The Wind Speaks to Wellington
28/11/2007 - 01/12/2007
Inspired by the disturbingly rapid change in our global environment and the constant flux and change in conditions that every Wellingtonian has learnt to tolerate, Bard Productions present The Wind Speaks to Wellington.
The arrogant humans of the earth have aggravated the elements so much that they couldn’t contain their anger and retaliated on Dec. 2, 2007. Natural disasters, disease and war ravaged the earth. In 2087 the only humans left alive with any form of conscience reside in BATS Theatre.
A devised play about the wind in Wellington is disrupted as the Spirit of the Wind takes the body of the Front of House Manager as a host. He comes to BATS to "relax and watch a play", but when the actors decide that they can’t go on after this interruption, the Wind decides to put on a play of his own…He uses the bodies of the two actors to give the audience a demonstration of what has happened to BATS, Wellington, and the world in the year 2087. But what does the Wind God have invested? Why does he care so much about enlightening the people of Wellington?
Starring Paul Stephanus, Hannah Clarke, Dan Greer and Scott Ransom; and featuring the intricate sound design of Emile de la Rey and expert lighting design from Glenn Ashworth, this play will be premiering at BATS Theatre from 27 November to 1 December 2007 6.30pm.
Tickets are available from BATS Theatre, bookings
on 04 802 4175 or firstname.lastname@example.org
With Paul Stephanus, Hannah Clarke, Dan Greer and Scott Ransom
Overall, not for me
Review by Helen Sims 08th Dec 2007
The Wind Speaks to Wellington was the product of several months’ hard work devising a show based in humour and physical performance with a serious social message. What looks like an abysmal piece of devised physical theatre is disrupted by BATS’ Dan Greer, ostensibly possessed by the Wind God, who strikes the performers (Hannah Clarke and Scott Ransom) dumb and takes over, promising more entertaining fare.
In the “first” interrupted story purports to consist of 124 vignettes about wind (although we never get past Chapter 4). Anna (Clarke) and Scotty (Ransom) appear in clothes that send up physical devised work – tights and flowing capes – then proceed to execute a series of awkward looking moves designed to evoke different aspects of the wind. Clarke’s broken foot and wheelchair is utilised to great comic effect – the cast is commended for at least attempting to incorporate her injury (sustained only several days before the show was due to open) into the play.
The “second” story takes place in the future, in the year 2087, in post-apocalyptic Wellington, populated by mutants and humans who seek shelter from them and attempt to be “blown away” into a better world. The performers, Anna and Scotty, now play Efe and Adafufu, who were raised in a cupboard and have very different reactions when they first encounter the outside world – particularly its extreme wind. Efe’s instructions about how to recognise and kill a mutant are well conceived and leads to a copious amount of humorous sniffing. Her mentor has been Kooshi (director Paul Stephanus), who uses a bizarre accent, landing somewhere between Yoda and the Muppets – perhaps to match Greer’s equally bizarre accent as the Wind God?
While the premise is at first humorous, it starts to lose its way a little before an hour in. There are some fairly large gaps in logic and plausibility – such as the Wind God having the power to move tectonic plates. The moralising was also a bit too overt – it would have been better to leave it in the abstract rather than have the wind god become the didactic voice for the play’s moral message. Likewise, the connection to Adam and Eve is on the wrong side of explicit. Satisfyingly, the play does come “full circle” and return to the present setting of the first story.
I’d dispute some of their claims to originality – dramatisation of the apocalyptic is not particularly new. I’m not a fan of science fiction as a genre, so I’m a tad biased against plays with that slant, but here it was suitable and was within the realm of my imaginative powers. Emile de la Rey’s sound design was excellent and innovative.
Overall, this was not for me, but it is a shame it only got a single night’s performance (the decision was taken to cancel the rest of the season on medical grounds). I’m increasingly realising that the opening night reaction is not always a reliable gauge for any show, as it is usually packed out with supporters (and critics!) This show could really have benefited from more time in front of a more neutral audience. But it didn’t blow me away.
Originally published in The Lumière Reader.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A blown opportunity?
Review by John Smythe 29th Nov 2007
Delayed one night on account of the lead actress breaking bones in her foot, the first thing to say is that Hannah K Clarke’s ability to adapt her performance to – indeed, make the most of – an orthopaedic boot, a wheelchair and crutches, is to be roundly applauded.
But as with many devised works in their first incarnations (from which few progress), The Wind Speaks to Wellington suffers from premature performance syndrome with coherent content coming a poor second, which leaves me very uncontented.
Speaking of puns, the predictable "blow job" gets way too much air time and the compelling desire to be "blown away" turns out to be a very important concept (I think) in an accumulating set of scenarios that finally confuse more than they elucidate.
After Front-of-House manager Dan Greer gives the thumbs up to sound designer and operator Emile de la Rey and lighting operator (of Glen Ashworth’s design) Debby McGuire, Clarke and Scott Ransom open the show with breezy little tableaux … only to be interrupted by Greer who seems to be having a fit, and turns out to be possessed by the Wind God.
Less than interested in what these mere mortals were up to, the WG casts them in his own play – all of which takes far too long to set up (the 80-minute show should lose 20 minutes at least, most of it from the first half). Greer looks great in the role with long hair and beard, but his accent …! Yes, I know the wind comes from all over, although mostly – as the play itself acknowledges – it is born (and borne) over oceans. To my ear his inconsistent lapsing into an American accent – Sopranos-style USA, not even South America with a nod to El Nino or La Nina – is so mindless, so knee-jerk Primary School, so sadly culturally conditioned, I can only despair. Why the hell can’t the Wellington wind sound like a Wellingtonian when he’s at home?
Honestly, if experienced devisers working at BATS aren’t willing to take a stand against the insidious cultural imperialism-of-the-mind that instils the notion in TV-watchers from an early age that all things of consequence (and anything sung, of course) have to have American voices, there’s no hope for any of us. And – oh, the irony – that this calumny should be perpetrated at the very venue that spawned Flight of the Conchords, who have now made the Kiwi accent cool in America (although they do still sing in American accents)!
The Wind God’s servant, Kooshi, is played by director Paul Stephanus in a full-on Walt Disney cartoon American accent and given Stephanus is American – via Dunedin – I’d say that’s fine, except we know from his solo show The Gods in Post-Nuclear New Zealand that he is capable of many voices, so why has he chosen a Daffy Duck one here?)
Hannah Clarke’s Efe and Scott Ransom’s Adafufu are quite appealing clown-like waifs in a post-apocalyptic future blighted with mutants that’s 80 years hence, yet everything – represented by the magazine covers that adorn the stage – is dated 2007. So this is a warning, then; a cautionary tale about a future that we can, perhaps, avoid, except there is no suggestion as to how. All the play does at this level is tells us off.
The science fiction premise for the play brings its own demands for credibility; for a willing suspension of disbelief based on reasonably logical concepts. Given the total collapse of so-called civilised society, then, I find it hard to comprehend how a fresh French tourist lady got herself to Cuba Mall, although she is a well drawn character and the evocation of the iconic Bucket Fountain is a high point of the show.
That all the electricity in Wellington is dependent on the wind turning one turbine is fine. But what are we to make of a Wind God that can move tectonic plates, or even the proposition that climate change per-se can cause earthquakes? (The SEEyD Company has set the standard for thorough research to underpin its devised works, not least with Turbine, this time last year.)
An attempt to build the drama to a scene atop the State Insurance building (involving the afore-mention desire to be ‘blown away’) then engage us with the Wind God’s moral dilemma at the end of the play is commendable. It’s something to do with whether he should spare Adafufu and Efe to reincarnate the human race – which has, after all, been the baddie on the planet ever since Adam and Eve (oh, right … A and E …) – or should he spare the Earth by obliterating them too? But why he should ask, "Do I let them go or die with them?" eludes me.
And a final image, in the WG’s play-within-the-play, of Kooshi wandering off like a storybook boy with his worldly belongings bundled and tied to a stick, is remarkable only in that it manages to render a cliché totally meaningless. (A great tip, picked up at a screenwriting courseI it’s dangerous to listen to your ‘instincts’ because ‘instincts’ invariably suggest clichés.)
There are some good, self-aware gags about devising co-ops that improvise. A couple of twists as we return to the ‘real’ world of performers on stage at BATS elicit a satisfactory ending. Some awareness of dramatic structure has been brought to bear. But overall the show hijacks itself with semi-developed ideas given dramatic form before they’ve been properly thought through. Pick your metaphor: a ceramic vase glazed and fired before it is properly formed, so it leaks when used; a building clad, painted and furnished before the foundations and internal have been engineered let alone built so it skews and warps at the first tremor … (any more?).
Of course BATS prices are low enough to justify asking people to pay to see a work in progress, as long as they realise that’s what it is and are able to communicate their feedback where it counts (feel free to use this site). On the other hand this could be the one shot this idea-with-potential will ever get; in short: a blown opportunity.
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