THE POLITICIAN’S WIFE
22/06/2016 - 02/07/2016
15/06/2016 - 19/06/2016
Local playwright makes Centrepoint debut with daring political play
Centrepoint Theatre is proud to present The Politician’s Wife as part of its inaugural ‘Plays with a Purpose’ season.
A woman of great privilege becomes caught up in the refugee crisis. Torn between her loyalties to her conservative husband and her desire to help displaced people on an offshore island, she ﬁnds herself unwittingly at the centre of a national scandal. Now she must take a stance, and the consequences could throw her life, and the lives of those closest to her, into turmoil.
Shortlisted for the 2016 Adam NZ Play Award and written by Manawatu’s own Angie Farrow, The Politician’s Wife is an unapologetic response to the global refugee crisis, which has dominated headlines and divided the world. “Like many of us, I have been deeply affected by the refugee crisis,” says Farrow. “Sometimes it has seemed overwhelming: watching nightly news bulletins of stranded asylum seekers, trying to make sense of a catastrophe, the scale of which has been beyond comprehension. I ask myself, ‘What can be done? What can I do?’
She continues: “Since I began writing the play in 2014, there has been a signiﬁcant shift. From a story that seemed to be a long way away – somebody else’s problem – the refugee story has become part of all of our lives. I hope this play will help us see the refugee crisis in a whole new light.”
The Politician’s Wife is directed by acclaimed Auckland theatre-maker and former Massey University artist-in-residence, Stephen Bain, who has worked with public interactions and live-art instalments in New Zealand and overseas, and is renowned for his highly visual theatre with strong design and musical elements.
“It reads like one of those great Netﬂix series where you’re constantly wanting to ﬁnd out what happens next,” Bain says of the play. “I’ve always thought the best political dramas creep up on you and don’t reveal their cards right away. The Politician’s Wife is just that. It takes on big ideas without ever bashing you on the head with them.”
The Politician’s Wife plays at Centrepoint Theatre in June for a strictly limited one-week season. More details are available at centrepoint.co.nz.
THE POLITICIAN’S WIFE by Angie Farrow
Venue: Centrepoint Theatre, 280 Church Street, Palmerston North
Dates: 15-19 June 2016
Times: Wednesday 6.30pm; Thursday – Saturday 8pm; Sunday 5pm
Tickets: Adult $40; Under 30/Senior/Community Services Card $32;
Tertiary $20; High School $18; Group 10+ $36pp
Bookings: 06354 5740 or www.centrepoint.co.nz
BATS Theatre – The Heyday Dome
22 June – 2 July 2016
Illuminates, interrogates and challenges
Review by John Smythe 23rd Jun 2016
On the eve of Britain’s ‘Brexit’ poll, where immigration (encompassing asylum seekers and refugees) has become the dominant issue, this Wellington season of Angie Farrow’s The Politician’s Wife is especially pertinent. And it will remain so, regardless of how the vote goes.
Set “somewhere in the first world, a few years into the future”, it strongly resembles Australia right now and shows us where we too could be headed. The realities exposed, and the ignorant, fear-based, self-serving political arguments that are advanced (if that’s the right word) against the more human responses, are certainly part of our present world.
There is a great deal to respect in the way Farrow has chosen to dramatise this pressing issue and explore its inherent themes, and in the way director Stephen Bain has handled the traverse staging with just four highly focused, committed and skilled actors. All four acquit themselves well and achieve moments of deep connection with some of their many characters – especially Jenny Rowan McArthur in each of her roles.
The titular character is Kim (Jane Yonge), the well-to-do wife of politician Stefan Mankowski (Jade Daniels) who is descended from Polish immigrants and standing for re-election in the constituency of New Cambridge – also being contested by Natasha Kuri (Jenny Rowan McArthur). Kim’s chance meeting with Jasper (Scott Ransom), a nursing colleague from the old days, reminds her who she once was and reinforces her sense that, in becoming the privileged and profligate appendage to the politician, she has lost her self.
Jasper is working on Barkhaven, an island-based holding camp for asylum-seekers seeking refugee status. In candidate debates, their conditions and fates are a hot topic. While Natasha argues they have no choice but to seek refuge in a safe haven, Stefan asserts they have chosen to come here, they are would-be freeloaders on our economy, some are criminals and with every boatload the risk of terrorism increases.
When Kim goes AWOL from her dutiful wife role to work on Barkhaven, Jasper and his campaign manager Tuk (Ransom) are predictably astonished and enraged. Meanwhile, because of an incident in her own past, Kim becomes especially concerned for the fate of Latika (McArthur), who is on Barkhaven with her father, Timo (Ransom) who is suffering post-traumatic mutism. The backstory to Latika’s unexpected pregnancy is a powerful example of the sort of trauma the refugees have experienced.
Intercut with all this, a lone would-be documentary maker, Nienke (Yongue), is battling restrictions in her attempts to “capture the authentic refugee experience” with Barkhaven detainees Shreeni (McArthur) and her brother Snow (Daniels) who have escaped ethnic cleansing; Kareen (McArthur) who wants to protest about their treatment here; Pacific Island climate-change refugee Tane (Daniels); and exiled academic Vania (Ransom).
Also, verbally and visually poetic sequences punctuate the action, wherein all four actors speak their allotted text in a strangely methodical way while moving fluidly in and out of various coats and jackets, unable to settle within one.
The central conflict driving Kim’s story is a powerful device for revealing the refugee stories from our privileged perspective and for compelling us to confront our own values and beliefs, and consider what we would do in her situation.
As events unfold I find myself wanting a ‘hero’s journey’ for Kim, whereby she renounces the role and lifestyle of ‘politician’s wife’, recovers the core values that got her into nursing and politics in the first place and triumphantly shows up the self-serving politician for what he is. But Farrow is more realistic than that.
I won’t reveal the outcome except to say it does not allow us to vicariously bask in a fantasised moral victory. Instead it forces each of us to ask, as we judge her, would I do any better? And if not me, then who would – and how might I support them?
At best the twists and turns of plot, the revelations, the dilemmas being faced and the exposure of true characteristics are redolent of such TV dramas as The Good Wife and House of Cards (US version).
The choice to tell the story with just four actors, however, does inhibit scene transitions while actors are changing costumes behind the translucent drops at either end, throwing undue focus on how they are coping and compromising their ability to fully inhabit the emotionally potent zones inherent in the action.
More ingenious costume designs requiring no offstage changing could partly solve the problem. The open repositioning of the minimal furnishings and props has already established that theatrical convention. The stylised coat-exchanging sequences are another non-naturalistic convention – speaking of which, I find the visual image more eloquent than the poetic text, which may work better pre-recorded and played as voice-over (a device already used, using a thick Slavic accent, to locate the time and place of each scene).
Obviously adding two or three more actors would be another way to go. This could allow for the possibility of doco-maker Nienke being instrumental in publicly exposing what Kim is up to, for example. Or the play’s refugee stories could be distilled within the Latika-Kim relationship, allowing the character numbers to be reduced and the enormity of Latika’s story and its effect on Kim to be given its due.
The slug line below the title is “Are we living in the age of exile?” Clearly we are and there is no resolution in sight, which means The Politician’s Wife could have a long life as an urgently relevant play – either as this production tours (if it does) or produced by other companies. Either way it deserves more resourcing to reach its undoubted potential and to position it to be seen by many more people, including politicians and media commentators.
The Politician’s Wife is a play that illuminates less savoury aspects of our society, interrogates the value systems that produce them and challenges us to, at the very least, decide where we stand as we exercise our democratic rights and responsibilities. As such it delivers on a crucial aspect of theatre’s purpose.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Review by Alexandra Bellad-Ellis 16th Jun 2016
Kim leads a life of wealth and privilege; she is also the wife of a conservative politician in the middle of the biggest campaign of his life. A chance meeting in a bar reminds her of the life she used to have as a nurse, and risking everything she plunges back into nursing on an offshore island refugee camp – hoping to help, but also to find some sense of the self she has lost. But the national scandal she finds herself in could lead to terrible consequences for herself and the people she’s trying to help.
Its performance in the round, with audience on all sides, gives the feeling of the crowding people in refugee camps experience. There is no personal space for anyone: not the actors or the audience. The world they create is all encompassing and sweeps the audience along a winding path where the actors change character and accent at every turn. But at the same time the storyline is easy to follow, and compelling.
The lighting and set are minimal, with a little live video and animation as well. The live video gives the play an extra dimension, like the story is reaching out further than the walls of the theatre. The acting by all members of the cast is excellent, and Stephen Bain’s direction makes sure the diverse story is easy to follow.
Angie Farrow’s strength and skill shows in the writing of this play: the characters are well enough defined that you care about them and what happens to them, but also general enough that you can see the bigger picture.
The Politician’s Wife stays with you long after you leave the theatre.
It is easy to see why this play was shortlisted for the 2016 Adam NZ Play Award; it slots perfectly into Centerpoint’s season-within-a-season: ‘Plays with a Purpose’. This short season of plays looks at the problems of political oppression and the refugee problems seen around the world, before asking how much responsibly we ourselves have to care for these people who have no home.
A play definitely worth seeing, The Politician’s Wife is only on this week at Centrepoint (until Sunday the 19th of June: Thursday to Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm) – then it transfers to BATS Theatre in Wellington, 22nd June to 2nd July.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer