BATS Theatre, Wellington

22/08/2006 - 02/09/2006

Production Details

devised by Leo Gene Peters, John Butterfield, Jean Copeland, Geoff Pinfield, Amanda Baker, Cooper Amai, Thomas Press & Ceridwyn Roberts
directed & designed by Leo Gene Peters

Just how many times can one person shift houses, countries, lovers, jobs?

Building on a critically acclaimed season in 2004 shifting celebrates the contradictions and complexities in our constantly moving lives. A fast, imaginative, funny work where boxes dance, realities blur and bus stops are a pick up joint.

Like children’s make-believe, hundreds of cardboard boxes create dozens of different locations, following a pharmaceutical researcher, a philosophy student and an American university lecturer trying to find home in Wellington.

Gabriel - John Butterfield
Lauren - Jean Copeland
Graeme - Geoff Pinfield
Rebecca - Amanda Baker
Joel - Cooper Amai

Producers - Leo Gene Peters & Ceridwyn Roberts
Sound design - Thomas Press
Stage Manager - Jimmy Sutcliffe
Operator - Paul Tozer
Production assistant - Pamela Hooper
Publicity - Ceridwyn Roberts

Theatre ,

1hr 5 mins, no interval

Finely tuned second time round

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 25th Aug 2006

When I saw Shifting at Te Whaea two years ago there were 6000 cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes on stage. There are a lot fewer on the smaller stage at Bats for this revival of what was originally part of Leo Gene Peters’s master of theatre arts (in directing) run by Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School and the Film and Theatre Programme of Victoria University.

In this latest version, which has been revised and tightened, two characters have been deleted and two new ones added, and three of the original cast have been retained playing their original roles. What has not changed is the inventive direction that allows the actors to drive the stories forward with the same comic spirit that enlivened the first production.

The cardboard boxes are still turned into beds, wind machines, dancers in a gay bar, and numerous other things and places in the four or five stories that depict the constant changes we all have to face every day in the turmoil of the modern world.

As a programme note says ‘Life, identity, sexuality, relationships: all these things are only ever fixed when they die.’ Shifting explores all this through some linked, neatly written and warmly performed stories about a youngish dancer from California adapting to life in Wellington, a young man learning Spanish and having a fleeting love affair before heading off to Spain, a young woman shifting flats, and a scientist being nervously courted by a man who spends most of his time either in his empty flat in Aro Street or at a Winz office.

In my review of the first production I wrote that there seemed to be no necessity for Shifting to ever stop because there were neither climaxes nor resolutions to the stories. I was wrong because, of course, life can never be neatly and tidily wrapped up in a box. But then life can sometimes be unpleasant, but luckily in this amusing hour-long play that idea is kept at bay.


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The paradox of constant change

Review by John Smythe 23rd Aug 2006

In his programme note, director-designer Leo Gene Peters observes that everything alive is "constantly moving and evolving, changing and shifting," and asks, "How do we live fluidly when everything in our world teaches us to solidify our identity, our beliefs?"

His visual manifestation of this paradoxical state of constant change is to fill the stage with cardboard boxes of all sizes then use them both literally, as themselves, and creatively, as beds, bars, dancers … As five lives on the move, and the ways they inter-relate, are revealed, explored and progressed the boxes themselves are moved.

My memory of Shifting‘s original 2004 outing is that the form obscured the content somewhat and the audience was left remote from the action. Now there is a happy symbiosis of form and content and the audience cannot help but be fully engaged and entertained at many levels.

Californian choreographer Gabriel (John Butterfield), a dynamic mover, is moving to Wellington, to take up a teaching job. Lauren (Jean Copeland), an enigmatic and therefore intriguing anthro-neurological pharmacologist, is shifting house. Her questing friend Rebecca (Amanda Baker) works in advertising, tries to shift product by capturing changing customer perceptions, and tosses about in her sleep.

Joel (Cooper Amai), also in advertising and more drifting than questing, is shifting to Madrid. Philosophy student Graeme and part-time dad (Geoff Pinfield) – still seeking the right question let alone the answer – is trying to move into the real world and find a job while coping with flatmates who have already moved on, owing money.

Amid the boxes that may or may not define, confine or contain them, these little-big lives ebb, flow, trickle, gush, swirl and sometimes find repose, for a moment or two. We find them at home, work, a bus stop, café, gay bar … Relationships end or go on long-distance hold while others grow in the present moments … One is necessarily fleeting, another other confronts its participants with the scary possibility of permanence …

An early evocation of cramped airline accommodations and a turbulent arrival in Wellington sets the impressionistic style. Exposition is deftly imparted through public announcements, language learning tapes and drug-testing interviews. Objective realities give way to subjective experiences or fantasies. While the absolutes of life might be hard to pin down at times, there is no doubt every element of Shifting is true.

All of it plays out with an ease and confidence that thoroughly validates the long gestation period. And the programme note says further change is in the offing, not least in response to further feedback. So my suggestion is to consider making more of Graeme’s son (ingeniously brought into the action without being seen) because dependent children and the changes they go through are a constant, grounding, confining yet liberating force in the still-growing lives of adults.

Flowing on from that is the question of parents, families, and the role they have in defining or confining, us. As always, the notions of shifting and impermanence become more meaningful in contrast to their opposites.

Meanwhile this incarnation of Shifting offers an absorbing hour-and-a-bit of consummate theatrical craft, giving idiosyncratic life to everyday experiences.


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