The Earthquake in Chile

St Mary’s Anglican Church, Addington, Christchurch

13/10/2011 - 16/10/2011

Production Details

The Earthquake in Chile is a Free Theatre production in collaboration with international performer/director Richard Gough (Centre for Performance Research, Wales), New Zealand celebrity chef Richard Till and A Different Light Theatre Company. It is performed as part of the 2011 Body Festival.

Based on Heinrich von Kleist’s short story The Earthquake in Chile, this performance will explore the sense of communion and community that emerged in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes.

Set in 1647, at the moment of a great earthquake, a young man is about to hang himself because his lover, a nun he has made pregnant, is to be executed for gross transgression of her vows. The earthquake strikes and saves them both. After finding each other in the chaos their first impulse is to flee town, but they find that everyone has changed into loving and compassionate fellow citizens with no one exercising power or trying to persecute them any longer.

Everybody meets, helps, and feeds each other. They have a compassionate meal together and the couple decide to stay. But when they take part in a thanksgiving service the communal togetherness is destroyed again by the resurgence of the old hierarchies of church and morality.

This performance of The Earthquake in Chile will serve the community by drawing people together and feeding them. The performance borrows from the form of a church service, featuring early and contemporary songs and a meal break. It will also allow discussions about how to rebuild our community without at the same time restoring the detrimental hierarchies of the past.

The Earthquake in Chile
St Mary’s Anglican Church
21 Church Square, Addington
October 13, 14, 15, 8pm
October 16, 7pm
(Sunday performance followed by Artists Talk)

For enquiries and to book tickets for The Earthquake in Chile,
please contact Te Puna Toi (03) 364 2987 ext 7934
or email .
Tickets: $20/$15. Tapas provided!

Free Theatre Christchurch is one of the longest running theatre companies in the country. It has been a major contributor to performance culture in New Zealand and played an important role in the Christchurch Community. “For quarter of a century Free Theatre has refined cultural horizons and shaped Christchurch’s perceptions of contemporary theatre.” – The Press, 21 May 2008. 

1hr 50min, incl. meal break

A remarkable enterprise: complex and generous

Review by Lindsay Clark 14th Oct 2011

A sure way to engage the immediate and serious attention of a Christchurch audience is to fabricate one of those rumbling, shuddering things, even when we know it’s a fabrication and temporary and part of a story. This production however – presented in and around St Mary’s Anglican Church in Addington – has had us riveted from the start. 

Fleshed out from a famous short story written a couple of centuries ago by Heinrich von Kleist, the richly theatrical collaboration incorporates a wealth of styles and effects, moving from splendid ritual to cheerful bonhomie in market place and café, then back to vicious cruelty, expanding creatively on the bones of the original.

An astonishingly complex piece, it takes in the whole church and its grounds, involving an array of tents as well as a mobile kitchen and an outdoor cafe set up around the four sides of the belfry. Fittingly indeed, since this bell tower memorial to Richard John Seddon cites that great man’s humanity and it is a plea for humanity which is at the heart of the evening. 

For a start, all is mellow and pleasantly solemn as we form the congregation in the old church.  A procession of scarlet robes and steepled hoods becomes the choir invoking that tingling feeling on the edge of fear, but soothed by their glorious Kyrie. The reading and sermon confirm our suspicion that we are part of a fiercely moralistic, judgemental society.  

It is no surprise, then, when righteous wrath is heaped on a Madonna-like figure, the nun of Von Kleist’s story, who has borne a child to a clandestine lover. Her execution and his are about to fall when the great earthquake of 1647 strikes and we are very glad to be guided out into the quiet evening of the churchyard, where the followers of San Precario, (the company of A Different Light, wearing traffic cones and vests) is ready to guide us to the hot soup, the stalls and the next stop. Not before we have been allocated a tent to explore, though. Mine is a Mayan experience, and culminates in a lusciously sensual chocolate truffle. 

Then it is on to the café, and a shared meal, where we take on board obedience to the imperious bosses controlling the delivery of our food baskets and learn the pain and pleasure of working in unison to retrieve them. Amid the banter and the chuckles a moral is emerging. 

On to the long tent (50 metres at a guess) where, seated at a narrow plank table, we undertake to feed jelly to the person opposite, record our own memories of food after That Shaky Experience and toast absent friends as well as the future. We are glowing with camaraderie and good will as we return to the church for vino santo and biscotti. 

There the candle light now seems mellow. It has only been a play. There are the actors robing up in full sight. There is thanksgiving and thanks to spare. We are in control of our world. The veiled nun with child arrives to offer thanks and wham! Unreasoning violence strikes again. We sit subdued by the warning that hearts and minds can respond so shallowly to life’s lessons. 

All credit is due to the creative team and the detail built so generously into a remarkable enterprise. It is theatre embracing the old and the new, namely us and our times. As such it deserves attention as much as applause.   


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