07/02/2023 - 10/02/2023
By Tatiana Hotere
Directed by Romy Hooper
Set and light Designer: Jane Hakaraia
Produced by Tatiana Hotere & Edward Peni
“Oh my F-ing God. Grief can make you horny!”
A hilarious and moving semi-autobiographical play written by Tatiana Hotere. Skin Hunger is a woman’s roller-coaster journey through Grief, God and ‘Gasms.
After the death of her husband, grief-stricken Eva – a perimenopausal woman of faith – embarks on a journey of self-discovery, spiritual awakening and sexual empowerment. Amidst a deluge of tragic tinder dates, self-doubt and Catholic guilt, she finds the courage to forge a new path for her life in the chaotic aftermath. Eva discovers – there is always life after death.
Raw, passionate, sexy and heartbreakingly funny, Skin Hunger explores the intersection of grief, faith and sexuality in a brave and sensitive way. This show is for anyone who’s ever lost someone, and had to find themselves (and perhaps their clitoris) again.
Returning after a sell-out season at Auckland Fringe Festival, the award-winning show will make you laugh out loud and also move you to tears.
“Skin Hunger was absolutely glorious, and I thank Hotere for being unafraid to talk about the hard stuff. ” Olivia Wright – Rat World Magazine
“Some of the funniest dating interactions you’ve seen on a stage.” Andrew Whiteside
“Do yourself a favour and go see this. Watch it if you’ve ever lost someone you’ve loved, watch it if you’ve ever been horny. Watch it if you own a dildo, watch it if you don’t, watch it if you have Catholic guilt or really any kind of guilt. Watch it if you want to be moved.” Renee Liang
$25 – $32 (Service fee may apply)
Tue 7 – Fri 10 February
This show contains Adult Themes
Performers: Tatiana Hotere, Albert Belz, Denise Snoad
Production Manager: Michael Craven
A story for all of us performed by artists with the gift of sublime comic timing and a deep understanding of the importance of the moment
Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 08th Feb 2023
Chances are, if you’ve been hanging about on social media, especially Facebook, you’ll have seen ads for a new and exciting theatre work called Skin Hunger. When I say ‘new’ it’s been around for a year and already played one sold out season so you may even have seen it. It’ll be great if you have. I haven’t, because when the first season hit, I was overseas. Overseas was great, but the one thing I regretted about Italy was missing my friend Tatiana Hotere’s new play so it’s great that I get to see it at last. I wonder, being human, if it’s changed much. Season one certainly caused a bit of a fuss in all the best ways.
I was excited at the thought of being able to attend the opening night of this short season in the fabulous Q Loft and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, despite having high expectations, even these were exceeded. Not bad for a play about grief, religion, and sex. There’s more than that, of course, but these are the factors that may encourage you to go, discourage you from going, or make you question whether or not to take your Gran or your recently widowed auntie. I’d have asked the same questions myself but, having attended a matinee of Eve Ensler’s ‘The Vagina Monologues’ in London with a full house of octogenarian women raucously shouting the C word at the top of their lungs, I will never second guess my female rellies again. Who could deny this experience to a treasured kuia.
Put aside your anxieties, and your fear that there may be content that will trigger you, or them, because anything you’re feeling will be offset by the sheer joy of great performances, oodles of laughter, and more than the odd profound moment. It’s cheeky and sexy, a bit grubby and occasionally coarse but, hey, so’s TV so what the hell. It’s worth it.
I love the title so, in googling for promotional material, I found that ‘skin hunger’ is an actual thing. Who knew? I didn’t, so here goes:
“Skin hunger is the biological need for human touch.” Sirin Kale tells us, ‘it’s why babies in neonatal intensive care units are placed on their parent’s naked chests. It’s the reason that prisoners in solitary confinement often report craving human contact as ferociously as they desire their liberty. It’s also why, three months into lockdown, many of us were feeling increasingly tearful, low, or flat.” Kale goes on to say, “perhaps you live alone, or you may live in that kind of respectful but distant adult co-habitation, with flatmates or family, where you are physically adjacent but never touch. You may be sharing a house with people you don’t like that much. And even if you are living with people you love, and with whom you are physically affectionate, life may simply be so tough right now that your need for connection and comfort feels ravenous. There is a reason why many of us say, after a long day, ‘can I have a hug?’.”
Make sense? Sure does.
Hotere, as might be expected, has assembled an exquisite team of actors each with great craft, a director with wonderful experience, and a tech team that know exactly which buttons to push, and when. It’s a veritable Karma Sutra of excellence.
Speaking of buttons to push, there’s a lot of comment in this work about doing just that. When I had the privilege of working with Hotere briefly on the Pop-Up Globe stage in Grae Burton’s excellent all woman Henry V, I came to respect her integrity, her smarts, her intelligence, and her kindness. Our intimacy never went further than a few passing chats – it was backstage in a shipping container with lots of bodies, costumes, rickety chairs, rushing about, and mud – and I was the tranny not everyone approved of, but she seemed accepting, and I liked her a lot. She was a woman in love with a wonderful husband and with a couple of great kids, and they were young. It felt as though hers was the perfect life, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, as you and I know, it can go wrong in the blink of an eye and it did. Hotere’s husband became ill and passed away and the happiness dream was snuffed out in a puff of smoke. She lived her grief, courageously, on social media, so I had plenty of opportunity to feel sad for her, upset for her, and to share her inability to deal with what had happened to her.
You see, I’m a queer person, and I lived, through the 1980s and 90s with the AIDS epidemic, as a performing artist, and my community was decimated. Unlike COVID, there was no widespread community empathy for us, we were simply society’s detritus being justifiably eliminated by God’s unfathomable wrath.
I experienced, from my closet, the passing of many close friends, held the hands of dying lovers, and watched acquaintances waste away. I attended far too many funerals, celebrations of lives too short, sacrificed to an illness we knew all too little or nothing about embedded in a Godzone that couldn’t have cared less.
The only way I can now deal with experiences like these is to shut them out, which is ultimately unhelpful, and personally dishonest. I don’t go to funerals now, I celebrate lives lost quietly at home, and when my friends experience loss on a scale that Tatiana has recorded so openly, I retreat into my cave of futility: I simply don’t know what to say or how to respond, so I don’t, and I say nothing as eloquently as I can. It’s cowardly, I know. But that’s how it is. Well, at least that’s how it was. Until last evening.
I wasn’t concerned about my response to the play because it’s a play in a theatre performed by people I know and respect and what could be safer for me than that? Nothing, I convinced myself, nothing at all to fear. My son, age 20 and a man of the world, was happy to accompany me which, because I was to write about it, didn’t daunt me at all. Quality aside, I knew what I was in for. Or thought I did. Such confidence was always going to lead to that predictable moment where my inner robot whispers ‘danger Will Robinson’, a subtle warning that I will, of course, ignore.
The gentle danger of the known, but danger all the same.
After 90 minutes sitting in the dark, laughing my tits off, and shedding more than a few tears, son and I left the theatre and sat on the seats at the edge of the appropriately named Queen Street. I’m an older person in my late 70s, so there is always an elephant in the room that we don’t talk about but that I meditate on endlessly – will he be OK when my time comes? Last night, courtesy of Tatiana and her team, we briefly confronted the elephant, on a public road surrounded by happy people drinking wine and laughing. Alone, we talked about what will happen when I pass, because I will, and he will still be young. In the moment I felt I needed to prepare him for this eventuality, but I found, as I so often do, but this was largely unnecessary. He’d already thought about it, rationalised it, and again, as so often happens, he was way ahead of me. But we had the conversation, the ground was broken, the seed planted, and a deeper bond was formed in a place where deep bonds live and are nurtured.
Then life returned to normal, we drove through the dusk, went to Domino’s, played on our phones, and bought pizza and coke.
In her programme notes, which are excellent, Hotere says she hopes her play will move people to have these sorts of conversations, take new steps towards finding themselves (and, if appropriate, their clitoris). I was lucky in that my dear boy had already gone there. He quoted Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to me, listed the stages of grief, and talked about his own experiences. He also seemed pretty relaxed about the physical landscape of the human female, but that conversation can wait for another time. Death with a side of grief is enough to have on our menu for today. Should audience members not be so fortunate in the experience they have with Skin Hunger, there is a counsellor on site with brochures, chats, and wisdom to be shared.
Oh, that’s right, I should tell you something about the experience I had with the play, with the Q Theatre Loft, and with the production. The Q Theatre experience just gets better and better, and the production itself is about as complete as you’ll ever experience. It’s more than that, of course, it’s an autobiographical piece that addresses life‘s great enigma. And the writer, who experienced the journey she writes about in her own life, is the main actor. I’ve seen this bravely attempted many times and not come off. In the case of Skin Hunger it does, and in spades!
Hotere courageously presents key, self-contained snatches of her journey that link beautifully to create a whole. These include meeting her husband, facing his illness, being a good catholic wife, the dogmatic strictures of Catholicism, the complexity of grief, Eva’s sex addiction, and of finding herself amidst a boisterous cacophony of alcohol-fuelled advice and hilarity, much of it unhelpful.
The characters we meet have been carefully selected, splendidly drawn, and superbly acted. Not only are we pulled into the world of the play by invisible direction, sublime characterisation, and an invisible infrastructure, we are taken on a journey that, in no small way, resolves the irresolvable.
Hotere as Eva is superb. Someone more cynical than me might say, “Of course she was, this is a journey she has lived and therefore it has a natural authenticity.” But anyone who has ever set foot on stage with the task of manifesting a character through one’s own life experiences, will tell you it’s not that easy, it’s not how it works. The autobiographical nature of this work makes performing it complex enough, without the added factors of grief and the drive to find oneself when that self is buried under years of service, selflessness, religious judgement, and gender stereotyping.
Hotere walks this line with apparent ease but we’re all silently asking, ‘at what cost?’ This, the actor does not share with us. Instead, she surrounds herself with a cast of dozens played splendidly by Albert Belz (all the men) and Denise Snoad (all the women). Snoad is the mum, the increasingly drunken friend, the church lady, and the big sister, all distinct and fabulous. Hotere’s theatrical smarts are fully on display in Snoad’s increasingly drunken friend who, when struggling with her own liquid issues, is able to provide, through beautiful scripting, the play’s most profoundly useful advice. Very clever stuff.
Belz is the husband, a couple of starkly drawn random lovers, and a priest. He’s a super actor with a most impressive range – and all of this in the shadow of the church and an all seeing, all judging, unresponsive God who is, as God always is, totally, bloody unhelpful. Eva tries to find herself by looking in all the wrong places while staunchly, and loudly, proclaiming her love for her husband. The complexities seem all too much for any one person to resolve but Hotere, the playwright, and Hotere the person is smarter than that. She gives us a resolution that is both credible and moving and we can only hope that it mirrors her own.
Romy Hooper brings extraordinary experience to the director’s role. Perhaps her greatest skill, beyond melding this diverse group of talents into an exquisite team, is her ability to hide the workings that hold the piece together. As is often quoted by my leadership mentor, it’s not about her – but it’s all about her.
Production design (tech, light, and set) are in the hands of Jane Hakaraia and Michael Craven. It’s so seamless I wasn’t even sure they were in the house, but they were and thoroughly deserved the applause saved especially for them.
As I’ve already said, this play could be considered a comedy, it’s funny enough, a drama, there’s certainly enough drama, or even a tragedy, especially if placed in less empathic hands, but it’s always accessible because it’s a story for all of us performed by artists with the gift of sublime comic timing and a deep understanding of the importance of the moment.
A farce? Maybe, that too. How many sex toys do you actually need for a piece of theatre to be called a farce?
The script is magnificent: subtle, crafted for our pleasure, and shaped to the actor’s talent and needs – and it never becomes preachy. We engage with it willingly and with open hearts. Laughter will do that for you – and we like all the characters. Especially Eva. Without giving anything away, the props deserve their own credits.
It’s not ‘Hamlet’. It doesn’t profess to be. In many ways it’s even better than that. At its heart, it’s the story of an artist who has walked the most frightening walk, written it all down, crafted it, shared it with others, and come up with a piece of theatre that is, as complete as anything I have ever seen. Yes, it’s that good.
Designed humbly to change lives, and shared without fear or favour with all of us, Skin Hunger certainly had the intended effect on me initiating, as it did, a challenging conversation with a young man I love dearly that put my mind at rest. Thank you, Tatiana Hotere and friends, for that taonga.
It doesn’t get better than that.
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