BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

24/03/2015 - 02/04/2015

Production Details

Twisted loved stories from Wellington’s most exciting theatre company   

The woman who kissed a gnome. The girl who is also a bomb. The lady so obsessed with stationery she is prepared to kill for it. Or even worse: love for it. 

Tiny Deaths will be a beautiful and odd evening of love stories, all as dark as dark chocolate, from award-winning theatre company My Accomplice (Joseph K, Watch, A Play About Space) and playing at the newly-renovated BATS theatre. Wickedly funny and sumptuously grotesque, it’s perfect for a first date. Or a last one. 

Uther Dean (Winner: Best Solo, 2014 New Zealand Fringe Awards, Nominated: Best New New Zealand Play, 2014 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards) has written twelve monologues for six of Wellington’s most exciting young women actors.

A deep cross-section of the Wellington scene, these six proven actresses (Hannah Banks, Alice May Connolly, Keagan Carr Fransch, Brianne Kerr, Hilary Penwarden and Freya Daly Sadgrove) run the gamut from a Chapman Tripp winner and a Toi Whakaari graduate to alumnae of Wellington’s most exciting companies like The Bacchanals, Long Cloud Youth Theatre, Bright Orange Walls and, of course, My Accomplice. 

Co-directors Penwarden and Dean have created a work that celebrates the female talent of Wellington, which is all too often swept under the rug or hidden from sight by the wealth of work predominantly written for men. 

“All the most positive working experiences I’ve had in the theatre, and a lot of the best theatre I’ve seen, have been largely female led,” explains Dean, co-creative director of My Accomplice. “I realised that My Accomplice, in its five year life, had, without meaning to, never done a work with a predominantly female cast. It was time to change that.”

“Nobody bats an eye at all the work made by groups made up exclusively of men,” says Penwarden, “but when it’s all or mostly women that suddenly becomes a ‘thing’. The only way we can change that is by making more work like that so people have to get used to it.” 

As well as coming from a place of ardent feminism, Tiny Deaths sprang out of a desire to see the actual modern experience of love and sex portrayed frankly on the stage.

“We get a lot of plays that say they’re about those things,” continues Dean, “but, very often, they’re comments on the media’s image of those things. Tiny Deaths is about the actual awkwardness of how to kiss someone for the first time, the squelchy weird bits of sex that no-one talks about.” 

“But don’t worry, it’s really funny too,” interjects Penwarden.

Fresh off opening the newly renovated BATS theatre with their Chapman Tripp Theatre Award winning STAB commission Watch at the end of last year, as well as their trailblazing Fringe 2015 collaboration with Radio New Zealand Stranger Things, My Accomplice are not letting up or slowing down. Tiny Deaths is the latest in the greatest sustained run of independent, creative, popular theatre creation in Wellington since the days of Red Mole and Trouble. 

The Propeller Stage at BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington 
24 March-2 April (No Sun/Mon),
8.30pm, 90min running time 
Bookings: bats.co.nz or 04 802 4175 
Tickets: $20 (full price), $18 (concession), $15 (student Wednesdays)

CAST: Hannah Banks, Alice May Connolly, Keagan Carr Fransch, Brianne Kerr, Hilary Penwarden and Freya Daly Sadgrove 

Theatre , Spoken word ,

1hr 30mins, no interval

This show is important

Review by Charlotte Simmonds 25th Mar 2015

The 16th show by My Accomplice consists of 11 monologues on what they have billed as “love and sex”, written by Uther Dean for six specific actors. In order of appearance, the actors are Alice May Connolly, Brianne Kerr, Hannah Banks, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Hilary Penwarden and Keagan Carr Fransch. 

They are all women. Hilary Penwarden, who sits to one side throughout the show providing musical incidentals, wears a t-shirt bearing the slogan “I bathe in male tears”, which has me steeling myself for an anti-male, smash-the-patriarchy brand of radical feminism, added to by the darkness and sexual violence of the show’s poster. 

But the show is not dark, it is not violent, and it by no means a horror show, so if you were planning not to see it on that account, don’t. You must see this show. 

I am not even eager to call it a feminist show. Certainly, we do spend 90 minutes listening to women speak uninterrupted by men, which almost passes the Bechdel test, but as the show consists solely of monologues with no dialogue, the Bechdel test cannot really be applied here. That the show was written by a man is inconsequential. Women have spent most of history having their words filtered through the voices of men, reliant on men to speak for them, so perhaps here it is a change to have a man’s voice filtered through the voices of women. 

But there is really only one piece here that I would describe as ‘feminist’ – Keagan Carr Fransch’s monologue ‘It takes me a while to realise that the woman in the video is me’. The monologue may be a response to things like Roastbusters, revenge porn and other online avenues intended for female humiliation and male bragging which make public what is private, remove intimacy of its intimacy, making us ever more exhibitionists, voyeurs and objects of exploitation, as foreseen by Josh Harris in the 1990s. 

Keagan Carr Fransch’s piece reclaims intimacy, takes it back to its true meaning, i.e. human intercourse that is not purely sexual. She becomes the exhibitionist and exploiter herself and in the process possibly kills a man (which is the sole instance of extreme feminism portrayed in this show at all, but which also doesn’t seem to be particularly key to the story). 

In general, this show is not a feminist show, but a humanist one. (Yes, you can argue that feminism is humanism, but I’m here to discuss Tiny Deaths, not academics.) The monologues could easily be performed by people of any sex, gender, orientation, ethnicity and potentially any age. Despite being written with specific actors in mind, they are non-specific. They are generic. They are human. 

And here is the funny thing. As with most of Dean’s writing, it all turns sci-fi pretty fast. I am accustomed to having human relationships used as metaphors in science fiction short stories that end in a twist (“Ha, ha, you thought I was talking about a human, but my girlfriend is actually a robot”) and I am accustomed to having science fiction stories used as metaphors for human relationships (pretty much any sentient computer /cyborg /android ever written). Here, however, I feel that what is happening is a weird denial of the second framework. 

Dean has written 11 monologues that are all obviously and explicitly about human relationships; about alienation, failure to connect, loneliness, isolation; about distance. None of them are about sex. I’m not even sure that they’re about love. No matter what the story is, none of the characters here succeed in connecting to any other human, or if they connect for a few brief moments, they connect so dysfunctionally and brokenly that it’s meaningless. 

Alice May Connolly becomes so engrossed in an abusive relationship she loses all sense of identity and can no longer tell where her lover leaves off and she begins. Brianne Kerr is so attached to a physical object, in this case office stationery, that it becomes at the expense of her ability to understand and interpret other people.

In a story that either takes all the fun out of hentai or puts all the fun back in, depending on how you feel about hentai, Freya Daly Sadgrove appears to be using her boyfriend simply to shock and annoy her parents. Keagan Carr Fransch’s first monologue involves a ghastly can’t-live-with-or-without-you co-dependency where both lovers will end up destroying each other (spoiler: it’s Stockholm Syndrome with a tapeworm).

Alice May Connolly’s second character claims to be worried about an alien invasion but is really just jealous of other people appearing to have functional relationships, going into the three-tiered Orwellian structure where the people at the top want to stay there, the people in the middle aspire to reach the top, and the people at the bottom want a revolution so everyone will be equal. In this case, she’s at the bottom.

Hannah Banks’ character, who is a bomb, explicitly tells us not to interpret this as a metaphor. She is not merely someone who pushes other people away from her and is afraid of intimacy, she says, she is literally a bomb. But I can’t believe any of this. I can’t believe the science fiction. Sure, I know you are a bomb and he is a tapeworm or a garden gnome or Cthulhu or something and aliens are coming, but I cannot believe that this is what Dean is really writing about or that the first sci-fi framework, that of using human relationships as a metaphor for the fiction is what is happening. It is a metaphor, and the science fiction is a front, and there is something else being said here and part of me just wishes everyone would come right out and say it without skirting around the issue sideways like this. 

Freya Daly Sadgrove’s piece, ‘To Do. Monday.’ does seem to actually achieve this. It may be the most stylised piece, but the result is extremely real, genuine and heart-rending. We know exactly what is going on here. 

Hilary Penwarden’s open letter to the one trader who left her bad feedback on TradeMe is by far the strongest performance in this collection, and it is a shame she is used only once. That being said, the show could have lost at least two of the pieces and would be much tighter without the conclusion. Performed by Brianne Kerr, the conclusion is an uplifting, morale-boosting, self-esteem-strewing speech with no real story that seems merely in there so the audience doesn’t go away feeling regretful afterwards, but I don’t feel this is necessary.

The sense of disconnect and failure to extricate oneself from isolation is an experience so common to those currently a part of Western society that the uplifting, morale-boosting element is simply the shock of “I’m not the only one” and “Everyone has problems”. Even before the slightly wishy-washy conclusion, I’m thinking, “We don’t need psychologists after all. We just need to go to the theatre. We just need to talk to each other.” 

This show is important. Your relationships have problems. Other people’s do, too. See this show.


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