994; partly because of its duration and huge cast, but also because of its complexity. When it has been produced, its reviews largely discuss the play itself – as there is so much going on that there is little time to consider the director’s interpretation and the actors’ performances. And that’s its biggest weakness. It is far too much about what the playwright is trying to say, and there’s no space for what the actors might want to say, or the director John G. Davies for that matter. 

I can see why it was chosen for a student production: how many plays are there out there that have 20 characters? But I feel that it would be better for a History class or an English literature tutorial rather than for a display of theatrical ability. There’s dramatic motivation and climax absolutely; but the play is too busy dissecting the word ‘climax’ and how it translates in different languages, and pointing out how poignant that is. 

These students do a fantastic job of performing such a play; in keeping the momentum going; making the characters’ stories as compelling as possible; and in committing to their character portrayals to boot. It is a hugely demanding play, physically, emotionally, intellectually. And it is no mean feat for these aspiring actors to make relatable what theatre critic Andrew Billen describes in The Spectator as being “a strange breed of humanoid word-generators [that occupy] the space Shakespeare would have left for human beings”.
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