BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

02/03/2018 - 05/03/2018

NZ Fringe Festival 2018 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

The Creative Team
Written and directed: Manuel Saez
Produced by: Camila Fernandez

With two strangers who meet at an abandoned laundry, The Border explores the relationship between a dealer and a victim of undocumented migration.

For millions of individuals, crossing is a life sacrifice which causes irreparable social fractures. The Border unfolds from a different perspective, the drama of those who leave everything behind in search of a better future.

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage
2 – 5 March at 6:30pm
Full Price $20 | Concession Price $15
Fringe Addict Cardholder $14

The Propeller Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.

Anastasia Dolinina and Manuel Saez

Theatre ,

50 mins

Confusion achieved

Review by John Smythe 02nd Mar 2018

I confess to being very confused by this play and am ready to declare myself therefore unable to file a review until I chat with the Chilean man beside me. Although the heavy accents which impeded my understanding were no problem to him, he confirms my tentative perceptions of what seems to have happened and shares my sense that dreams hold as much weight as corporeal events in determining relative realities in what we’ve seen. So I think I should at least try to give some impression of The Border for other Kiwi punters wanting some hint of what might appeal to them amid the many Fringe shows on offer.

The setting is an abandoned laundry featuring a sole dryer, a drift of white sheets and some chairs. The programme tells us the play “explores the relationship between a dealer and a victim of undocumented immigration.” A prologue, read by Anastasia Dolinina, tells us about the deal desperate people are obliged to accept in their attempts to escape to what they hope will be a better life.

Dolinina and her co-performer, writer and director Manuel Saez, then hit the ground if not quite running the walking very fast, in the same directions but without seeing each other. They disappear, he runs back and grabs a jacket from the dryer, puts it on and goes again. She returns to sit in a blood-red spot, mimes driving – and has an ‘accident’ that may have happened on purpose.

Both end up in the laundry in a high state of agitation. Their dialogue is more descriptive and declarative than conversational, serving (I suspect) the needs of the playwright rather than those of the characters. And for a long time every line is uttered at the same level of panicked intensity, thus neutralising its dramatic effect.

It emerges that he believes he knows her from when she was in her mother’s arms but she does not recognise him; she cannot remember much except the border she has escaped across is a swing bridge over a river. She describes a dream portending “endless rain” which seems to excite his interest in the hope it will reveal important truths.  

From here on it is hard to distinguish what belongs to the dream and what refers to the real world. She keeps saying she can’t remember anything, including who she is. It’s hard to glean what either of them want and whether they have objectives beyond expressing fear, although she says “There is no time!” I’m pretty sure she had crossed over but he has yet to do so, which raises the question of where exactly this laundry is. Someone called Veronica has been a force to be reckoned with.

A loud motor outside sends them both to the door but she stops him leaving and (spoiler alert?) he pulls a gun. I still don’t know what either is trying to achieve but she does say, “If you want to leave alive we have to go together.” And she calls him Rick, suggesting she knows him after all. But “I’m not the same person,” he insists, pleading with her, “You need to tell me!” But what exactly he’s seeking eludes me.

She gives him a ticket “to Paradise”. When she says, “If only one manages to cross, the others will gladly die knowing they have done their duty” I deduce she (the dealer?) must be part of a rebel militia. 

By way of establishing a signal, she sings a song to the moon – then leaves, to go where and for what is unclear. It seems she just needs to clear the stage for him to have a monologue of introspective, existential angst. His very existence seems dependent of whether she saw him in her dream.  

When she returns he tells her about his dream. She goes again, he talks to the moon … Who is responsible for what happens next, and why, is the final mystery in this puzzling play. Is the abandoned laundry a metaphor for the futile hope of starting anew? Does the border itself represent the interface of dreams and reality?

Perhaps. But the programme describes it as: “A high-intensity situation where the confusion between who is who increases each second, making us witnesses to what many people have to go through in the search of a better life.” The confusion part is achieved, at least, but my search is for a more rewarding show.

Only now do I realise Manuel Saez also wrote and directed The Swimmer, staged in the same venue last year. I also found that “unrelentingly intense” with a “lack of light and shade” that leaves the audience with little else to do but “weather the onslaught”. So this is his chosen style. Maybe it’s a cultural thing but it doesn’t work for me.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council