THE SHERPA & THE BEEKEEPER – Summit on Everest
25/05/2022 - 29/05/2022
Written and Directed by Matt Kambic
World premiere of new play about Hillary, Tenzing, and the ascent of Mt Everest
On May 29th, 1953, the world awoke to the news that the tallest mountain in the world had finally been conquered – a Nepalese Sherpa and a New Zealand beekeeper beating a who’s who of the world’s mountaineering elite to the top. Now, exactly 69 years later, Hamiltonians can experience that famous moment for themselves in a new work of theatre, The Sherpa & the Beekeeper ~ Summit on Everest.
Written and directed by Matt Kambic, a Raglan local with an extensive CV in a variety of creative arenas, this play is the culmination of a lifetime of fascination with the Everest story.
“The story of the first successful summiting of Mount Everest is one of the world’s most well-known human adventures,” says Kambic. “The mountain, and the two men who laboured up its slopes in May of 1953, fused into a singular cultural shockwave, roaring like an avalanche over the people and territories below, and rushing beyond into an astounded world.”
Kambic’s ongoing interest in the mountain had already manifested itself in the writing and publishing of a science-fiction novel, Everest Rising. So when the opportunity arose to develop a stage play through The Meteor Theatre’s Boil-up program – a creative development program for local theatre – Kambic already knew that he wanted to explore some of the personal and political repercussions of one of the most iconic moments of the 20th century.
Act One opens in 1953 with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary on a replica of the Mt Everest summit, then in the following two acts they explore their achievement and its consequences in a future-envisioned ‘summit’ of their own. And there is plenty to explore – the consequences of fame; the impact of nationalism, racism and colonialism; and the long-term effects – both good and bad – on the local people.
Bringing a theatre production to the stage isn’t easy at the best of times, but this one had the added challenge of navigating through COVID, with numerous auditions and rehearsals having to be delayed or moved online. “Despite all the challenges, we’ve had such great support from the creative community in the Waikato,” says Kambic. “We’ve had generous funding from Creative Waikato, The Meteor team have been fantastic all the way through, The Place has helped out with rehearsal space. And of course we were so thrilled to find two such high calibre actors – Jericho Nicodemus as Tenzing and Cameron Smith as Hillary – who have really brought the play to life.”
The Meteor Theatre, Hamilton
25 – 28 May 2022
Wed – Sat, 7030pm
Tickets are available through themeteor.co.nz
Please note: Although the theatre will be unheated during Act I, to reflect the mountain environment, it will not be ‘chilled’ to match the sub-zero temperatures of Everest’s peak.
Jericho Nicodemus as Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa
Cameron Smith as Edmund Hillary, the Beekeeper
Jay Baker: Production Manager
Brooke Baker: Production Manager
Mel Martin-Booker: Stage Manager
Sarah Johnson: Dramaturge
James Brunskill: Everest Construction Engineer
Well-researched work reaches with ambition
Review by D.A. Taylor 26th May 2022
The ascent of Everest and its heroic figures is one that, I suspect, most Kiwis take for granted. Those of a certain age will remember the news of the summiting of the world’s tallest mountain; others will have understood a sundry list of details from high school social studies; others yet will have invested significant portions of their time exploring the lives of Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, and their enduring impacts on the world of mountaineering and their lifelong contributions to the peoples who live at the foot of Everest. Matt Kambic, the writer and director of The Sherpa and the Beekeeper, clearly belongs in the latter camp.
Developed as part of The Meteor Theatre’s ‘Boil-Up’ programme designed to foster and develop exciting new works, The Sherpa and the Beekeeper imagines conversations between Hillary (Cameron Smith) and Tenzing (Jericho Nicodemus) over forty or so years.
The first scene opens in 1953 on the icy summit of Everest, frequently referred to by the Tibetan name “Chomolungma” or “Holy Mother” in the play. Tenzing and Hillary reach the peak, snap an iconic picture, leave behind sweets and a cross, and exposit on their achievements. The scenes that follow slip in time to future-envisioned ‘summits’ and conversations Hillary and Tenzing might have had on Everest across their lifetimes, reflecting on their impacts on the world and particularly Nepal.
The play is perhaps most concerned with identity. Much attention is given to nature of Tenzing’s complicated relationship to the nations that claimed him during his life (complicated by murky details about his early life), and even of Hillary’s nationhood status (that is, whether he was a New Zealander, or British due to the expedition). Widening the scope, there is much to be said about the impact of the pair’s contributions to Nepal, and on increasing cost – and benefits – of adventure tourism to the area. But it also offers no clear solutions, instead inviting the audience to bring these issues to the fronts of their minds.
It’s clear that Kambic has invested a great deal of love and effort in researching this work, and creating a dialogue between fictionalised versions of Hillary and Tenzing who can act as mouthpieces for issues of nationalism and colonialism, race and identity, the consequences of fame and the long-term impacts on the people of Nepal. This production’s Hillary doesn’t echo with the ‘strong and silent’ personality, or the ‘human machine… tied together with steel’ quality that his contemporaries described him as; however, our Tenzing does share the engaging personality and confidence of the historical record. Instead, it’s a chance to explore issues that we see as necessary to discuss today, and for that reason it’s a valuable chance to assess a major event’s impact on how we see the world now. And strong performances by Smith and Nicodemus buoy this play along; they win over the audience with their endearing warmth and interpretations of our heroes.
There are plenty of hints that the script draws from real quotes from the pair and the respective works written by them during their considerable lifetimes, but that also makes the script feel caught in an over-ripeness that paradoxically also makes the language feel artificial. The play feels trapped between two positions: one where it’s a realistically built world, with an excellently constructed set and well put together costumes, on-point casting choices in Smith and Nicodemus, and strong drawing on the historical record and quotes. And on the other, a poetic sensibility that overfills the dialogue with loquacious and profound lines that put the thematic cart before the horse.
Statements such as “We cannot undo the hearts and minds and imaginings of the people below us,” and “I am masculinity gilded” are weighty, but their impact is lost when every line is so densely packed. And if the dialogue is drawn from record, then it suffers the paradox of being true, but not being right on the stage. A healthy pruning – to relax the language and telling, let the actors’ characterisations come through, and to reduce repetition (Hillary and Tenzing bicker in every scene about who first stepped foot on the peak) – would be of great benefit to this script.
A well-packed audience loved this show, and I see great potential in touring a version of The Sherpa and the Beekeeper across the country and to schools where it shines some light not just on important figures in our history, but also on some of the pressing issues that need discussing today.
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