25/11/2014 - 29/11/2014
MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SHEAR A SHEEP
“Amazing clarity…astute and inspired…a fascinating delve into our past” – Dominion Post, 2011
The play may be called Sheep, but award-winning Kiwi playwright Arthur Meek strays far from the common herd in his very different take on New Zealand history. Sixteen bright new actors showcase themselves in this production, ending a year at The Actors’ Program, from November 19 at The Basement.
In search of exploring distinctive ways of storytelling, the writer of ‘On the Upside Down of the World’ and ‘Trees Beneath the Lake’ has created a world of epic vignettes that knit together time and blood in a unique passage that Meek calls “an experience, not a lesson”.
From colonial prostitutes to nuclear protestors, Sheep follows non-conventional kiwi heroes across 150 years, three countries and interwoven bloodlines. In the power struggle between sex and technology Sheep dances on the question of whether those new iPhones were created to serve us, or we exist to serve them.
The Actors’ Program, now in its’ third year of operation, is lead by Artistic Board members Sara Wiseman (A Place To Call Home), Michele Hine(Go Girls), Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Rita & Douglas), Michael Hurst (Trees Beneath The Lake), John Callen (The Hobbit), Cameron Rhodes (Housebound), and Charlie McDermott (Apocalypse Z). Their vision is to develop a 100% practical training course that professionally challenges and invigorates dedicated artists, thereby preparing and enabling them to enter this competitive industry.
At the helm of this romp through time, is acclaimed director Benjamin Henson (Earnest, Camino Real, Titus). Having directed last years’ showcase production, Henson knows how to put on a grand finale, unveiling the best these young actors have to offer.
Do not miss this opportunity to experience the stories your grandmother never told you…
Sheep was first developed for, and produced by, Long Cloud Youth Theatre, Wellington.
Performance at Q Loft,
tickets collected at The Basement, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland, CBD
25 – 29 November, 8pm
except Thursday 27 Nov at 8.30pm
Saturday Matinee 4pm.
1 hour, 30 mins, no intermission.
$25 waged and $20 unwaged (booking fees may apply)
Andrew Craik, Andrew Parker, Brianna Cox, Chloe Elmore, Crystelle L'Amie, Daniel Watterson, Geordie Holibar, Jared James, Jennifer Dando, Leonardo Afon, Lyndon Katene, Mary McCormick, Mary Rinaldi, Rebekkah Farrell, Simone Walker, Zoe Robins
Set John Parker
Costumes Charlie Baptist
Sound Thomas Press
Lighting Rachel Marlow
Review by Matt Baker 28th Nov 2014
Selecting a graduation/showcase production for an acting/industry institution is not an easy task. Numbers aside, gender and the suitability of sensibilities can be a difficult jigsaw to manage. Director Ben Henson has chosen wisely by gifting The Actor’s Program 2014 class with Arthur Meek’s Sheep, which has been adequately expanded to its full cast size. Henson’s tweaking of Meeks’ 2011 text provides its episodic narrative with a sense of cyclical completion, but there is only so much that can be done with a script that does not equal more than the sum of its parts.
With a focus on Anglo-Germanic relationships, it’s a shame that the accent of the latter is unsuccessful, specifically with the men. Leonardo Afon’s Eastern European origins explain, though no more justify, his Slavic pronunciation, though his earnestness does not trump his lack of listening. Fortunately, Zöe Robins anchors him with an emotionally full and ironically suitable screen performance. [More]
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A rich, convoluted work of extraordinary depth and power
Review by Nik Smythe 26th Nov 2014
John Parker’s tastefully simple set makes use of the full width of the Q Loft’s floor, with a white draped backdrop and a handful of door-sized white screens distributed about among numerous wooden chairs. Given the breadth of the stage, not to mention the cast of sixteen plucky youths graduating from this year’s Actors Programme, its difficult to imagine this production physically fitting into the Basement Theatre, where it was originally scheduled to play.
Arthur Meek’s monumental, frequently poetic (I hesitate to use the descriptor ‘Shakespearean’) 2011 script is complex in detail but broadly coherent enough to follow, and remarkably relatable given said complexity. Eight scenes explore seven time periods set around multiple generations of two rival families from the same Canterbury district: the sheep-farming Pykes and the entrepreneurial Albrechts.
Opening in a modern-day scene specifically dated February 22nd 2011, Christchurch resident Alice Pyke (Zoe Robins) is skyping her online sweetheart Manny (Leonardo Afron), a cheerful German lad working in Shanghai. His family heirloom – a necklace displaying the image of a yellow-eyed penguin – engenders a mystery as to how his German grandmother came to possess an artefact that exhibits a native NZ bird prevalent around Alice’s own home town, although the scene concludes at the outset of a sudden and far more pressing emergency …
For the audience, the question is half answered in scene two, by the one genuine historical figure in the play as far as I can tell: one Samuel Butler (Daniel Watterson), founder and proprietor of Canterbury’s Mesopotamia Sheep Station in the 1860s. Attempting to treat his reluctant colleague Karl Albrecht (Andrew Craik) to the not-so-forbidden pleasures of stroppy local working girl Mary Pyke (Mary McCormick), in the midst of heated debate about morality and responsibility, Butler waxes lyrical on his fascination with the humbly magnificent hoiho, indicating a clear connection between this generation, and both Alice and Manny’s a century and a half later.
A family tree set up in the foyer does help to make any specific connections one might miss in the multi-generational chronology; testament to how much thought and effort Meek employed to give weight and historical credibility to his dramatis personae.
The convoluted narrative continues though the ages, looking in on both world wars (the WWII story being the most viscerally intense), the progressive gender politics of the sixties, and the exponentially politically charged eighties, before returning to the aftermath of the opening contemporary scene between Alice and Manny.
I perceive a subtly eclectic range of theatrical styles between each generation, as well as within each scene, more or less seamlessly infusing various levels of broad and humorous expressionism with more naturalistic, straight drama. For instance, Lyndon Katene’s portrayal of local A&P show Golden Shears winner Charles Albrecht, is the first of a few adversarial characters played in a slightly exaggerated, cartoon villain style, complete with comic henchmen.
With the sheer degree of interwoven details at play between myriad characters, a comprehensive summary wouldn’t be much shorter than the play itself. As well as offering a rewarding series of impressions of its various time-periods, each self-contained story is impressively well wrought in its own right, to the degree that any one of them could conceivably have a whole soap-opera centred on its characters, like The Sullivans or Upstairs Downstairs.
The title Sheep represents but one, arguably the most significant of several thematic through-lines, along with the more specific ‘wool’, family, career and of course penguins. Characters from previous or subsequent scenes lurk in the shadows, looking upon their immediate relations – as indeed our memories of our own children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents are stronger than more distant generations we have only imagined. Examples of such symbolism are multitudinous and invariably well placed.
Jessie McCall’s diverse videography drenches the pervasive black-and-whiteness of the set with copious photographs and videos pertinent to their respective scene’s time-periods, from Charlie Baptist’s triumphant and extensive costume design to Rachel Marlow’s splendid lighting and Thomas Press’s sterling soundtrack. The only minor, easily remedied technical shortcoming I recall is the live band’s excessive volume, rendering the A&P show’s patriotic Cantabrian shanty song’s lyrics indecipherable.
Broadly speaking however, every theatrical element amply serves its purpose to the production to produce a rich, convoluted work of extraordinary depth and power. Commendations are due to the entire cast, many of whom tackle multiple roles with the easy versatility required of a young performer in the world of contemporary theatre, and of course the clear vision of director-extraordinaire Benjamin Henson.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer