BATS Theatre (Out-Of-Site) Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington

16/04/2014 - 26/04/2014

Production Details

16th&17th / 22 – 26th April 2014

Words removed, action slowed. Time brought crashing down to the soundtrack of a broken faucet… a thin trickle of water… Along the old path travellers carry the ache of loss and loneliness… the anticipation of a journey… the ecstasy of love… as they slowly pass by… stop… refresh themselves at a water station.

From award-winning director Megan Evans (Madam X and Mister Q – Best Theatre, FRINGE 2013) and HARD SLEEPER Theatre Company comes the BATS Out of Site season of The Water Station; a word-less, poetic, and ground-breaking work by acclaimed Japanese playwright Ōta Shōgo. The play saw its New Zealand premiere in May last year, emerging from Victoria University of Wellington’s Theatre Programme, and leaving in its wake mesmerized, and ecstatic sold-out audiences.

Now it returns for a refined and revitalized professional production, with a mix of 2013’s original cast and several Victoria University Theatre alumni undergoing the rigorous physical training and rehearsal required to perform in slow motion, without voice, for the duration of a full-length show, the only sounds being the ebb and flow of Satie, Albinoni, and the omnipresent trickling of real water falling from above.

Since its premiere in 1981, international audiences have been captivated by The Water Station’s breath-taking exploration of human need and belonging. From April 16th – 26th, Wellington audiences have the chance to step away from these fast-paced times, and slow down, to experience a taste of Ōta Shōgo’s unique theatre aesthetic. It will be, however, a different experience for fans of Evans’ work. In her previous Asian-infused productions at Victoria (most recently Madam X and Mister Q and Big Love), Asian performance conventions were on display. For this production, the actors have worked to pull back, slow down, and temper the internal performance energies demanded by the aesthetic and philosophy of Ōta Shōgo’s ‘Transformation Theatre’: slowing down the action in a barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland in order to view human beings at species level.

In Ōta’s terms, when we strip humankind of the constraints and conventions of civilization, we see ourselves ‘existing as a plant lives and dies’. There is a calmness to be found in this, in slowing down to witness our existence at its simplest and most primal level, without the stress and anxiety imposed by the civilized world. It uses the perspective of death as a way to appreciate and embrace life. It is a celebration of simply ‘being’ alive.  The drama lies in the containment of explosive energy, in that struggle to suppress longing, frustration, and exhaustion.

Hard work, but the payoff promises to be a spectacular, profound, and undoubtedly unique event on the Wellington theatrical calendar.

What: The Water Station, by Ōta Shōgo. Directed by Megan Evans 
Who: HARD SLEEPER Theatre Company 
Where: BATS Out of Site, corner of Cuba & Dixon Street 
When: April 16th & 17th / 22-26th (No Shows Easter Weekend) 
BATS Theatre on the corner of Cuba and Dixon Streets 
Book online or call (04) 802 4175 
Supported by Victoria University of Wellington 

Cast (In order of appearance)
The Girl:  Kate Hounsell 
Two Soldiers:  Amy Griffin-Browne / Travis Graham 
Woman with a Parasol:  Raicheal Doohan 
Married couple:  Tom Kereama / Katie Boyle (15-16 April) or Helen Mackenzie (17 & 22-26 April) 
Man on the junk heap:  Theo Taylor
An old Woman:  Debbie Fish 
A Caravan:
   Daughters:  Rebekah Coleman / Elle Wooton / Emma Hayward
   Husband and wife:  Connor Driver-Burgess / Jane Wenley
A man and a woman:  Maggie White / Michael Pocock
Man with a huge load:  Michael Hebenton

Director:  Megan Evans
Assistant Director:  Katie Boyle
Stage/Production Managers:  Rebekah Coleman / Amy Griffin-Browne / Debbie Fish
Set design:  Debbie Fish
Lighting design:  Rowan McShane
Costume:  Helen Mackenzie / Kate Hounsell
Huge Load Construction:  Amy Griffin-Browne
Publicity:  Maggie White
Dramaturg:  Kate Hounsell
Lighting & Sound Operator:  Tony Black
Scenography Mentor:  Nick Zwart 
Publicity Mentor:  Claire O’Loughlin

Theatre ,

1hr 40 mins (no interval)

Theme of slow decline gets under the skin

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 22nd Apr 2014

Megan Evans and her cast of 15 actors have carried off successfully and with great dedication and professional aplomb a revival of their 2013 production at Victoria University of The Water Station, a piece of true avant-garde theatre.  

Though it was first performed in Japan in 1981 and has since been performed in many countries, it isn’t an easy piece for either audience or performer, despite the fact that its central theme is more pressingly relevant than ever.  

Like Beckett, Ota Shogo strips away what most see as theatrical essentials such as speech, normal human movement, plot, and, unlike Beckett, humour. [More]


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Rich in metaphor

Review by John Smythe 17th Apr 2014

It is almost unheard of for plays devised by companies to be reproduced by other companies even when they result in written scripts (think SEEyD Company, Indian Ink, Red Leap …). Even more unexpected is that a devised play without words from Japan, albeit a classic, would find new life in Aotearoa New Zealand. It has also been produced in India and Singapore.

Working from a ‘script as document’ delineating the actions and specifying the music for Ōta Shōgo’s The Water Station, translated by Mari Boyd*, director Megan Evans* first mounted it at Victoria University of Wellington’s Studio 77 last year (see Phoebe Smith’s review) and has now reworked it for this Bats season with 10 returning and 6 new cast members.

In training to realise Ōta Shōgo’s theatrical vision by performing in slow motion without voice, they have – a programme note tells us – studied Japanese Noh and Chinese Xiqu, and done workshops in Butoh with Willie Franco and the rigorous stomping and slow motion exercises developed by Tadashi Suzuki with Ōta’s Tenkei Gekijo actors.

An essay derived from Mari Boyd‘s book Aesthetics of Quietude and published on the Japanese Performing Arts Centre website describes Ōta’s theatrical vision thus: 

“Ōta Shōgo’s artistic aim in theatre is to create a perspective of death that enables the audience to distance itself from society and see humans, not as individuals nor even as social beings, but as a species travelling from birth to death. His method of divestiture creates plays dominated by silence, slow movement and empty space. 

“The underlying principle of divestiture is passivity. Instead of trying to actively transmit meaning to the audience, passivity compels the audience to participate imaginatively in the pursuit of signification and pleasure.”  

We are active, then – as most theatre audiences are – in entering the world of the play, and in interpreting each element of the scenography and the actions performed within it in mesmerising slow motion. The minimalism makes every detail significant.

The script specifies: “Onstage, a faucet with a broken spigot. From it water dripping in a fine line. A catchment receiving the water.” This may suggest a water source that’s controlled by a municipality or utility company, either stingy in its offering or emitting water for free through negligent maintenance. But here at Bats, set designer Debbie Fish has the water trickling from high above, its source unseen, suggesting it comes from nature or the gods (depending on your belief system). It is a striking image, both visual and sonic.

We don’t notice the relentless yet life-affirming noise it makes (tip: empty your bladder before the show) until silence falls on the slo-mo arrival of a Girl (Kate Hounsell), approaching the water station with a small picnic basket.

This cast has “chosen to perform at a slightly faster tempo than Ōta’s prescribed 2 metres in 5 minutes”, according to the programme note, and I venture to suggest there is still plenty of time to notice details and muse on meanings. She is barefoot and grubby. There is a pile of discarded black boots and shoes – single; not in pairs – at the foot of the incline that leads up to the pool. There are white shoes, too, at the foot of a mostly white junk heap upstage left, that also contains a bike wheel, corrugated iron, a bit of drain pipe, window frames, a toothbrush …  

Over some 100 minutes, we engage with a disparate procession of travellers, all coming from the same place (to the audience right of the auditorium) and in most cases – after interacting with the water in their different ways – continuing on in the same direction (off upstage left; audience right) … to what? Erik Satie’s ‘Three Gymnopedie, No. 1’ adds a dreamlike quality, as does, later, an Albinoni piece (Adagio in G minor I think: the programme doesn’t credit the composers).

There is something in the distance, behind us, which horrifies the travellers. Munch’s silent ‘The Scream’ and Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ spring to mind. Whether this is something they are refugees from, or travelling to avoid, or whether it is simply the past from which they are moving on, is open to interpretation. The Japanese origins (it premiered in 1981) prompt me to think of atomic bombs and earthquakes, not to mention the more recent tsunami and nuclear melt-down.

The arrival of two men – Amy Griffin-Browne and Travis Graham, designated soldiers in this programme but without weapons or full uniforms, just grubby singlets, trousers and bedrolls – causes the Girl trepidation. Will there be drama here – or not?

A Woman with a Parasol (Raicheal Doohan) has what may be a fit at the sight of what’s on the horizon behind us, or is she trying to fight it off? It’s such a change of tempo that I feel its significance must be great but I can’t quite match it to metaphor.

A married couple – Tom Kereama and Katie Boyle (then Helen Mckenzie later in the season) – tethered by rope to each other and the pram that comes between them, savour the water then, at her instigation, each other, unaware they are being watched from on high by a Man on the Junk Heap (Theo Taylor).

But the arrival of an Old Woman (Debbie Fish), hobbling with just one shoe and carrying a bassinette on her back, puts paid to their passion. Is that a telescope or kaleidoscope the Man on the Junk Heap is spying with? Her sole shoe finds its inevitable resting place and, after supping the water, so does she, in the bassinette. Sleeping or dead?

A ‘caravan’ of three Daughters – Rebekah Coleman, Elle Wooton and Emma Hayward – their Father (Connor Driver-Burgess) and Mother (Jane Wenley) brings a different dynamic to the procession. If the Girl represent innocence adrift in this post-apocalyptic landscape wasteland, the innocence of these daughters seems to make them more inquisitive, more actively interested in their surroundings. While their Mother is deeply traumatised at the horror on the horizon and Father does his best to calm her, the daughters’ discovery of the water amounts to play – a delightful sequence – until one, then the others, see the horror …

Another Woman (Maggie White) and Man (Michael Pocock) arrive and their sensual response to the water suggests they are in the early throes of love – but consummation of their mutual desire is circumvented by her, too, seeing the horror …

The Man with the Huge Load (Michael Hebenton) is intriguing in that his load appears to be weightless. Is he bringing more junk to the heap or wanting to add to his load? When he discards an odd shoe in favour of one that he finds in the heap, which gives him a matching pair, I read this as meaning he is the winner; the only one to experience something other than despair. Does this make him the poster boy for acquisitiveness? Can this ‘alternative theatre’ play really be affirming the value of accumulating possessions?

As this Man introduces man-made toiletries to his interaction with the water, the Man on the Junk Heap slithers away – and I realise he is the only one not to have had contact with the water. Again, the significance of this has yet to register with me. And the Man with the Huge Load is the only one not freaked out by whatever is on the horizon, which he merely glances at as he moves on …

The return of the Girl, as at the start, suggests this is a life/death cycle that could be played out ad infinitum. 

Whatever you make of it, The Water Station is an absorbing play. Last year Phoebe Smith referenced The Labarynth and Deepwater Black but I am more inclined to see it reflecting the ennui and nihilism of Samuel Beckett: Happy Days meets Endgame, perhaps. Certainly Ōta and Beckett share an interest in theatrical minimalism and metaphor, in which The Water Station is rich. 

Footnote: Ōta devised six wordless Station playsOta devised between 1981 and 1998: The Water Station (Mizu no Eki 1981); The Earth Station (Chi no Eki 1985); The Wind Station (Kaze no Eki 1986); The Sand Station (Suna no Eki 1993); The Water Station 2 (1995); The Water Station 3 (1998). 
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*Dr Mari Boyd is a Professor of Performing Arts at Sophia University in Tokyo.
*Dr Megan Evans is a Senior Lecturer at VUW’s School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies. She specialises in Chinese and Japanese traditional and contemporary theatre practice.


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