This Rugged Beauty

Studio 77, Victoria University, 77 Fairlie Tce, Kelburn, Wellington

25/02/2011 - 05/03/2011

NZ Fringe Festival 2011

Production Details

It was just beautiful at the batch – 100 % pure NZ. Almost as good as a Tip Top ad. Why can’t our parties be more like Export Gold parties? Our summers more like Tip Top summers? Our lives as passionate as a test match?

This Rugged Beauty is an anarchic, unhinged and hilarious performance taking a hard look at what it means to be branded ‘Kiwi’. It explores the way advertisements and media sell us the myths of who we are. 

On a voyage to discover what their country means to them, Binge Culture Collective have spent the past few months watching beer advertisements, Shortland Street, and the brewing excitement of the Rugby World Cup. This Rugged Beauty is both a huge, doomed advertisement for NZ, and a nostalgic memoir of childhood summers at the batch.  

Binge Culture Collective, a group of recent Victoria University graduates, who each had a different ‘Kiwi’ upbringing from Nelson to Hawkes Bay, from suburban Wellington to a childhood at sea set out to make this project well aware of how presumptuous it is to think a group of university-educated 20-somethings can tell the story of New Zealand… but perhaps it was this lack of real connection to their country that has encouraged them to try.

Actor Claire O’Loughlin, who grew up circumnavigating the world with her family on a yacht, says: “When I got back, I felt intensely disconnected from New Zealand history and my place in it… yet at the same time my history here is old. My family was among the first settlers: my great-grandma shot and killed the abusive man who got her pregnant but wouldn’t marry her, her case caused nationwide protest; my great-grandpa was Commander of the Maori Battalion in WWII, another great-grandfather donated Wakefield Street to the Church in a moment of drunken fervour… all of this makes up who I am, but is lost on me.” 

Binge Culture Collective burst into the Wellington Theatre scene in 2009 with Drowning Bird, Plummeting Fish (Best Newcomers Award, New Zealand Fringe Festival). Since then they have performed all over New Zealand: Dunedin’s Octagon and Globe Theatre, atop Takaka Hill at Canaan Downs New Year Festival, Auckland’s Queen St, K Road and Basement Theatre and Wellington’s BATS Theatre, Midland Park, Cuba Street and Downstage Theatre bar.

For This Rugged Beauty the collective has widened their collaborators, including Chapman Tripp Award nominated sound designer Andrew Simpson (A Brief History of Helen of Troy) and Bruce Mason Award Winner Eli Kent, who’s The Intricate Art of Actually Caring dealt with similar themes of young New Zealanders searching to feel a genuine connection to a history they are told belongs to them.   

Studio 77,
77 Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn Wellington
7:30pm, 25 February-5 March (no show Monday) 

Performed by Rachel Baker, Joel Baxendale, Simon Haren, Claire O'Loughlin, Eli Kent.

Designed by Kattral Lee, Jessica Sweden
Sound Design by Gareth Hobbs and Andrew Simpson

Dramaturg Fiona McNamara  

The nature of being Kiwi

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Mar 2011

This Rugged Beauty is a sort of slyly subversive This is New Zealand, which was a glossy triple-split-screen film, made for the 1970 Expo in Japan. It is a journey of before and after the end of the golden weather for David and Judy, which we make too with our eyes closed for some of the time as we feel nature all about us when they go camping in the bush and by the sea to overcome a deep sorrow.

They even go in a mini (Goodbye Pork Pie?) while uneven comic scenes of iconic importance (Waitangi/ Lange at the Oxford Union/ the Queen’s visit) occur on a small stage littered with Kiwi paraphernalia; the rest is performed in the large open space of Studio 77 as well as outdoors.

Inspired by a visit to Te Papa and thoughts of what it is to be a New Zealander, the cast have created a stimulating 80 minutes in which the best moments are spoken ones: New Zealanders’ propensity to be positive (we’ll pull through), the inability to fully express an emotional response, and the need to be bossed about a bit which is brilliantly shown when the director tells the actors playing Judy and David to pull up their socks and act better after the oranges at half-time. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Stands proud on the slopes of a metaphorical Mount Aspiring

Review by John Smythe 26th Feb 2011

The title sounds like a quote from a Thomas Bracken poem. I’m expecting a piss-take of retro kitch Kiwiana but no: this show – ‘made in New Zealand’ by Binge Culture – is something else again.

Yes it does evoke the beach, batch and camping; our whaling past, the Queen’s first Royal Tour and proud moments like David Lange’s blistering wit at the Oxford Union debate. But there is a sense of deep attachment, of love, for all these things that distinguish our Kiwi identity – inspired, according to the programme note, by “the hyperactive collage of the Golden Days exhibition” at Te Papa (by Story Inc; an exhibition that always brings a lump to my throat and tear to my eye). 

Bruce Mason’s The End of the Golden Weather is also referenced, not least in the way we are asked to enter a ‘climate of the mind’. “We wanted to learn the ‘rules’ of NZ drama so that we can break them, and to play on the line between real longing and targeted marketing, between emotional truth and blatant manipulation,” writes director Ralph Upton. “Did we have that idyllic childhood, or is it just the Tip-Top ads talking?”  

Joel Baxendale’s quiet and kindly introductory chat with us subverts any expectations of hyped-up razzamatazz or nationalistic fervour; there’s a very slow build to that. Instead we are drawn into a low-key collective subjective experience of natural elements … and find ourselves in the presence of Dave (Eli Kent) and Judy (Rachel Baker), estranged it seems and finding each other again on a beach … Awkward.

At its core, their slowly revealed story has something in common with Carl Nixon’s The Raft and Roger Hall’s Four Flat Whites in Italy: the most traumatic event young parents can ever face. And in contrast to what we already know – that Dave took off somewhere for five years – we are told that in a classic, indomitable, Kiwi can-do way, they pull through in a manner symbolic of all Kiwi battlers who refuse to give up in the face of adversity.  

In light of the stories that have flowed daily through the media since last Tuesday’s earthquake in Christchurch, this unabashed celebration of the Kiwi spirit risks being in bad taste and yet it’s not because its truth is not pre-judged. It is powerfully evoked to provoke embarrassment, pride or both; as a test of our individual abilities to embrace that part of ourselves.

Who knows how differently we may have felt had last Tuesday not happened, but I for one find myself feeling yes, bugger it, that is who we are and good on us! Yet we must remember that – as with Dave and Judy – some wounds take longer to heal, and it helps no-one to use this mythological indomitability as a weapon or a cop-out.

The ‘Dave, Judy and little Timmy’ drama is intercut with tacky tableaux, redolent not so much of TV ads as 19th century theatrical manifestations of this plucky country, posed by Simon Haren and Claire O’Loughlin who do excellent ‘chorus’ work throughout. The tableaux need work, I feel; developing or trimming back. Doing stuff purposely badly is a thin joke that soon wears out.

Another odd aspect of the first two thirds (or so) of the show is Baxendale’s interventions as a director, barking at Kent and Baker like a farmer working his dogs, or more like sports coach from the sidelines as it turns out. But the payoff is funny and it does make us muse on how it might be if sports coaches directed drama.  

The whole play is performed in the traverse, using Studio 77’s roller door to fine effect (let’s hope they don’t get torrential rain in a southerly buster). The final sequence – evoking whales and a stranding – also tests our notions of what constitutes theatre and entertainment, and involves audience participation in an extraordinarily simple yet moving way.

Again the potential for embarrassment is faced off in the collective will to overcome adversity. And again there is a resonance with current events and how we are handling them. Because that’s what we do. That’s who we are.

Overall this group-devised work is beautifully enhanced by Gareth Hobbs’ sound design and original music, blended with live sound effects from the company, and Kattral Lee’s lighting design.

Part of me would like to see the play-to-date wrought with a writer’s sensibility now, to add greater depth, breadth and thematic resonance … and another part likes the challenge of engaging with the themes in a whole new way.

Presented in the Fringe as “an exploration” the company wishes to “develop and grow”, This Rugged Beauty already stands proud on the slopes of a metaphorical Mount Aspiring.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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