Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, 31 Queens Garden, Dunedin

30/03/2019 - 31/03/2019

Dunedin Fringe 2019

Production Details

Talking House

In this audio-visual installation, a narrator triggers electronic music, audio samples and video sequences to generate a world which is part documentary and part dream-like hallucination.

At the heart of the piece is recorded testimony (interviews conducted in Thailand by artists engaged in the development of the work) from people whose lives have been deeply affected by the Kader factory fire and its aftermath. Their stories are interwoven with the stream of consciousness narrative of a businessman en route to Bangkok. Jet lag and a violent storm combine to plunge the man into a state of confusion and near-panic in which he recalls witnessing the catastrophe at Kader first-hand.

Talking House has a long history of producing innovative and unique stories based on real people’s testimony. Over the past few years Talking House has produced several verbatim theatre plays, Gasmen and Ropewalk were also performed at Toitū. Toy Factory Fire extends this practice. It represents a broadening of our area of interest, from the local to the more universal and global. At the same time, although we will still use recorded testimony in performance, in this instance the speech will be a translation from the original, with the sense of the Thai speakers being present, visibly, through video, and/or aurally, as audible voices playing underneath the spoken translation.

This project brings together a group of local artists in the creation of a new work that will extend the practices of all involved. It offers Kerian Varaine, composer and sound artist, the opportunity to work with other practitioners to develop and apply his skills in new areas of performance. It gives actor Simon O’Connor the chance to work closely with music, video and electronically generated soundscapes as a fundamental part of performance material. For Richard Huber, the work brings new design and directorial challenges in terms of knitting together disparate artistic forms into a single, multidisciplinary whole, where each separate element can contribute equally and collectively to the generation of meaning in the work.

Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, 31 Queens Garden, Dunedin
SAT 30 – SUN 31 March
$12.00 – $15.00
*Fees may apply

Theatre , Performance installation , Music , Multi-discipline ,

3 hrs

Crucial messages brought home in strangely hypnotic hallucination-cum-documentary

Review by Kimberley Buchan 30th Mar 2019

In 1993 the Kader Toy Factory in Thailand caught fire. It is still considered to be the worst industrial fire on record. This factory made toys for Mattel, Disney and a few other companies. Fire exits that were supposed to be built, weren’t. Fire alarms either did not work or were not set off in the main building. The mainly young female workforce were told to keep working when the fire started and were locked into the building. 188 people died. More than 500 were injured.

Talking House, known for their moving verbatim performances have spent a few years travelling back and forth from Thailand conducting and recording interviews with people who were connected to this awful event. These interviews are spliced into an audio-visual dreamscape which are accompanied by narration from Simon O’Connor.

Visually we are presented with white lines travelling across a black screen with the addition of dots, smoke and clouds at certain points. It is very exciting when vertical lines get added to the mix. Lists of names of the workers flicker in and out of existence. The audio is a smooth mix of chanted prayer, gongs, interviews in both Thai and English and ambient noise. O’Connor sits in shadow and operates the technology while narrating an outsider view of the story in soothing tones. The effect of the merging of all these elements is strangely hypnotic.

O’Connor’s character is an executive who happens to be paying a visit to the factory at the time of the fire. His stream of consciousness involves trying to piece together the memories of the fire during a breakdown in an airport. Initially I am disappointed that O’Connor is sitting in shadow as I can see enough to know that he is doing his usual beautifully expressive and perfectly pitched performance and I want to get the full impact of this by seeing it properly.

As more and more hideous details are revealed I become grateful for the cover of dark allowing us some distance so the confrontation is not too intense. Finally I become angry at myself for this feeling as it means I am using distance in the same way that the businessman is, to remove himself from a situation he had helped to create and done very little to remedy. 

Director Richard Huber’s Toy Factory Fire is an intriguing experiment. It brings home crucial messages about the true cost of our cheap consumer goods in a unique way. For an experience that is part hallucination and part documentary, take a comfortable Toitu seat and stay for as many loops of the show as you like.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council
Waiematā Local Board logo