Lower NZI, Level 1, Aotea Centre, Auckland

24/02/2012 - 25/02/2012

New Performance Festival 2012

Production Details

Quietly deafening, raw and ambiguous with multiple characters deftly played by two actors on a minimal set. The structure of the performance emulates the dysfunction of the characters’ lives, all the while playfully undermining traditional script-writing conventions. This is not just the recreation of stories, Providence is an investigation of the states of homelessness.

Louise Tu’u’s skilfully crafted script throws away narrative and concentrates on the nonsensical, self-righteous prejudices that people have of the homeless. Spanning nearly three years, Tu’u went undercover, speaking with the homeless, having meals at drop-in centres and spending time in a shelter in centralAucklandto get a sense of what it is to be without a home.   

This Aucklandindie favourite was hailed as one of the top theatre pieces of the year by New Zealand Herald when premiered in 2010.

Louise Tu’u leads We Should Practice, an organisation involved in live performance, moving image and public art. Read more » 

Best of 2010… Providence masterfully led its audience into “experiencing a replica aspect of homelessness.” NZ Herald 

Content may offend.

Friday 24 – Saturday 25 February:  7.45pm
DURATION:  60 minutes
VENUE:  Lower NZI 1, Aotea Centre
TICKETS:  Adult $25, Senior/Student/Group $20
Book at THE EDGE for: 
Fri 24 Feb, 7.45pm 
Sat  25 Feb, 7.45pm   

Waiting for more

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 25th Feb 2012

From the moment we were led into the basement space my companions and I knew this piece might break the fourth wall – and hopefully a few more theatre boundaries.

This is part of the excellent Festival of New Theatre, after all, and how many shows have the tenacity to bring you in like a long lost friend? A good start and a refreshing change to the usual ‘sit in the dark and be invisible’ contract that we as audience are so often asked to comply with. I was looking forward to a performance billed as “an indie favourite … an investigation of the states of homelessness.”

But after an hour of trying to work out the what, why and who of this piece I am left disappointed, slightly annoyed at unfulfilled promises, and wondering where the theatre of the piece has gone to. I don’t get it, despite wanting to.

So let’s rewind. Two welcoming and highly watchable actors playing “Tamsin” and her brother “Ken” bring the generous-in-spirit opening night audience into a space filled with cardboard boxes and various packaging flotsam and jetsam. Thereafter snippets of these characters’ lives, presented mostly in monologue form – with some interaction between them and us – give us glimpses of (presumably) verbatim dialogue and impressions reconstructed from the author’s experience of researching homelessness.

The performance discards narrative so that gestural language smashes into and between the verbal language, but not nearly enough for my liking. I want more interaction with the objects, with us as the audience, with each other and the established environment. More information to hook gestural clues onto; just more.

Something has to be at stake but I don’t feel it. Plus, a million opportunities exist with a roomful of boxes and a generous audience.

Apart from the journey of the space itself, which undergoes a transformation of sorts, the characters don’t appear to travel anywhere. Is that the point? Am I missing something really obvious here? I don’t know if the play is making a statement about the perpetual pathos of homelessness or mental illness, the inability to travel anywhere, unlike a narrative with destination, which travels forwards, sideways and backwards. Is it somehow bucking the expectation to create a ‘product’ in a society that expects everything – even a play – has a value, as in the very witty scene of a Grey Lynn house auction that went for several trillion dollars to an audience bidder? (More of this please.)

Is the piece is asking me to throw away everything it thinks I know to inhabit another world, another context? If so, I need more to empathise with; otherwise the experience becomes an exercise in observing action from a distance, infused with resentment because of my lack of connection. It becomes like the worst kind of art that is judged and assessed; sized up for its value and seen from a distance; eventually commodified, marketed and sold off to the highest bidder.

Pablo Picasso said that, “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth … it washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” If that is so then I want to see the soul of this piece. I really want the dust to be washed away so that the essence, the tragedy, the humour even of homelessness is revealed. I don’t want to leave feeling annoyed that the dust is still there.

Some of the row behind me laugh frequently and clearly ‘get’ the performance on another level. I think, “I want what they’re having.” Conversely the guy to my left has his head in his hands, leaning forward and apparently seething with fury at watching something which does not deliver. There is palpable confusion from others in the audience. This is interesting to watch, but takes me away from the piece. It seems others are desperately waiting for clues, too.

In this attempt to construct meaning I start to wonder if there is pointed significance in the box printed with the ‘Wild Turkey’ logo. No, no, back to the performance! To their credit the actors push through and bring vigorous energy to the piece. They are a strong team.

Sixty years ago Samuel Beckett pushed the boundaries of theatre form with Waiting for Godot, and I’m sure in its first few runs there were many people left wondering what the hell was going on. His homeless anti-hero tramps wait in limbo as the play defies mid-century established conventions of form and narrative.

But Godot’s seemingly anti-narrative structure stimulates empathy; it wholly and humanly investigates the states of disconnection, the nature of being a person, dislocation from mainstream society and even the existence of God, as Vladimir and Estragon await eventual death and “hold the terrible silence at bay.” Yet it still makes sense because Beckett exploited that chosen form to the fullest extent. Therefore the form is really an aside to the existential content which is still insightful and moving.

I don’t see the full exploitation of form at work here, so I doubt if Providence will make sense in sixty years’ time. While I congratulate Louise Tu’u and her company for their efforts, their vision, their undertaking, confusion reigns supreme.

On the way home my companions and I pass a few homeless souls in the night. As our eyes meet on the edges ofAotea Square, at last something strikes me. We have something in common, after all: we were all waiting for more. 


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