The Keepers

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

31/05/2011 - 04/06/2011

BATS Theatre, Wellington

19/09/2012 - 29/09/2012

Production Details

“Words, My Dear, can mean anything I want them to”

The Keepers is a sexy, quirky theatre work which breaks from the ordinary and travels to a rich and sumptuous world of absurd physical theatre with a strong emphasis on brave dynamic storytelling and musical characterisation.

The Keepers is a story about why people stay, and why people leave. 

Inspired by the lives and writings of French literary figures Marguerite Duras and Anais Nin, The Keepers tells the story of two women inhabiting an isolated lighthouse on a small rocky island in the middle of an ocean. One arrived by rowboat, unannounced and unexplained – the other seems to have been here forever. 

What brought them to this place and what makes them stay? 

As this remote little world slides precariously between invention and reality, the deep ambiguity of truth and memory are delved into. Trapped in the lighthouse as the storm rages on, the women are forced to confront their pasts and ultimately decide – what is worth clinging to? 

Veronica Brady (The Arrival, Pirates Vs. Ninjas, Paper Sky) and Julia Croft (Emma, Autobahn, Paper Sky) are both recent Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School graduates, who are embarking on their co-devising partnership with this first ambitious debut piece.  Joining forces with the exceptional musical and theatrical talents of Claire Cowan (Carnival of Souls, Waitangi, Paper Sky) this highly talented trio have a passion for stepping outside the boundaries of the ordinary and into the realm of imaginative theatricality. 

This debut work by THREAD THEATRE guarantees a night of surprises, intrigue, laughter and dreaming, and maybe a few wet feet. 

Contains Nudity [Auckland only].

May 31st to June 4th, 8:00pm
The Basement, Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland
Tickets: Adults $20, Concessions $15
Bookings through iTICKET Express – or (09) 361 1000   

2012 Wellington Season

“the amusing and affecting abstraction that is The Keeper should entertain anyone with a love for original, interpretive physical theatre.” – (Basement Theatre season 2011)  

YOUTUBE trailer:  


19 – 29 September, 6.30pm
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington  

MARGARET:  Veronica Brady 
LUNA:  Claire Cowan 
NINA:  Julia Croft 

CREW - Auckland season
PRODUCER:  Theresa Hanaray 
MUSIC:  Claire Cowan
SOUND OPERATOR:  Paul Nieuwoudt
PERFORMANCE MENTORS:  Tahi Mapp-Borren & Sophie Roberts
LOGO DESIGN:  Yasmine El Orfi
POSTER DESIGN:  Claire Cowan  

Wellington season (Bats) 2012 
Producer - Theresa Hanaray
Sound Design & Composition - Claire Cowan
Lighting Design & Operator - Calvin Hudson
Sound Operator – Kate Uhe
Publicity – Brianne Kerr
Photography – Philip Merry
Videography – Andrew Vinsen  

Hypnotic weave

Review by Michael Wray 26th Sep 2012

The Keepers is a devised work that weaves together elements of theatre, live music and dance or physical movement.

Lighthouse keeper Margaret (Veronica Brady) lives alone until rescuing the drowning Nina (Julia Croft). Nina’s intrusion into Margaret’s ordered life is disruptive and not entirely welcome, but the two soon fall into an orderly routine of chores and dinnertime, with Nina’s playful nature contrasting with and disturbing the more severe Margaret.

Speech was minimal throughout, mostly consisting of a few monologues from Croft. Luna, played by Claire Cowan, provides most of the sound. A personification of the moon, Luna sat under her light and an overhead microphone, guiding Nina and Margaret, manipulating both props and the two keepers.

Cowan played several instruments (cello, ukulele, spoons etc) to generate a haunting soundtrack. She also provided live sound effects, such as using folded cardboard to provide the wings of what I took to be a butterfly, but could have been a moth or small bird. Some of the music and sound was recorded live through the microphone and looped back as an accompaniment to pre-recorded effects or the next instrument.

Calvin Hudson’s lighting design was an important element that added to the atmosphere.

The narrative detail was not always easy to follow, however, it was a satisfying, immersive experience; truly hypnotic. 


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Too many unanswered questions

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 25th Sep 2012

It is not very often that the styles of abstract and existentialist theatre are found in performance pieces that are essentially physical theatre with few words spoken. 

But Thread Theatre Company’s show The Keepers is just that and intriguingly so.

Concerning the isolation of living on a light house, the nautical theme of the piece is well established from the outset with wooden cabin trunks on the set and a large thick anchor rope drawn laboriously around the set by in the opening moments by Luna, musician Claire Cowan. Cowan also provides the excellent and evocative sound scape, both recorded and live, that is so hauntingly effective and establishes beautifully the sense of the raging sea and desolation.

The fact that it is a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean that we are observing is also effectively established by the keeper Margaret (Veronica Brady) with a light rotating around her head.

Through the physical nature of her performance we also know she is alone and isolated.

Then her world is turned upside down by the arrival of a small boat with Nina (Julia Croft) on board.

They then attempt cohabitation without success. Margaret’s annoyance of Nina wonderfully illustrated during a meal when she puts a line of salt on Nina’s tray indicating that it is not to be crossed.

Then, as suddenly as she arrives, Nina leaves, on a passing ocean liner.

In between the arrival and departure, Margaret and Nina’s efforts at coexistence are fraught and very fractious and it is never really clear just what their relationship is and what it is that Nina is trying to achieve by being there. It is obvious though that Margaret is distraught at Nina’s departure but what has transpired between them for her to be in this state was by no means established.

As a piece of physical theatre it is well performed, the two actors in tune with each other working as a team each bringing lots of energy to their parts and creating many intriguing images as the production progresses.

But like many devised works the middle section loses focuses and becomes disjointed and while theatre is sometimes at its best when it provokes with unanswered questions, in this piece there are just too many unanswered questions to make the piece wholly satisfying.


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Yet to realise its exceptional potential

Review by John Smythe 20th Sep 2012

There is lots of good acting, musicianship, design and production value on display as The Keepers plays out. Its creators are deeply immersed in an experience that is clearly rich in meaning for them at every moment.

The audience, however, is relegated to the status of a moth, attracted to the light but trapped by an invisible pane and so unable to fully enter into what’s happening.

Much of the ambiguity is intriguing. Is that flotsam or jetsam in the gloom as we enter Bats to take our seats? Are the supine bodies asleep or dead? Is that fast-rolling surf or heavy breathing? Are the beautifully realised paper moths – or are they butterflies? – lost, or have they found a home with the Keepers? Do they represent freedom or, being short-lived, are they harbingers of doom?

The hawser-grade rope laid down to define the walls of the lighthouse is clear enough. Is it meaningful that it’s played out from around the performer’s neck? Do we read this as a noose that keeps the Keepers constrained; a metaphor for the dangerous seas that encircle them, perhaps?

Is the lighthouse itself to be seen as ‘real’ or as a metaphor – and if the latter, for what? Is there wordplay to be conjured with in the title itself: The Keepers?

There are moments of lucidity: the device of a performer circling a lightbulb around her head while peering into the briefly illuminated darkness clearly evokes the lighthouse and the Keeper within. We come to know her as Margaret, and she is personified by Veronica Brady.

If you note that the musician and general factotum, when it comes to placing props and people in space, is called Luna – indeed she sits beneath a moon-like orb – that may throw reflected light on the power she has over proceedings. Certainly the self-composed sound and music she – Claire Cowan – extracts from her cello, violin, spoons, drum, ukulele and piano accordion adds inestimable tone, texture and delight to proceedings.  

In concert with Calvin Hudson’s lighting design and operation, and Kate Uhe’s sound operation – which often seems to involve samples taken from Cowan’s live performance – some stunning effects are achieved. During a deluge of rain, for example, I could have sworn water was pouring into Bats.

Luna’s manipulation of the other two women is as gentle and strong as the tide can be. What happens to the one we come to know as Nina – Julia Croft – is very dramatic. Box or boat? Sanctuary or prison? It is a dark and stormy night when Margaret risks all to save her from the turbulent seas: an event created powerfully in our imaginations by all their actions.

The very different personalities of the flung-together women are also vividly expressed in action. Dialogue is minimal; little more than the occasional utterance of each other’s name. But brown-clad Margaret’s Spartan, hard-working, wood-splitting lifestyle contrasts dramatically from Nina’s as, in her flowing white lace, she indulges in Gothic romantic fantasies with her lipstick-drawn man.

The ambivalence of their relationship is also captured well, in piquant moments of attraction and repulsion. And there is something to be made of Nina’s dining on raw egg while Margaret eats either salt (likely given her briny persona) or refined sugar (which I’d rather, given how much she seems to consume). But the specific way she pours it on the floor then, boots donned, shuffle-dances on it, is one of the moments that is finally more bewildering than enlightening, for me.

A programme note tells us: “This work is about why people stay and why they leave, where necessity or meaning are created in places or around things where there isn’t either, and the different ways we do or don’t cope.”

You may have to read that more than once to absorb its full import and I feel much the same way about this play. At first encounter my intuitive focus is on interpreting what is happening to whom, and between them. The ‘why’ dimension is the one I feel excluded from because, somehow, I am restricted to observing rather than empathising.  

Perhaps those well versed in the diaries of Anais Nin and the writings of Marguerite Duras (hence Nina and Margaret?), which gave Brady and Croft their starting point, will find satisfaction enough in the resonances and extrapolations inherent in the play. (I take it Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is not part of the inspiration.) But obviously such prior learning should not be a prerequisite for purchasing a ticket. Nor should we need to see it twice to rise above the sum of its objectively observed parts.

I’m all for theatre that makes us really want to know or understand before it gives us access to the wherewithal. I firmly believe we are well entertained when we’re engaged in problem-solving. But we need to trust the answers are there to be found. And we need to believe the creators and performers have invited us into the make-believe with the intention of letting us bathe in the whole that transcends the sum of the parts.  

A devised work with no-one credited as writer, The KeepersAuckland premiere was last year, with Sally Stockwell credited as director. I assume it has evolved in its detail since then (not least because the nudity warning no longer applies) and remains a work in progress but there seems to be no ‘outside eye’ monitoring this season. It would be a shame it all this talent and creativity did not realise the exceptional potential of this work. 


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Abstract, eccentric, original

Review by Nik Smythe 01st Jun 2011

The inaugural production from fledgling company Thread Theatre, The Keepers is an unusual, abstract work with a distinct nautical theme. Devised and designed by the cast, and mentored by seasoned practitioners, it is a deceptively brief exploration of the psychological and emotional trials of lives spent in isolation.

There’s something inherently sad about the sea… Perhaps it’s the liquid tears connection, or else simply the contrast of one’s relatively minute existence against the incomprehensible vastness of the ocean. Whatever it is, this sombre atmosphere is strikingly expressed through the use of thick nautical ropes, wooden shipping crates and hanging lamps, including one in a spherical white shade, clearly representing the moon. 

Beneath this moon-light sits Musician Claire Cowan, as ethereal spirit-being Luna. Ghostly pale and dressed in white, she provides a mostly live ambient soundtrack with an array of instruments – accordion, cello, violin, ukelele et al. Strongly present but never overbearing, her mercurial efforts comprise sonic effects suggestive of tempestuous seas and creaking wood, timeless tunes and shanties, and eerie strains evoking the desperation of the abstract tale’s protagonists.

Julia Croft is Nina, a pretty young lady dressed in lacy white – a wedding dress? – who washes ashore on an island seemingly inhabited by one other woman, a salty old grouch called Margaret (Veronica Brady).   Nina’s playful exuberance appears to both irk and ever-so-slightly intrigue Margaret over the ensuing period of adjustment to this harsh, lonely life beyond the outer limits of civilisation as we know it. 

With no didactic plot to speak of, many of the ambiguous aspects to the women’s eccentric behaviour are left up to us to consider and/or define. Despite the woebegone atmosphere I mentioned earlier, there is plenty of humour to be extracted from their curious antics – not least during some of the characters’ most painful moments.

The starting point for the company was reading Anais Nin and Marguerite Duras, so an intimate knowledge of their writing would in theory be beneficial to identifying with the finished work. This is by no means required however; the amusing and affecting abstraction that is The Keeper should entertain anyone with a love for original, interpretive physical theatre. 
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