BATS Theatre, Wellington

17/02/2012 - 22/02/2012

NZ Fringe Festival 2012

Production Details

“Since we now hold this thread, let us unwind it” – George Polti

Tolstoy said there are only two stories: a stranger comes to town and a man leaves town on a journey. George Polti, a French author, managed to buffer it out to 36. 36 possible situations. In the history of dramatic storytelling, could there really be so few?

The Situationalists, in an attempt to exhaust themselves theatrically, have decided to stage the entire 36 in an hour-long production. Not to mention a 37th.

Encapsulating the spirit of Fringe, and to truly test the players, the order of the 36 will be chosen by the audience!

Brought to you by poets, writers, burlesque entertainers, clowns, students & graduates from Victoria University & Toi Whakaari, improvisers, and Long Cloud alumni (as well as some whom you might recognise from DOG SEES GOD, The Winter’s Tale and Sheep), not to mention our very own doctor: recent PHD graduate Lori Leigh (director DOG SEES GOD & The Winter’s Tale).

Part living newspaper, part poetry, music and personal experience, THE 37TH SITUATION is a high-paced modern appraisal of the epic.

17th – 22nd February, 8:00PM
$16 Full / $14 Concession
/ $12 Fringe Addict
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington or 04 802 4175 

The Situationalists
Company members:

Lori Leigh: FromWellington via theUnited States. PhD graduate from Victoria University of Wellington.

Louise Burston: FromWellington, with a childhood spent in Kapiti. Honours graduate from Victoria University of Wellington.

Stella Reid: FromWellington. Current Master of Theatre Arts student atVictoriaUniversity and Toi Whakaari.

Jonathan Price: FromChristchurch. Current Theatre and English major at Victoria University of Wellington.

Elle Wootton: FromChristchurch. Theatre graduate from Victoria University of Wellington.

Theo Taylor: From Whanganui via theUnited Kingdom. Theatre and Film graduate from Victoria University of Wellington.

Ailsa Kreft: FromWellington via theUnited States. Theatre graduate from Victoria University of Wellington.

Michael Boyes: FromWellington. Current Art History student at Victoria University of Wellington.

Annie Hubbard: FromWaihekeIsland,Auckland. Theatre graduate from Victoria University of Wellington.

Marcus McShane: From theBay ofIslands viaBrazil. Masters in Philosophy & English Lit. 

Jam-packed hour of entertaining exploration

Review by John Smythe 18th Feb 2012

The programme says French writer Georges Polti published his list of 36 Dramatic Situations in 1921 but Wikipedia says his book on the topic first appeared in French in the 19th century and the English translation came out in 1916. Either way it was based on a list identified by Goethe who said it was originated by Italian Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806). And Polti went back to Greek texts, as well as more contemporary French works, to identify them.

They 36 situations are: 1) Supplication; 2) Deliverance; 3) Crime pursued by vengeance; 4) Vengeance taken for kin upon kin; 5) Pursuit; 6) Disaster; 7) Falling prey to cruelty / misfortune; 8) Revolt; 9) Daring enterprise; 10) Abduction; 11) The enigma; 12) Obtaining; 13) Enmity of kin; 14) Rivalry of kin; 15) Murderous adultery; 16) Madness; 17) Fatal imprudence; 18) Involuntary crimes of love; 19) Slaying of kin unrecognized; 20) Self-sacrifice for an ideal; 21) Self-sacrifice for kin; 22) All sacrificed for passion; 23) Necessity of sacrificing loved ones; 24) Rivalry of superior vs. inferior; 25) Adultery; 26) Crimes of love; 27) Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one; 28) Obstacles to love; 29) An enemy loved; 30) Ambition; 31) Conflict with a god / God; 32) Mistaken jealousy; 33) Erroneous judgement; 34) Remorse; 35) Recovery of a lost one; 36) Loss of loved ones. 

Amid a clutter of books, boxes, cases and a desk, The Situationalists –Lori Leigh, Louise Burston, Stella Reid, Jonathan Price, Elle Wootton, Theo Taylor, Ailsa Kreft, Michael Boyes, Annie Hubbard, with lighting designed byMarcus McShaneand operated by Tania Ngata – play with each in random order.

Sometimes true and very personal experiences will inform the content of what’s played out; sometimes highly imaginative scenarios emerge. Sometimes the relationship between the projected situation title and what they are doing is clear; sometimes it’s obscure.

Part of the game, then, for us, is to work out why their actions are relevant. Their major objective, according to the programme, is to enlist our help in matching our ‘everyday’ with Polti’s epic situations “by participating in The 37th Situation”. Indeed the flipside of the programme lists the 36 and asks us to add the 37th.

Had this show not had to pack out fast for Should We Stay Or Should We Go (it’s 2-all, by the way, so the decider is tonight), suggestions could have been made on the night and attributed to an existing situation or – if the jackpot was struck – played out on the instant through improv. [I might, for example, have pointed to the programme note as proof that this quest is, in itself, the 37th situation, only to be pointed to ‘9) Daring enterprise’.]

Personally I find the list odd. While some suggest whole scenarios, others are simply states of being, or starting points or turning points in a bigger story. If ‘34) Remorse’ is a valid situation, I can’t help but wonder why other emotions (fear, love, anger, sadness, happiness) are not included as situational states.

All this thinking adds value to the entertainment, of course, and given the quest cannot be resolved on the night, an entertaining hour of theatrical games is the major outcome. We are only 4 scenarios in before we are challenged, as co-spectators, to question what we are doing, but that just raises the basic question of where reality and truth lie within any ‘make believe’ drama we observe as theatre-loving voyeurs – or was it a further example of ‘28) Obstacles to love’?

Some situations – like ‘8) Revolt’, involving starving peasants clustered around a fire – recur in later scenarios. To exemplify ‘22) All sacrificed for passion’, a number of love letters have been written by the cast and one is randomly chosen by an audience member to be read to them by its writer (Lori Leighon opening night).

Exposed to the elements aloft on a high-rise building site is not the best situation in which to argue about the pronunciation of words, let alone anything, with your mates but it makes for a very amusing ‘17) Fatal imprudence’ sketch.  

‘24) Rivalry of superior vs. inferior’ produces an ingeniously staged visual gag that won applause on opening night.Lori Leigh’s ‘31) Conflict with a god / God’ revelation offers a memorable domestic epic moment, as does Michael Boyes’ and Jonathan Price’s future-forming father-son chat under ‘1) Supplication’.

Hitler’s bed sheets get a surprise mention from Stella Reid for ‘29) An enemy loved’. The multi-talented Theo Taylor – who adds vivid musicality and physicality to the mix – makes ‘15) Murderous adultery’ drippingly dramatic, as Ailsa Kreft offers a heartrending ‘Oh My Darling Clementine’ from the suicide door. Elle Wooton finds an astonishing way of showing how painting a portrait is a ‘9) Daring enterprise’.

Each individual in the audiences will doubtless find strong connections to different scenarios, none of which outstay their welcome. There is always something of interest happening. 

The jam-packed hour is beautifully wrapped up by Stella Reid with a wondrous poem (written by her) that reminds us where truth lies in theatre by revisiting ‘11) The enigma’, giving us a very localised overview of all that has gone before, and leaves us with plenty to think about.   


John Smythe February 18th, 2012

Something I did not realise last night has just been explained by Elle Wootton (via Facebook): "Out in the foyer there are books labelled 1-36 (indicating each situation) and audience members can stack the books in whatever order they like prior to the show! This means that we as performers do not know which situation is next until the books are wheeled onto the stage!"

On opening night the stack almost collapsed – well saved by the whole crew: almost ‘6) Disaster’. So now we know, there is jeopardy in the mix too: is this ‘9) Daring enterprise’ or ’16) Madness’? 

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