Toi Whakaari_New Zealand Drama School GRADUATION SEASON 2008

Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School & Circa 2, Wellington

01/10/2008 - 08/11/2008

Production Details

Wed 1 – Sat 4 October
Cruelty and compassion strangely collide in Sarah Kane’s profound and horrific first work. Directed by MTA Student Kat Thomas.

Unity (1918)
Thu 23 October – Sat 1 November
This award-winning epic explores what happens when a town faces a new enemy on the homefront: one of the worst influenza epidemics of the modern era. Directed by Conrad Newport.

Tue 28 October – Thu 6 November
A political satire that probes the questions and fears of a post-9/11 New Zealand, inspired by the events pertaining to the New Zealand Terrorism Suppression Act and the arrests of the ‘Urewera 17 ‘.

The Pillowman
Fri 31 October – Sat 8 November
Treading the fine line between comedy and cruelty, writer Katurian Katurian entertains his younger brother with shocking fairy tales. But when these grisly tales of murder start to become a reality, two sardonic secret policemen come knocking. Directed by MTA student, Stuart Handloff.

All the drama of exams

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 03rd Nov 2008

University students simply write exams; the poor old Drama School student has to put on plays for public scrutiny during a month-long graduation season. Last month four productions of extremely challenging plays opened, with The Pillowman still running at Circa 2 until November 8. [AoTERRORoa – see below – plays until 6 November.]

Two of the productions are the culmination of work towards graduation from Toi Whakaari with a master’s degree in Theatre Directing. It is taught in association with the Theatre Programme of Victoria University.

The actors used in these productions do not necessarily have anything to do with the Drama School. The other two productions were directed by professional directors who put this year’s graduating acting students through their paces.

First up was an extraordinary display of chutzpah by Kat Thomas with her production of Sarah Kane’s notorious Blasted which is set in a hotel room in Leeds during an unspecified civil war. This three-hander contains homosexual rape, eye-ball gouging, cannibalism, masturbation and defecation.

That Thomas successfully carried it off with a carefully measured tempo and aided by three excellent performances is a tribute to her astute balancing of the humanity of Kane’s characters, however imperfect they are, with a production that brought the terror-ridden world of Bosnia, Falluja, Abu Ghraib, Congo, Darfur and all the rest crashing on to the stage.

The other play (directed by Stuart Handloff) which is in preparation for a master’s degree in Theatre Directing, is Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, a dark tale with bleakly comic tales, lines and scenes about Katurian, a storyteller, whose stories about the murder of children have got him into trouble with the police in a totalitarian state.

It is a play about storytelling and the spell they hold over people.

Katurian’s stories are fairy tales filled with Brothers Grim-like brutality and dark horror. The storytelling in this production is weakened by being told matter-of-factly. There is no ancient mariner’s glittering eye to hold our attention all the time, and certainly no scene in the first half that a New York reviewer said was as scary as the shower scene in Psycho.

Nine of the graduating acting students were directed by Conrad Newport in a Canadian play Unity (1918) by Kevin Kerr, a play that explores what happened to the lives of the inhabitants of Unity, Saskatchewan when the world-wide influenza epidemic hits the rural town as peace is declared after the First World War.

The sweep of the drama and the powerlessness of the people in the face of the epidemic are often weakened by the playwright at times seeming to pander to Canadian teenagers in Social Studies classes by stressing teen romances and grisly comedy.

The rest of the graduating acting students appeared in Jo Randerson’s AoTERRORoa (directed by Geoff Pinfeld), an often riotous political comedy about the Uruwera terror raids (no one has a clue what is going on) and told in the manner of a Dario Fo farce.

In Home and Garden Alan Ayckbourn had two plays performed at the same time in two different theatres, so when a character exited in one play he then entered the other play in the next-door theatre. AoTERRORoa has this Ayckbournian ingenuity except there are three half-hour playlets performed in three separate and specially created ‘theatres’ seating 27 people in each with the audience moving from one to other.

The graduating acting students were up to the usual high standards of the school but what stood out for me this year was the sophistication of the technical side of theatre: the three stages and accurate settings (all created in 6 weeks) for AoTERRORoa, the menacing sound effects of the grim reaper and the spaciousness of the setting evoking the Canadian prairie in Unity (1918), the terrifying explosion that destroys the smart hotel bedroom in Blasted, and the dank, underground interrogation room and cell in The Pillowman. All of a very high standard.


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