02/05/2013 - 04/05/2013
…amazing clarity …astute and inspired …a fascinating delve into our past. – The Dominion Post
New Zealand is a nation born and bred into the agricultural mindset Starting in a Canterbury whorehouse in 1863, and ending in Christchurch in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake – Sheep is a comedy consisting of quirky snapshots of young people trying to make sense of their lives and this industry, both of which are dominated by increasingly complex relationships between technology and biology. Sheep asks whether these things exist to serve us, or we exist to serve them.
Wilson graduated from Otago University in 2011 with a degree in theatre studies after cutting his teeth on the Allen Hall stage and directing his fair share of Capping Shows. He went onto establish Counterpoint in 2012 earning glowing reviews and an emerging artist award at the Duneding Theatre Awards for his directorial work.
Arthur is a graduate of Toi Whakaari: The New Zealand Drama School and has spent the last ten years writing a steady stream of work for stage, screen and radio. He is a two-time Bruce Mason Award nominee – winning in 2011, and was the summer writer-in-residence at the Michael King Writers Centre. He is the recipient of the 2013 Harriet Friedlander New York Residency and is currently developing his new play, The Trees Beneath the Lake.
Sheep by Arthur Meek
Otago Pioneer Women’s Hall
2nd, 3rd and 4th May at 7.30pm
Otago Pioneer Women’s Hall
Tickets $15 Waged, $10 Unwaged
Tickets available at the door
or through http://www.dashtickets.co.nz/event/njymw84r9
Dash Tickets http://www.dashtickets.co.nz/event/tjzspy305
Official Website: http://www.counterpointproductions.co.nz/projects/sheep/
Information on Counterpoint
Counterpoint is the newest and liveliest theatre company in Dunedin. Counterpoint was formed in October 2012 by young theatre practitioners Alex Wilson and Hadley R. Taylor, who debuted with a sell out season of Toa Fraser’s Bare, which Alex won the Rising Star Award at the Dunedin Theatre Awards for his efforts in directing that piece.
In 2013 Counterpoint ran a successful PledgeMe Campaign, and has since launched its 2013 Season which is an eclectic mix of comedies, dramas, Kiwi works and an exciting Dunedin dance piece. More Information can be found in one of our yearly programmes or on our and brand new wesbite at www.counterpointproductions.co.nz.
This season will demonstrate Counterpoint’s commitment to support young artists and Counterpoints goals, which are to:
Foster a youth oriented theatre industry in Dunedin that produces work by young people for young people.
Provide opportunities for young theatre practitioners to hone their craft in a supportive environment
Remove barriers to young people producing their work, by offering financial, administrative and production assistance.
Promote the up skilling of young artists by running workshops led by industry professionals.
Strong production of a boldly structured script
Review by Sharon Matthews 03rd May 2013
Sheep is the third production from CounterPoint Productions, Dunedin’s “newest and liveliest” theatre company. CounterPoint was formed — to quote from their press release — to foster a local youth orientated theatre industry by producing work by young theatre practitioners for young people.
Written originally for Long Cloud Youth Theatre by award-winning playwright Arthur Meek for its 2011 premiere, and directed here by (also award-winning) Alex Wilson, Sheep is a singularly smart, witty and whirlwind romp through New Zealand colonial history, as experienced by three (I think it’s three, see plaintive plaint in paragraph five) interwoven family groups.
But, frankly, CounterPoint had me with their choice of venue. The story behind the establishment of the Otago Pioneer Women’s Hall in Dunedin as an unofficial New Zealand centennial memorial is one of Dunedin’s more interesting civic battles. The building was originally intended to serve as both as a centennial monument to pioneer mothers and a purpose-build women’s centre offering a range of services for women and children. However, the Provincial Council withdrew support from the project and threated legal action if the women continued to use the word ‘centennial’ in their title (for more details, go here).
Given this backstory, the Otago Pioneer Women’s Hall is a nicely evocative setting for Sheep’s engaging takes on issues of women’s rights (prostitution, women taking men’s job in wartime, rape as a weapon of war, contraception) and the combination of family and national history. Sheep is made up of seven short connected episodes — starting in a Canterbury whorehouse in 1862, and ending in Christchurch post-2011 earthquake — a series of quirky snapshots which depict young people trying to make sense of their lives, their families, and the scary playground that is love.
Each vignette features recurring threads and motifs, of which the most important seems to be the relationship between man and machinery: automated shearing machines, weaving machines, hand-guns, rifles, nuclear bombs and Skype. Oh, and sheep. Also yellow-eyed penguins. But primarily sheep.
The most striking aspect of this production is the playful embracing of a minimalist theatrical aesthetic. The preshow sound scape, designed by Mr Midge (aka Wellington muso Brendan McBride) is complemented by the cheery baaaing provided by the technical operators (Luke Agnew and Zach Nicholls). Tricky or complicated props are subjected to a high degree of symbolic displacement, so that a hammer and a pick-axe become a handgun and a rifle, a hoe becomes a microphone — perhaps a touch anachronistic for 1885?
Costumes, designed by Katarina Schwarz, barely sketch in changing time-periods. While I admire the élan, I object strenuously, though, to the use of a 1970s polyester dress to represent the Victorian era. Especially bright red polyester. Particularly effective however, is the way in which design motifs appear and reappear in much the same way as themes recur in the text. Such as a particularly, aaaah, striking red and black checked jacket which is a pivotal prop in 1966, and is reused very effectively as the royal cape of the Marine /Merino Princess in 1986. It is a pleasure to experience this confident handling of design as an integral part of the total performance. This was also a notable aspect of Box/Role/Dream, CounterPoint’s earlier production at Allen Hall.
Each of the seven actors has a couple of main roles across the seven scenes, and take turns at ensemble roles in-between. The acting is a little uneven at times, and more noticeable for endearing energy and boundless enthusiasm than precision of physicality. Concentration is also needed to follow the threads of family relationships.
Apparently the original production displayed a copy of the family tree(s) in the Bats foyer. It’s a shame that this wasn’t included as part of the programme for this production, as it would have been a useful addition. In fact, while the programme lists the cast, it avoids explaining (very post-modern, darlings) which of the seven actors plays what character.
The opening scene features Nell Guy as a stroppy whore attempting to service Englishman Samuel Butler (Aaron Mayes) and his shy clockmaker German friend (Andrew Brinsley-Pirie). This is a strong scene and difficul scene to begin with, made more difficult the proportions of the Hall making the audience close enough to reach out and touch the actors. Hopefully, as the (woefully short) season goes on, the actors will relax into their roles a bit more lustfully.
The second scene, set at the Christchurch A&P show 1885, showcases the comic energy of Angus McBride (Julius Prout), an inventor born with a silver spoon in his mouth, who is busy thwarting the love affair between Rebecca (Annabelle Carpenter) and Sam Pyke (Mayes). While the culminating sheep-shearing contest boggles belief, this is the weakest scene for me. A particular weakness is the communal dancing that opens the scene. Enthusiastic, energetic and realistically awkward it undoubtedly is, but a greater degree of polish might better complement McBride’s outstanding comic physicality.
It is perhaps a little unfair to highlight any actor in particular but, for me, Nell Guy is outstanding. In the third scene, set in 1917, Guy is in Kaiapoi Hospital with a severed hand, thanks to an accident at the woollen mill, and being visited by mechanic Miss Albright (Josephine Byrnes). In a moving passage, the cause of the accident is gradually revealed. [Spoiler alert] Albright turns out to be German; her real name is Brigitta Albrecht. The Nurse (Sarah Henderson) is outraged that the company has sent a mechanic to fix the machine who is both of German origin and a female. [ends] Two union representatives enter (McBride and Carpenter) and the tone of the scene shatters, transmuted into slapstick comedy oddly combined with a fierce defence of unionism. It doesn’t seem to fit with the previous passage, nor does it seem necessary to the plot, but maybe I’m just missing the point.
The strongest scene of the seven is set in the bombed and burned-out remnants of Dresden towards the end of World War II. Frankie (Mayes) is attacked by a young German soldier (who turns out to be a young girl), and is rescued by another Kiwi, George (McBride). Both Mayes and McBride are exceptional. The dialogue between these two antithetical figures – one still innocent, the other a venal and sexually violent soldier bitter and degraded by the obscenity that is war – is as blunt as the knife Frankie uses to dig out the bullet in his leg.
Having whirled through two wars, the audience is abruptly returned to New Zealand and the Masterton Golden Sheers, 1966. The focus on women’s issues intensifies, as unwanted pregnancy and the right to contraception form the subject matter. Brinsley-Pirie has a lovely cameo in this scene as a young man who is talked into masquerading as a husband in order to fraudulently obtain the new contraceptive pill, and sheds his meek and mild mask to masterfully bully the doctor into a prescription.
The two final scenes are set in Wellington 1986, and Christchurch/ Shanghai 2011, respectively. While the first of these two is gloriously comic — with one of the funniest parodies of political theatre as enacted by The Red Hot Theatre Company that I have been privileged to see for a very long time! — and it ends on a troubling note as a young handicapped man (another very strong performance from Mayes) arrives with news from home for his sister Jules (Guy). After the dramatic ending to this scene, the final scene, although it hinges on the tremendous dislocation of identity and security post Christchurch earthquakes, seems an anti-climax. The love story of Alice (Henderson) and Manfred (Brinsley-Pirie), played out via Skype and lit by flickering computer screens, seems almost too fragile to carry the weight of the violence and tragedy previously encountered. So, love solves everything? Really?
Overall, while sometimes a bit ragged around the edges, Sheep is a strong production with effective performances that match and complement a boldly structured script from an innovative and exciting playwright.
One final piece of wisdom from this production: “A sheep is merely a lamb’s way of making another lamb.” I’m not sure I find that comforting …
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