The River

Massey University - Hokowhitu Campus, Centennial Drive, Palmerston North

02/11/2011 - 12/11/2011

Production Details

A play written by Angie Farrow, Senior Lecturer in Drama and Creative Processes at Massey University Manawatu.

From Campus Daily:

Manawatu River takes centre stage in new play 

The Manawatu River is one of the lead characters in a new play written by respected playwright Dr Angie and Massey University senior lecturer Angie Farrow, which opens next Wednesday in Palmerston North.

The River is based on the changing health and wealth of the Manawatu and the story of a young girl caught between life and death and the world of farming and corporate ideals.

Dr Farrow says she was driven to write the play after hearing fellow Massey lecturer and ecologist Dr Mike Joy at a community event held to raise awareness of the river’s pollution levels and its importance to the communities that live alongside it.

“I was shocked at how little I knew about the degradation of the Manawatu River, which has gone on for decades. This is not a play about politics or how many dead fish there are per square metre – it’s a play with a very local, personal narrative and I hope that it generates debate and controversy, of a good kind.”

“This play is a new perspective on the Manawatu River, but it could be any river, looking at the many perspectives there are on the issue of water, resource sharing, ecology, history, families, commercialisation and competing interests.”

Dr Farrow says she has hit a vein of interest with the play, judging from the numbers attending her talks on the creative process and emails she has received.

It took a year to write with five drafts of the story line and many more rewrites of the script. She is delighted with the "strong, muscular central story and the many smaller tributaries that weave around it. The form of the play really is like a river.”

Directed by Jaime Dorne, head of UCOL’s Performing Arts School, it has John Downie from Victoria University as the dramaturg, responsible for bringing the play to life with space, scene-setting and lighting. The choral music was created by Suzy Howes.

The River
will be performed at Massey’s drama workshop at Hokowhitu
from November 2-5 and November 9-12.
Tickets are $15 from or 06-353-7517
or online at Eventfinder   

Epic quality to elaborate, multi-faceted river saga

Review by Richard Mays 05th Nov 2011

In the news recently for all the wrong reasons, the Manawatu River takes centre stage in this new play by Massey University’s Dr Angie Farrow.  Inspired by prominent Massey freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy, The River is an intense, at times poetic, multi-layered experience that entwines human drama, fact, legend, history, dreams, spirits, astrophysics and the alternate quasi-spiritual philosophies of Masaru Emoto (The True Power of Water). 

In one of the lead characters – astrophysicist Mona Hinemoa – and with the appearance of river ghosts or sirens, the play reworks some of the elements and themes of Dr Farrow’s Before The Birds, produced at the same venue in 2009.  

Fronting a breakthrough TV programme about the universe, Mona – played by Peri Chapelle – has become the Nigella Lawson of the cosmos, and is on the verge of major (ahem) stardom. Danny, her producer, is hustling her off to Melbourne to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But the price of making space sexy and being a ‘hot commodity’ celebrity, is that her partner Liam (David Collins) and 13-year-old daughter Sophie are left behind on a small holding at Hopelands, a locality just east of Woodville in Tararua on the banks of the Manawatu River. 

Chapelle pitches her character superbly between the persona of pop astrophysics priestess, accomplished academic and concerned mother. Some trauma has rendered Sophie, sensitively portrayed by Catriona Tipene, mute, and seemingly at the mercy of sirens and the spirits of those the Manawatu has claimed. The girl also has a river fixation, and falls ill after swimming in it, even though she has been warned not to because of the pollution level. 

As abandoned husband, inadequate farmer, solo father and home-school educator, Collins maintains the right amount of confusion, frustration and lack of self-confidence. His isolation is eased by Ashleigh Hook’s likeable Bernice – a neighbour who would rather be a dancer than a farmer – and Adam Brown’s Simyon, a mercurial young South African GP who becomes the mouthpiece for Emoto’s philosophies.  

There is even an encounter with the spirit of the river herself: a dramatic presence, despite some interesting and slightly distracting patois, courtesy of Maree Gibson. 

The narrative has had the benefit of Victoria University of Wellington’s John Downie as dramaturge, helping keep track of the multi-story scenario which continuously darts from actuality to dream, to the paranormal and back. Even so, there are still moments where things don’t quite ring true: if Mona is such hot property, surely she could tell the TV wallahs they can wait! 

Overall though, the play has an epic feel.  Its success is partly due to the balanced way all sides to the river debate are cleverly incorporated. While totally different in form and style, the arguments are presented in a way that is not unlike the approach taken in SEEyD’s play, Turbine.

Despite protestations from the playwright to the contrary, The River is a political play. It’s not in the traditional left versus right polemic, but in a more organic sense – that something is out of joint; something that will take community consensus, commitment and collaboration to rectify.

An arresting commentary on the dilemmas facing modern society, The River has application wherever the natural resource/economic commodity debate is raised. As a character in the effective set-piece community meeting scene proclaims: “It’s not replaceable. You can’t just go to the supermarket and buy a new one!” 

To present the story on an open set, bulwarked on either side by Ian Hammond’s sculptural assemblage of forklift pallets, the production makes extensive use of back-projected visual effects on a bare rear wall – including Skype conversations between Liam and Mona, lighting, and dance – all underscored by the wordless vocals of an off-stage unaccompanied choir. 

And like a river, the production, with its many tributaries coming together, flows. This is a tribute to the direction (Jaime Dorner), the performing ensemble and the production team who, even when it threatens to overflow its banks, keep an elaborate, multi-faceted full-length play under control and running true.


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