23/10/2007 - 03/11/2007
Devised by Leo Gene Peters, Jessie Alsop, James Ashcroft, Aaron Cortesi, Jade Daniels, Rachel Forman, Vaughan Slinn
presented by BATS Theatre, Radio Active and A Slightly Isolated Dog
Put on your ear-muffs and see what you hear… Radio Active, BATS Theatre and A Slightly Isolated Dog present Settling, the first of the 2007 STAB commission seasons, opening 23 October at BATS Theatre, Wellington and promising to be more than just a visual experience.
Stepping up to the tradition of STAB, theatre company A Slightly Isolated Dog has created a new show that pushes the technical boundaries of theatre and the boundaries of audience expectations. Settling incorporates scenographic innovation, technical ingenuity and entertaining, provocative stories about Wellington and Wellingtonians from across the cityscape.
Workshopped over two years, Settling is an entertaining and sophisticated theatre production that deals with leaving, arriving and living in Wellington. Incorporating innovative sound technology, each audience member will wear and remove throughout the performance headphones that explore the public and the private sphere of the iPod generation. Combining this with the freedom of STAB design and everyday items, Settling explores this city, its scape and its people and asks ‘how are we affected by living on ground that constantly moves, constantly settles? How can we settle down, settle our lives on this land?’
A Slightly Isolated Dog are some of Wellington’s finest directed by Chapman Tripp nominee Leo Gene Peters (Strange Resting Places, Shifting), Settling stars Aaron Cortesi (Eagle vs. Shark), Vaughan Slinn (Welcome to Paradise, Out of the Blue), Rachel Forman (Fool for Love) and James Ashcroft (Yours Truly) with design & composition by award winners Stephen Gallagher (Yours Truly, Albert Speer) and Tracey Monastra (A Perfect Plan, Flood).
“It’s great to be back at BATS as a director and to have the whole space to play with as well as technology to push the boundaries with. Through STAB we’ve been able to invest in cordless headphones for every audience member and through the headphones we can send different information to different people at different times – something quite different! STAB is a great opportunity for A Slightly Isolated Dog to mark its territory on Wellington,” says director Leo Gene Peters.
Settling is presented by Radio Active and A Slightly Isolated Dog as part of STAB 2007 commissioned by BATS Theatre with funding from Creative New Zealand.
Get in quick for preview night when all tickets are just $13, 20 October. Season runs 23 October to 3 November 2007, tickets $18/$13 concs/$26 season pass from BATS Theatre 802 4175 or firstname.lastname@example.org
BATS Theatre, Radio Active and A Slightly Isolated Dog present
BATS Theatre 8pm 23 October to 3 November 2007
Preview night 20 October
Adrian: James Ashcroft
Joe: Jade Daniels
Malcolm: Vaughan Slinn
Milly: Rachel Forman
Thomas: Aaron Cortesi
Producers: Leo Gene Peters, Katrina Baylis
Sound Design: Stephen Gallagher, Thomas Press
Design: Tracey Monastra
Production Manager: Karl Jenkins
Operator and Set Contruction: Paul Tozer
Publicity: Hannah Clarke
3 hours incl. interval
Review by Lynn Freeman 07th Nov 2007
Having your audience wear headphones is in danger of becoming the new ‘thing’. Masters in Directing graduate Patrick Davies recently used the technique in his short end of year Pinter piece [The Dumb Waiter], to great and wonderful effect. The team behind the devised work Settling have tried the same thing, but taking the wretched things on and off over 2 ½ hours quickly became irritating rather than enriching.
Settling looks at living in Wellington today, with references past and present and a weird mixing of the two at one point, where EW Wakefield turns into a modern day land developer discussing sperm banks with a security guard, who’s just popped up through the floor while searching for Māori artefacts at the behest of a transvestite.
Fragments of stories are interlaced, some more interesting than others. A young Wellingtonian heads to France on his OE and ends up not leaving his grotty accommodation, while an American woman wants to get pregnant by her Māori lover and a radio announcer – well I’m not quite sure what his story is. That’s so much part of the problem, the lack of strong characters we either relate and/or care to respond to.
Here is the all important ‘but’: there are many memorable (for all the right reasons) moments in Settling. These are talented young actors Aaron Cortesi, Rachel Forman, Vaughan Slinn, Jade Daniels and James Ashcroft have great ideas, gusto and the determination to make their own work. Some of the staging is ingenious – a long distance phone call comes complete with those annoying echoes that drive us all crazy, echoes created by other actors on stage, and a fight and flight scene done with torches works like crazy.
The Director’s note is enlightening. The team starting talking about the work back in mid 2005 and have had hundreds of individual meetings, crammed in among their other individual projects, since then. There lies the rub, I suspect. They have fallen into the devised theatre trap – so many ideas, not enough culling, definitely not enough structure, story nor even characterisation despite the length of it. Peters suggests this work in progress will be about 6 hours long in a couple of years. In fact, it needs an hour carved out of it, honing rather than expanding. Le Page can sustain marathon theatre but he’s a genius and pretty much alone.
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Damn good theatre
Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 31st Oct 2007
Two years in the making, numerous meetings, a five-week workshop and eight weeks of rehearsals have produced a rambling, highly entertaining, often very funny play called Settling, which belongs to the Robert Altman school of plotting, and it’s all about living in Wellington.
It is also notable for the fact that the audience wears headphones for a great deal of its nearly three hours running time (there’s an interval). Headphones are becoming a fashion statement in theatrical circles as this is the second production in as many weeks that I have been asked to wear them.
This time my experience with the headphones was not a particularly happy one (static/tuning inadvertently into radio programmes/unable to hear when audience laughed loudly/etc) which was no doubt caused by my technical incompetence. When they did work for me they provided either an aural extreme close up or an unsettling sense of isolation or a feeling that a good old-fashioned aside would at times be just as effective. I hasten to add that others around me seemed perfectly happy with them.
However, my technical incompetence did not spoil my enjoyment of Settling which is an imaginative and discursive portrait of this city of transition and some of its inhabitants. Adrian is a slick property developer (James Ashcroft) returning from the US who becomes in one marvellous surrealistic scene Edward Gibbon Wakefield who talks to "darling Kerry" on the phone. Thomas is a nervous security guard (Aaron Cortesi) on a building site where an ancient pa has been uncovered, who is visited by a pregnant insomniac with cups of tea in the middle of the night. m
Then there’s Joe (Jade Daniels) who leaves NZ for his OE but poignantly fails to travel any further than his backpackers’ hostel but has a different story to tell when he returns home. Millie (Rachel Forman) is an American who works for a PR firm and chats on the phone with her family back in the States (other actors amusingly providing static and echoes).
A young man with a strong literary bent who works in radio (Vaughan Slinn) has a long running intimate (my headphones weren’t working at this point) affair with a young woman, which is orchestrated by a couple of directors behind a screen. And there are many minor characters (blokes in pubs/wedding guests) and all are played with panache by this true ensemble of just five excellent actors.
As with many of the STAB plays that I have seen Settling works – and at times brilliantly so – not because of the technology used but in spite of it. The most memorable sequences were often the simplest: faces lit by hand-held torches/ airport security procedures done with hand-held wooden frames/ a superb chase through a building site with actors miming running/ four actors with keyboards sitting at different angles to a table being office workers communicating from different offices.
Settling is a bit too long but it is damn good theatre with or without the headphones.
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Visceral and humorous experience in-progress
Review by Melody Nixon 29th Oct 2007
It’s not just an entertaining change when someone produces a piece of theatre that is experimental and challenging – it’s a long held sigh of relief. Settling, the first of the two STAB 2007 commissioned works, pushes the boundaries of realistic device to create an eerie, surreal experience, a mix between a humorous radio play and a David Lynch style surrealist epic for stage.
The narrative centers roughly around the lives of five characters – played by a ubiquitously gifted cast – and the choices they make with regards to settling. Millie’s (Rachel Foreman) slant on settling is down – a personal, maternal choice, and through a thread of fertility one linked to security guard Thomas (Aaron Cortesi) and building developer Adrian Leicester (James Ashcroft). Thomas journeys into the world of Wellington like an ancient spirit, finding himself confused and bewitched at the site of an ancient Mãori settlement. Adrian wishes in turn to transform that Taranaki Street settlement into a block of apartments, spurring on his own success, with the added layer that he himself has Mãori heritage.
Meanwhile, Joe (Jade Daniels) is struggling with his thwarted attempts to take flight overseas, when what he truly wants is to be settled in one spot. Malcolm (Vaughan Slinn) is the character which reveals least; all we gain is through snippets of intimate moments with his partner, and their oh-so-typical fantasies of owning their own home, baking scones and playing cricket.
There is strikingly poetic and lyrical writing throughout the devised piece, read mostly by Slinn and Cortesi into a microphone and transmitted via headphones to each audience member. While this poetic narration ventures into slightly clichéd terrain at times (e.g. when describing the Wellington weather there is a mention of the ‘positive’ effects global warming might bring) on the whole it creates a sturdy and deeply visceral framework for the play’s ideas. The delightfully absurdist sequence (in which the talented and improvisational Cortesi is drawn from bong-toking in Aro valley to the deep, rhythmical hum of the building site and ancient Mãori settlement), succeeds in creating a strong, fantastical sense of magic. Likewise the characters Cortesi there meets conjure an effective and sinister underworld of hidden meaning and code.
The degree of abstraction created by both the headphones and the film effects of certain dream-like sequences – the drag queen in particular calling up imagery of Lynch’s Blue Velvet – unexpectedly works to engage the viewer deeper in the space while keeping them conscious of the plastics of theatre. The headphones are tangible objects which make us aware of our positioning in the audience, outside the stage – and through this the show becomes simultaneously more like a film and more like real life, by becoming less realistic or ‘naturalistic.’ E.g. the use of microphones allows the actors to speak in low, un-projected voices. Similarly, the dark space uses light to focus our attention on small sections of the space, in much the same way as film does.
An effective symbolism links the themes of re-colonisation and neo-colonialism with development and expansion; such as when the uncovering of what are thought to be M_ori artifacts – but turn out to be an L&P can – is positioned inside a black business briefcase. Likewise, Thomas is lead through a ‘punga hut’ unearthed in the old p_ site into the world of Edward Gibbon Wakefield (also played by Ashcroft) and his historical – and unsavory – plans for the settlement of Wellington. Thus Settling questions whether cultural heritage is being replaced by business and commerce, and what the effects of this are.
While many of Settling’s scenes are not connected through logic or a linear narrative, our intuitive and sensory perceptions strongly meld them together, creating interesting and fulfilling combinations of ideas and questions. Unusually the work succeeds as a series of separate, entertaining vignettes and an overall connected experience, making for a kind of post-modern Epic theatre.
Director Leo Gene Peters explains in the programme notes that this is an indeed an epic work: the final piece may be 6 hours long “in a couple of years” time. He also alludes to Settling as a work in progress, “very much a beginning”, and in some of the included scenes a lack of permanence does show. The scenes between Malcolm and his partner Sarah (also played by Rachel Forman) are individually perceptive and humorous; but are more difficult than the others to relate to the overall whole. The interaction between Adrian and the kaumatua on Adelaide road is hilarious yet inconclusive, hinting as it does at a meeting, stand off or resolution.
While in retrospect there are certainly loose ends and dissatisfyingly unanswered questions in this play, the visceral and humorous experience it offers is well worth its work-in-progress aspect. Settling is so rich in ideas and allusion that this review can only touch on the briefest of its fortes. If you attend the show – and anyone with an interest in excited, unconventional theatre should – you’ll uncover a rich weave of meaningful ideas and an entirely engaging exploration of audience, sensation and performance.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
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Highly subjective and rather seductive
Review by John Smythe 24th Oct 2007
The "cutting edge" component of Settling, which helped the project to win a STAB* commission, involves issuing the audience with headphones so that some of the time – not all through the show – we hear monologue, dialogue, music and sound effects in an isolation similar to wearing an MP3/ iPod/ walkman in public. We’re not alone and yet we are.
The question is: does this technology intensify the state in which we engage with live theatre, add a whole new dimension or rob it of an essential component? [There’s a link to the relevant forum below.] The sound design and music – by Stephen Gallagher and Thomas Press – certainly takes us deeper into internal monologues and creates a sense of sometimes surreal, subjective experience. And the contrast with the parts we watch ‘normally’, without the ‘phones, is interesting in itself.
Fortunately – given the only thing you can guarantee about electronic technology is that it will never be totally perfect all the time, especially when members of the public have access to the knobs – the devising company, intriguingly called ‘A Slightly Isolated Dog’, has not allowed the medium to become the ‘massage’. Their three hour show (including 15 minutes of messing about with the headphones at the beginning, and a mid-show interval) works because the stories that unfold and the people they involve are credible and compelling. No surprises there.
What is a surprise is that only five actors take a bow at the end, which attests to the wondrous way they have peopled the space with a vast array of characters who variously arrive, leave, return and/ or settle in Wellington. Initially characterised as a claustrophobic village, by a late night radio voice (Vaughan Slinn) – a useful device for narrative and historical exposition – Wellington becomes a character in its own right. And each individual may well say, "I live at the edge of the universe, like everybody else", to quote the Bill Manhire poem that adorns the Wellington waterfront and the printed programme.
Adrian (James Ashcroft) is a jet-about hot-shot property developer returning from America to join Poneke Development Ltd, committed to "creating and writing the future development of our home". His journey, through security check, on the plane, in and out of elevators, ingeniously staged with the aid of black frames and hand-held lights, sets the tone for staging concepts that allow for easy and fluid transitions.
The solo light, for instance, interplays with a stand of empty bottles to evoke a shadow-land of sky-scrapers. A small pile of pebbles represents an entire construction site. A briefcase of dirt evokes the magic of archaeological excavation. Tracey Monastra’s design – which extends beyond the back wall and includes two trap doors in a raised floor – also allows the odd table, chair, phone and lamp to be useful without imposing on the space or cluttering the flow of action.
Later Ashcroft’s Adrian morphs into Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Wellington’s first and probably most ruthless property developer, in the addled imagination of Thomas (Aaron Cortesi), a night-shift security guard on the construction site where the remains of an ancient pa have been unearthed. In just one phone call, Cortesi also manifests a Mâori elder, Bob Whatawai, whose lack of interest in the trappings of affluence throws Adrian’s efforts into salutary (and comic) relief.
From early on, Adrian’s return ‘home’ is counterpointed by the story of Joe (Jade Daniels), who travels to Paris on his big OE and hides out in a backpackers’ hostel run by an idiosyncratic Frenchman (Cortesi). Yet to find his place in the real world, Joe’s lack of focus and purpose adds a poignant layer to the work while he is overseas, back home and with his social cricket mates.
Rachel Forman opts mostly for non-Kiwi characters in her most voluble roles: American Milly – who seems to be into events marketing in Wellington – has a memorable phone conversation with her family back in the States, complete with delays and echoes (superb ensemble work here). This leads to her consulting a South African doctor (Cortesi) who also does the honours when Adrian is prevails upon to help her fulfil a particular need …
Her expatriate English woman, a pregnant but solo insomniac with gastric reflux who lives in a private hotel and brings Thomas a cuppa in the dead of night, is another poignant portrait of a fish out of water seeking meaningful contact. Forman also plays a young Kiwi woman engaged in a series of interactions with her partner Malcolm (Slinn), in a quest for intimacy and romance that is monitored by a couple of ‘producers’ – Daniels & Ashcroft – behind a screen in a sound studio. While such sequences defy rational explanation, they somehow touch a recognisable core of truth that one feels might be lost if it was over-analysed here.
Ashcroft adds a classic cameo as Thomas’s veteran boss, Murray. In Thomas’s night-time fantasies, Slinn becomes a seductive drag queen … All the actors are superb, not least in their ensemble work. Adrian’s return to his home town to attend his nephew’s wedding, and make a speech, is wonderfully abetted by a trio – Forman, Daniels and Cortesi – who transmute from Bros outside the hall to Aunties inside the hall in yet another memorable sequence.
Settling is a highly subjective and rather seductive experience that does benefit from headphone element. The way it sits in my memory is certainly different from most of the theatre I’ve seen.
Click here to discuss the headphone aspect in a Forum.
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*STAB (BATS backwards) attracts special funding from Creative New Zealand, and other sponsors, to commission a annual season of at least two "cutting edge, revolutionary performance works". The competitive process begins in mid-March, short-listed applicants present their concept in early April, the commissions are announced in early May and the results are performed in October/ November. Click here for more details.
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