The Poor Dears/ The Wizard of Oz

Southern Ballet Theatre, Christchurch

27/05/2010 - 30/05/2010

Production Details

Different Light Theatre Company is a theatre group that explores the possibilities of mixed-ability performance. In the past six years they have staged highly successful productions in New Zealand and Australia.

In The Poor Dears, a group of intellectually disabled performers arrive at an airport and are subjected to rigorous processing by US Border Patrol. It becomes clear that US means not only United States but also ‘us’ as opposed to them.

In The Wizard of Oz (scenes from a work in progress), the same group of performers explore the grotesque yet sentimental world of the well-known 1939 film.

In March 2010, Different Light presented at The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. In June, director Tony McCaffrey will give papers in Philadelphia and Toronto as part of his PhD in Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Canterbury.

8pm, Thurs 27 May 8.30pm, Fri 28 May
8pm, Sat 29 May 6pm, Sun 30 May
Southern Ballet Theatre, The Arts Centre of Christchurch
Admission $15 / Students $10

Oppression, hilarity, poignancy

Review by Elizabeth O’Connor 01st Jun 2010

The University of Canterbury’s Platform Festival has programmed bravely. Marlow’s Doctor Faustus (directed for the Free Theatre by Peter Falkenberg) sits next to Different Light theatre company’s The Poor Dears and the company’s work in progress, The Wizard of Oz. 

The Poor Dears* is a witty but gloomy view of how people with intellectual disabilities are perceived and dealt with by the world. A troupe of actors arrives at border control, and is ordered to conform. Some resist occasionally, and there are beautiful expressions of individual experience, including some great monologues and moments of solo beauty, but the lighting is low, the clothing worn is dark, and overall, despite the admirable ensemble cohesion of the cast, this is a bleak play.

*Last year’s production of The Poor Dears is reviewed here.

The work in progress, the company’s response to The Wizard of Oz, is more varied and holds out sparks of hope.

The inner life of people perceived as disabled, different and difficult is the subject of this play, and every scene seeks out some unexplored truth.

Toto the Dog, played articulately and boldly by Ben Morris, is a humorous highlight. So is John Lambie as Johann Sebastian Bach. With great physical grace, Lambie moves musical statements around and really doesn’t need to respond to questions about whether he is feeling okay, or knows what day or time it is. Drew McLean, using a wheelchair and a few buttons, relates glorious experiences in Sydney, shared with friend Isaac Tait.

These and other scenes are intercut with “brainless” or “heartless” sequences from The Wizard of Oz, an unnamed black-and-white Judy Garland film, and actors’ responses to the action and characters. 

Different Light has developed a philosophy of letting actors who “could be categorized as having intellectual disabilities (…) or other impairments” (programme notes) take the stage unaccompanied, and be increasingly responsible for the scripting of their own performances. The results, judging from these pieces, can range from the oppressive to the hilarious and poignant. 

I look forward to seeing the finished Wizard of Oz work in this year’s Body Festival.
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