The Operation of the Sun in the Garden at the End of the World. Part 1: The Victorians

Studio 77, Victoria University, 77 Fairlie Tce, Kelburn, Wellington

24/02/2006 - 03/03/2006

NZ Fringe Festival 2006

Production Details

Created and performed by Rhys Latton and Jessica Sutherland
Directed by Rhys Latton

Ake Ake Theatre Company

The incomparable Ake Ake Theatre Company return to the plough, unearthing mementos amons=gst the sands; words, driftwood and astrological firmament. Mind-bending theatre that opens the inner landscape.

Light designed and operated by Sefton Bates
Music by Leyton, Rosie Langabeer and Kate Telford
Puppetry by Pipi-Ayesha Evans and Rebeka Whale

Theatre ,

50 min

I feel uninvited

Review by John Smythe 25th Feb 2006

‘As creators,’ write Ake Ake Theatre founders Rhys Latton and Jessica Sutherland in their programme, ‘we are not proclaiming the right of the wild mind over the civilised mind, but rather expounding our views that the current political flavour of the world at present could benefit from a deeper reunion with the creative, feminine principle, the "soft prolific Venus", acceptance of the shadow self and a realisation that what we do to another, or our environment, we do to ourselves.’

According to their flyer, they devised their show on the beaches of the West Coast, Dunedin and Island Bay in the process of ‘unearthing mementos amongst the sands, words, driftwood and astrological firmament’ through which they promise to present ‘mind-bending theatre that opens the inner landscape’.

Careful study of the dense programme notes reveals that the woman (Sutherland) will play the ‘Intellectual discriminating "civilising" principle’ and the ‘masculine principle Mercury/self-consciousness’, in depicting its descent from ‘the role of the civiliser, structurer, categoriser and dominant rule’, while the male (Latton) will play the ‘great feminine … the Moon, the subconscious mind of humanity and nature.’

The other masculine polarity, the Sun, will be played by ‘the ghost of a 19th century Music Hall performer, Marmaduke Causeway, the shadow MC’ who, although he’s a shadow puppet, ‘is the reincarnation of a great Kazhar prince, and is the most solid character of all.’ He and other puppets are employed, according to the notes, to ‘keep this operation from falling into pompous holiness … [to] act as Sufis and keep us guessing and laughing at and with the two main protagonists.’

Marmaduke may introduce the Ake Ake Theatre Company as ‘incomparable’ but I hear it as ‘incompatible’ and so it proves in relation to the programme notes. None of those ideas communicate in performance. I divine no journey of descent. Okay, he does tell us we may perceive the show on one or some of four levels – literal, illusory/figurative, occult meanings or ‘prophetic rays of divination’ – or we may make of it what we will …

For me, then, the show is simply a display of theatrical arts, employing light (designed and operated by Sefton Bates), music (Leyton, Rosie Langabeer and Kate Telford), puppetry (Pipi-Ayesha Evans and Rebeka Whale) and live performance in the personae of the female/masculine (Sutherland) and male/feminine (Latton).

In and of themselves, the crafts are impeccably executed. The use of light and screens at various angles, of different materials, is extremely effective. I admire the shadow puppets – a sequence with skeletons is exquisite – and the driftwood bird puppets are also wonderfully articulated. Sutherland’s Victorian categoriser has a stately, if other-world, presence. Latton’s Stone Dancer embodies the nature of the wood, stone and shell-strewn coast with skill. The music, too, is of undoubted quality.

I happily abandon myself to a release from structure and all the other masculine principles (see above) in order to reconnect with my feminine principle. And I can’t say it happens for me. Which may well be my limitation, not theirs. Or maybe the show has not transcended ‘pompous holiness’ and is a super-obscure indulgence in elements that deeply affect their creators but remain intrinsically incapable of engaging their audience in a shared or personal experience of any value.

Usually, when I don’t get a show, I look to the title. But The Operation of the Sun in the Garden at the End of the World. Part 1: The Victorians gives me no access either. In a word, I feel uninvited. And I look forward to Jennifer Shennan’s Dominion Post review. (We had very different responses to Te Tapa Toru, reviewed here 14/02, and I fully expect her – as a woman and a dance critic – to bring new insights to this show too.)


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