Centrepoint, Palmerston North

21/03/2009 - 11/04/2009

BATS Theatre, Wellington

30/11/2006 - 16/12/2006

Production Details

Devised by the SEEyD Company
Directed by Tim Spite

“We’re the Saudi Arabia of wind”

The controversial issue of wind farming provides the backdrop for The SEEyD Theatre Company’s latest play. In a small farming village somewhere in NZ, locals are divided over a wind farm that is to be erected in their midst. Some will profit handsomely from renting their land to the electricity company ($10,000 per turbine per year), and some will have their view and their peace and quiet polluted and claim to lose a large percentage of their asset value.

When Joshua, a young, savvy spin doctor for the electricity company, visits an all female household in the village to complete his local ‘consultation process’, sibling rivalry kicks in, political leanings flip, and the most unlikely love story unfolds.

“Power, speed, economy; blades cutting up, transforming nothing – wind – into power; into heat and light, sending energy into the heart of this beautiful land.”

The SEEyD Company is New Zealand’s most consistently successful and inventive theatre company with five award winning hits in a row: SEEyD, inSalt, SAnD, The Remedy Syndrome and The Brilliant Fassah. Each production has conceptual and emotion depth, tight integrated scripting, beautiful stage design and top class performances.

inSalt is easily one of the finest productions of the year… There’s not room to do justice here to the conceptual and emotional depth of this work, but every aspect of this moving and beautiful production, from the ingenious set to the sweeping choreography, …feels carved from the same piece of native timber.”
– Mark Amery, Sunday times review of inSalt

“Yet again a small, independent, project group has invested its talents on spec and produced an exquisite 80 minutes of riveting theatre that deserves to be seen around the country and the wider world. Catch it if you can. ”
– John Smythe, NBR review of The Remedy Syndrome

“Get your diary. Write this down. I must book for SEEyD! Make it your mantra. This is an intelligent thought provoking concept that’s well researched, with full blooded characters, exceptional acting, inspired staging and original music that enhances the experience…”
– Lynn Freeman, Capital Times review of SEEyD

2009 revival

We’re the Saudi Arabia of wind!
The SEEyD Theatre Company returns with Turbine to Downstage Theatre 

With the controversial issue of wind farming SEEyD “blows another gust of fresh air through Wellington theatre” (Laurie Atkinson, The Dominion Post). What happens when a company that’s doing everything it can to save the environment can’t reconcile with an already environmentally conscious family? At first the self-sufficient Gusten household in Ohanui is united in its opposition to erect seventy turbines in their ‘backyard’, but a family secret, erotic fiction, an autistic son, global warming and a most unlikely love story combine to crack their resolve.

SEEyD’s Turbine is a compelling, topical and romantic comedy, inspired by a major wind farm project near Wellington. Director Tim Spite, Winner of the 2008 Chapman Tripp Director of the Year Award for Paua, gives the controversial issue of wind parks a balanced airing: “Interviewing people on both sides of the debate uncovered a more complex issue than I had anticipated, but when I was told that the residents didn’t want to hear the relevant explanations for their various concerns, I thought that’s it!” So Turbine is not just about wind farming, it’s about human opposition to any sort of change, their unwillingness to compromise, as Spite explains: “What sort of pressure needs to be applied to a person before they listen, see the other side’s point of view, change their minds about an issue. Any issue, whether it be politics or relationships.”

Turbine, which has been re-written and updated for its Downstage debut, premiered at BATS in 2006.
It plays from 13 February till 7 March at 7 pm (no shows Sundays and Mondays), with a matinee on Saturday 21 February at 2pm.
Prices for the show range from $20 to $42. Special Early Bird discounts apply.
Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at (04) 801 6946 or in person at Downstage’s box office.
For up-to-date information, prices and bookings visit www.downstage.co.nz

Starring Nick Dunbar, Emma Kinane, Lee Smith-Gibbons and Tim Spite

Directed by Tim Spite | Lighting Design: Jennifer Lal | Sound Design: Gil Eva Craig

Duration: 90 min, no interval

Tim Spite 
Emma Kinane 
Rachel Forman (2006) | Lee Smith-Gibbons (2009)
Nick Dunbar

Lighting: Jennifer Lal
Sound: Gil Eva Craig

Theatre ,

1hr 30 mins, no interval

A splendidly explored dilemma

Review by Peter Hawes 22nd Mar 2009

SEEyD is the best and only knight gallant we have right now, to protect us from the baneful fiscal Sheriffs of Nottingham – far better than the jellybean journalists like that fey financial dweeb on TVOne who peeps out at us from under his Lady Di-type fringe, and better still than the analytical balloons called ‘experts’ – by their own empty kind – who confidently predict what happened yesterday. Fuck ’em all.

SEEyD wades, Daniel-like, into the den of specious capitalism and intelligently, unerringly and gloriously boots the goddam lion in the nuts. Eeha! We’re back in those Brechtian days when theatre took up the Great Axe which the media’s double-jointed wrists were incapable of raising. SEEyD is like the crepitatious Radio Free Europe broadcasts into Eastern Europe during the Cold War – the only way of knowing, through the fog of institutional self-survival and political obfuscation, what exactly was going on.

I saw this play on the night of the day that Telecom sent me a slithery letter explaining how their Herculean efforts to keep my costs down had been overcome by forces beyond their control – and to my joy, the oleaginous CEO of the power company in the play, spoke in the powerful Scottish accents of the Telecom boss. Some would call this coincidence, I call it the prescience of wily Tim Spite.

SEEyD has taken on about nine big issues in its productions – you’ll know them; GM, pauas etc – meeting them all at eyeball height and wrestling them either to the death or curtaincall. Being composed of knights, SEEyD is quite noble and always sees the enemy’s p.o.v. But the cooperative remains resolutely alone, as far as I know, in taking on big modern problems regarded as too hard for TV and too impenetrable for general consumption by any other of the mediums. Even official theatre largesse-givers initially regarded SEEyD as two hours of Kim Hill with supporting cast and were, well … reticent. 

Until the sheer effing brilliance of the performance came through; the Goonish humanity, the holes torn in the official curtain, the tumultuous relationships. SEEyD is Go! The research is impeccable, the resultant script is divine; the acting is superb and the staging magnificent.

Each play had to be all the above to protect itself from inevitable enemies and did so by being in an unprecedented state of preparedness before opening night. A seven week rehearsal period! Sheesh! That’s almost as much as is given to dogs like CATS!

So Turbine came to Parmy in a full state of readiness and began to be extraordinary even before the introductory lights went down. There was the cast, absorbedly drawing the scenery of the set as we took our seats. And throughout, the whiteboard scenes were constantly redrawn as situations changed – turbines rose and were later expunged by events or the malice of characters; toasters and TVs were added by proponents, mighty totaras by opponents.

Mark (Nick Dunbar), the ultimate latterday Bon Brush man, peddles mastodonic wind machines to the folk of Makara.  Matriarch Gail Gusten (Emma Kinane) emphatically does not want to buy. Nor, initially, her daughter Susan (Lee Smith-Gibbons). And even more initially, Ariel (Time Spite) her autistic son.

Each of these actors will play a range of substantial characters as well drawn as the folk of Milkwood – but with relevance. Susan will subsequently fall in love with the enemy and create the final dilemma – who prevails here, the Capulets or the Montagues?

Meanwhile Ariel the idiot savant runs the gamut of every issue going: entertainingly showing his opposition to windpower by pole-axing Mark ("Call me Mark." "Mark!") with a grand left cross. Then adding up the figures of carbon saved and electricity provided and finding a thousand reasons to plug in the hated windmills. Later attempting to burn down the house and calling on authorities to have his mother asylumised for madness. Overall he has the wisdom of Lear’s fool, but the ear of no one.

The erection or not of turbines is a splendidly explored dilemma not really resolved in the scene in which ‘Maggie’ tells Ariel to get real – she’s an epileptic and manages without all the ostentatious sturm un drang he creates. Then succumbs to a fit induced by his flickering of the switch light which may hitherto be powered by the contested turbines. The scene may resolve nothing but it’s a bloody good one. And it’s not there for nothing; this play is sly, self-subversive – every fact manages to undermine itself and bring resolution no closer.

Astonishing also is the scene in which Mark the turbinical agent sings in almost falsetto ("you hit an E!" expostulated the musical director at the after-match function – "How did you get that high?") Anyway, while he was getting that high, Ariel was humping a cushion; together they created a sort of oxymoron of intent.

It’s no surprise that the play ends about ten minutes before the satisfactory ending that standard drama demands. We are left dangling over the cliffs of Makara – and you may or may not know that when a decent southerly is blowing you can lean out into it, over the precipitous drop and be held between security and damnation by the wind that would turn those turbines were they there. 


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Winds of change

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 18th Feb 2009

With Downstage’s much larger stage than the stage at Bats, where Turbine was first seen two years ago, the SEEyD Theatre Company now have a whiteboard backdrop of Cinemascope size on which to draw the scenery and mark (and correct) the passage of time as they did so memorably in the original production.

There has been a change in the cast (Lee Smith-Gibbons replacing Rachel Forman) and the script has been tightened and clarified and while the pros and cons of building a huge wind farm in a small remote rural area not unlike Makara are still central to the play, it now focuses more sharply on how the Gusten family copes with the threat of change.

The warm-hearted Gail Gusten (Emma Kinane) is driven to protest action and drinking whiskey; her daughter Susan (Lee Smith-Gibbons) eventually realizes that her literary endeavours (erotic novels) are an escape from reality; Ariel, her 27 year-old autistic son (Tim Spite), who can work out complex mathematical problems in his head and has to arrange all the mugs on a tray facing the same way, takes out his frustrations by hiding and coming up with his own solution to the forces of progress.

Representing the power company is Mark (Nick Dunbar) who is sympathetic to the family and is caught between his boss’s demand for a swift result in getting permission to go ahead with the wind farm and his growing attraction to Susan.

But the pleasure of the play is that a serious issue is treated in a fresh and entertaining manner so that, for example Ariel’s autism is both funny and heart-rending, and the play never preaches or takes sides but leaves it for us to decide how we would cope in making a decision about the environment and about the changes technology makes on our lives.  

Underlying all this, however, is that Turbine is theatrical in the best sense of the word: well acted, imaginative, funny, touching, stimulating, relevant and immediate.


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Relevant, insightful, thought-provoking, original

Review by Thomas LaHood 15th Feb 2009

Tim Spite makes smart theatre.  The SEEyD Theatre Company is a leading exponent of original New Zealand theatre, and despite its collaborative nature we can infer Spite as generating the lion’s share of its manifold brilliant ideas and devices.   This production is evidence of Downstage Theatre’s new commitment to investment in such originality.

Having already collaborated in SEEyD’s last offering Paua they are now giving Turbine a life beyond BATS, allowing that rarest of things, a fully reworked second season.  This is a working model of sustainable, best practice theatre production in Wellington. 

Turbine is a topical study, locally specific with universal themes, innovatively crafted and designed and thoroughly researched.  Like much of SEEyD’s work, the play eschews the political territory of the subject matter for the personal, getting beyond obvious arguments to the more relevant psychological undercurrents that drive us to debate in the first place.

Thus the contrivance of Turbine is of a family struggling to support a highly change-averse autistic boy/man called Ariel Gusten (Spite).  His condition is such that even the  slightest environmental impacts – the changing of the furniture or the bending of light waves as evening falls – cause major anxiety attacks, or powerful horniness that makes him have to go ‘frog in his bedroom’.  Despite these exaggerated circumstances, the plight of the Gusten family in no way strengthened their arguments against the rational advantages of wind-farming.

For me, as I’m sure for many, wind farms are a no-brainer, and all arguments to the contrary are just NIMBY variants or holus-hyperbolus.  Yet the writing of Turbine sets the drama outside of that rational debate and firmly in the centre of that most human dilemma of how we resist and ultimately are forced to face the inevitability of change.  It’s artfully done, even the most offhand dialogue carries insightful comment and the characters are at once both believably complex and effective ciphers.

Though the play’s smarts are its strength, they are also its weakness.  Despite the integrity of the characters and the intensity of many of the dramatic moments, I found myself surprisingly unmoved – in fact emotionally detached – throughout the play.  It’s as if an unfortunate effect of SEEyD’s meticulously clever writing is that it stitches up the loose ends too neatly, leaving little work for the audience to do and therefore leaving us somewhat under-invested in the dramatic outcomes.  I found Turbine stimulating, but not challenging; It provoked a lot of thought, but little anger, delight, sorrow, or fear.  It’s a strong work but lacks the emotional impact to be considered powerful.

Emma Kinane and Nick Dunbar give characteristically impressive performances, two fine actors given a good workout.  Kinane has a masterful range of expression, swinging between large gestures and subtleties without strain.  Dunbar is nimble and sings very sweetly.  Lee Smith-Gibbons is well cast in the role of Susan Gusten, originally inhabited by Rachel Forman, but her caricature of lisping NIMBY sentinel Maggie falls flat, the only bum note in an otherwise deftly played quartet.

Spite, of course, is the virtuoso player.  He is almost a caricature of himself as autistic Ariel, in tight ‘swim city’ walk shorts and blue shirt, but gives an even stronger performance in his minor roles as straight-talking Scotsman Rod Shaftsbury and rheumy local George Tuhaka.  He’s also responsible for the innovative set design – a traditional living room interior with a whiteboard backdrop upon which the cast freehand the landscape.  It’s a genius concept which effectively lets the audience in on the idiosyncratic SEEyD methodology – like watching the devising process itself.

Jen Lal’s lighting design is equally sophisticated, boasting some beautiful ‘twilight’ states and also particularly satisfying moments of really dark darkness in night scenes, appropriate to the semi-rural setting.   Gil Eva Craig’s sound design is pacy and inobtrusive in the best possible way.  Technically the show zings, although the night I attended there seemed to be a few minor blunders up in the operating booth.

I confess to seeing only a handful of SEEyD Company’s prolific works over the years – the last was The Brilliant Fassah at Circa Studio – but it strikes me that this is a company truly doing the hard work of forging relevant, thought-provoking and most importantly original New Zealand theatre.  I can think of few that are operating at the same level, with the same commitment, and it is heartening to see these projects receiving support from the industry.  SEEyD allows what has grown to be a very wide pool of collaborating performers to exercise true creativity, and we can all only be the richer for that.


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Spodarek’s dialogue with self, shared

Review by Diane Spodarek 15th Jan 2007

I saw the production Turbine at BATS theatre on it’s closing night, 16th December, 2006. The show was written and performed by the New Zealand award-winning ensemble SEEyD Theatre Company. It was a thrill to witness a great ensemble at work.  They also wrote the script together and ensemble member Tim Spite directed it.

Turbine promoted itself as a political play by promising to present two sides to the controversial issue of wind farming. Is this not a done deal? Is not wind farming good? I lived in Brooklyn for four months and every morning I opened my drapes to a view of the giant white wind turbine, what I perceived as a symbol of pride for New Zealand. Doesn’t it make sense to use the wind?  Isn’t this a great way to solve our polluting energy crises? It’s already here.

The program for Turbine provided an insight into the script-writing process by the cast members.  Before the show a woman standing next to me said, “If I had read this before, I would never have come.” She was referring to the two bits in the program about the director fondling one of the fellow female members. I suppose it was meant to be funny, but it was adolescent and border sexual harassment — except possibly to thirteen-year-old boys. Let’s turn the table.  What if the program notes said that they rehearsed different bits and then “Rachel starts fondling Tim inappropriately.” Is this is funny?

What Turbine did portray was a high-energy dysfunctional family.  Not just your every day mom and dad and sister and brother, but a whiney bunch of people who could only see their own point of view including the autistic son, my favourite character in the play. Turbine is about a family eroding at the edges with each visit by the mean corporate man who tries to convince the family wind farming is good for everyone. Well, isn’t it? What could possibly be the other side? The characters went on and on that they had grown up with this view, it was their memories…and they didn’t like change.

As I write this, I am overwhelmed by the sound of a helicopter over my roof about to land a block away at Metropolitan Hospital in Newtown where I live. The noise is disturbing, but I’m glad it’s there. Doesn’t it benefit everyone?

Not the same as destroying the view you grew up with? Get over it. How many people who complain about loosing their million dollar views with wind turbines, to be installed on an already raped landscape for farming with dotted animals for food, are driving SUV’s and can afford energy at any cost? Tim Spite says in the program, at what point are we willing to compromise? Compromise what? Turbines yes, but not in my backyard? 

Back to the story. The autistic son was the most interesting and beautiful part of the play for me. It took a few scenes for me to adjust to the mother character looking younger than the son. Why can young actors play older characters but it doesn’t work the other way around? Is there a play where an “older” actor plays younger? How many are women? Are you ever too old to play Juliet? (Just kidding, I would turn it down.) If we can accept young playing old, why not old playing young? One example that comes to mind is Susan Sarandon in the film, “Anywhere But Here.” Good book, lousy film.  Sarandon was 50 when she played the 30-something single mother character. It seemed miscast but maybe this is only true because I read the book before I saw the movie.  I once asked Sarandon for advice for women actors over 40 and her answer was insightful (she used the “F” word twice), but that’s another story.

Tim Spite gave the audience a beautiful portrayal of an autistic person in a realistic and sympathetic fashion with humour. Whenever this character was on the other members of the ensemble, Emma Kinane, Rachel Forman and Nick Dunbar, were at their best. This is a hard working ensemble.  They played multiple characters with great talent, with the exception of the mother’s affair.  It was not believable that a daughter would get angry with her mother for lying in the past because she shagged someone who wasn’t daddy.  (I doubt if I would tell my daughter I’m going out to meet my lover.)  But sex is always welcome in a play and the best sex in Turbine was Tim as the autistic man inappropriately pleasing himself in front of others because inappropriate behaviour is part of the definition of autism. 

My own experience of autism and sex was as a witness to David growing up in my brother’s family.  When David’s hormones kicked in, he discovered sexual gratification. He called it frogging.  David liked to frog and when he wanted to do it he called out, “frog frog” and my brother took him to the garage where he frogged and then he would come back to the dinner table and we would all continue our meal, including David who was less disruptive after frogging.  Mealtime with an autistic person is never predictable or boring. There is also a story about how David redecorated his bedroom with his own excrement, but you’ll just have to imagine it.

“Turbine” created my own dialogue about this issue. I’ve been talking to myself about it for two weeks and we both agree, SEEyD is wonderful, the actors brilliant as an ensemble, but I don’t have any further insight into the wind turbine issue.  I didn’t grow up in New Zealand, so what I have to say comes from a recent perspective as a new resident, but I do have the deepest respect for an ensemble willing to take a chance to present autism with dignity and truth.

Diane Spodarek


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Brilliance and confusion in turbulent work

Review by John Smythe 17th Dec 2006

When radical change causes emotional turmoil, the journey through turbulence towards some sense of equilibrium makes for classic SEEyD Theatre Company drama and comedy.

As with their previous productions, Turbine is devised by the actors (in this case Emma Kinane, Tim Spite, Rachel Foreman, Nick Dunbar) and directed by Tim Spite, who also designed the set and has been the only common denominator through all of the company’s six productions, since SEEyD in Fringe 2000.

In relatively remote Ohaunui – which means ‘of great wind’, and is clearly inspired by Makara – dwells the depleted but self-sufficient Gusten family. The prospect of a wind farm sprouting on nature’s nearby hills (land clear-felled by previous generations for stock farm grazing) whips up a NIMBY versus Greater Good storm, which is the provocation for the play rather than its end purpose.

What it’s really about is the ‘human nature’ compulsion to resist change. Just as resistance within turbines generates electrical energy, so Turbine is empowered to stimulate, enlighten and entertain. And what could have been a one-sided argument gains greater force when the wider community – as in us, the audience – is invited to empathise with the naturally self-interested Gustens.

The set, designed by Tim Spite, has their home as an island of furniture surrounded by white board walls on which the cast draw their environment – bare rolling hills, the large vegie garden they live off, fences, a large tree – and, in closer perspective, various electrical appliances which are powered, we are told, by their own solar panels and mini-turbines. They also recycle their own waste.

But no home is an island entire unto itself.

In the prologue sequence ashes are interred. It emerges these are the remains of Rolph Gusten (Tim), who returns in a couple of flashbacks: one where he tries to talk his wife Gail (Emma) into institutionalising their autistic son Ariel (Tim); another where their daughter Susan (Rachel) observes him coming home drunk in the wee small hours with another woman in his car.

Time present finds Ariel, now a grown man, still living at home, obsessive-compulsive, a font of great knowledge (very useful to the play) and chronically incapable of coping with change: even the repositioning of a chair has to be approached with much gentle coaching and care. Having established a lifestyle that works for them, Gail is fiercely protective of it. Susan also lives there – except in a couple of future (2008) scenes where she has her own place – and writes erotic literature for the European market, preferring fantasy to the realities of intimate relationships. Both women are active members of the Sentinels protest group.

Mark Lachland (Nick), a blow-in from the Energy New Zealand Association of Power (a fictionalised meridian Energy), has been deputed to align the community to ENZAP’s vision of clean, sustainable energy for all. Sundry cameos are played by the core four – including one who claims, “They don’t care about side effects – it’s Mururoa all over again!” – but as the battle progresses, the major through-lines follow the key relationships between Emma and Ariel; Susan and Mark.

The larger implications of the ‘fear of difference’ theme are neatly exemplified in a misspelt protest placard that reads ‘Honk if you hate turbans’ and the extreme lengths to which people may go to maintain the status quo becomes the focal point of the final climax. When an obsessed and somewhat unhinged Emma abandons Ariel to his own devices, he becomes distressed to the point of wilful destructiveness. Meanwhile the reality of mutual attraction between the fiercely opposed Susan and Mark is bringing their relationship to a head …

In both cases a loving hug indicates that difference, change and reality have at last been embraced, not so much by way of compromise as in realigning to reality.

I have to add, however, that the true nature of this dramatic resolution was not immediately clear to me on the night (the second-to-last of the premiere season). For all the intriguing detail that enriches the action throughout, and often sets things up to pay off delightfully later, there are two extraordinary actions that come out of nowhere. In activist extremity, Emma suddenly takes a Glock pistol from the drawer, pops it in her bag and departs. The whys, wherefores or outcomes are never revealed and it’s never mentioned again. And Arial splashes petrol around the place, apparently intending to torch the place.

Because these actions puzzle us rather than infuse the would-be climax with dramatic tension, the ending is marred by confusion. It, and the through-lines that lead up to it, need further work. Which is not to detract from the pure pleasure to be had in watching the story unfold up to this point.

Predicated on the abiding truth that all civil societies need to balance self interest and public good, Turbine embodies an ingenious swirl of impeded wants, needs and desires that express, challenge, provoke and illuminate human frailty and fortitude. While I sense that the switching forward and back in time may have been born of a fear that the storyline would otherwise seem too prosaic, the theatrical devices and dynamics generally serve to engage our interest more intensely.

With immense presence and compelling candour, Emma Kinane contrasts a formidable Gail Gusten with a relatively featherbrained churchgoing Miriam and a down-to-earth expert witness called Beaglehole, who testifies to the Environment Court.

Rachel Forman’s Susan challenges us with her post-feminist thinking, convinces us with her frustrations as sister and daughter, and compels sympathy when her vulnerability is exposed. Her Sentinels activist Maggie is perhaps too encumbered with theatrical speech impediments to engage our concern when Ariel’s switch flicking brings on an epileptic fit, but her Environment Court Judge brings astute focus to the substantive arguments.

Nick Dunbar quickly makes Mark a fully sentient human being, cleverly winning local approval by singing an exquisite counter-tenor solo in church. Mark’s attraction to the sexually provocative Susan, who is given to reading him passages of her purple prose, and their need to progress beyond a fantasy-based desire for instant gratification to a more sustainable intimacy, is an interesting adjust to the main plot line. Nick also doubles as the Sentinels’ court advocate, a dryly purposeful Chasland.

But the wildcard in the quest for resolution is Tim Spite’s brilliantly rendered Arial, epitomising both resistance to change and the knowledge society to hugely entertaining effect. He captures the essence of classical clowning in a very real contemporary character. Tim’s dour Scottish ENZAP boss, Rod Shaftsbury, brooks no prevarication from Mark. His alienated, alcoholic and abusive Rolph makes it clear, from two brief scenes, why Susan escaped into fantasy and Gail took a lover: local Māori farmer George – also played neatly and to the purpose by Tim.

Jennifer Lal’s lighting, operated by Sonia Hardie, and Gil Eva Craig’s original sound design play evocative and active roles in the production, adding great value to the whole.

With so much going for it I sincerely hope – as I did with The SEEyD Company’s The Brilliant Fassah in March – that the script will be taken through another draft from a rigorous playwrighting perspective, ensuring that all the creative energy so far expended produces a trimmed, efficient and sustainable text that may be used as a blueprint for future productions.


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In a spin over windfarming

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Dec 2006

Renewable energy – it’s got to be the right way to go for this small energy hungry country of ours – right?

Instead of cursing the gales that thrash the Wellington region, surely we should harvest them. We’ve damned the rivers, we’re passionately nuclear free, our gas supplies are petering out, again that leads us back to wind.

All these issues, and the views of people whose lives are put into a spin when threatened with windfarms in their piece of paradise, are canvassed in Turbine. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the SEEyD company – topical, relevant, balanced, funny, well written and researched, acted with vigour, and produced with style.

We’re in Ohaunui, where NZAP is determined to site a substantial wind farm. Its PR man, ex-Greenpeace activist Mark, ardently believes that wind energy is the way to go and tries to win round the community. But his spin, however much he believes it himself, fails to convince Gail Gusten, mother of the autistic Ariel and the erotic fiction writer Susan. To complicate matters further, Mark and Susan are attracted to each other, while Gail becomes obsessed with obstructing the wind farm proposal. If it goes up, she can’t stay because of the effect it will have on Ariel, and she can’t go because she feels tied to the place.

The actors have devised the work based on Tim’s original idea and had a huge say, therefore, in creating their characters. Emma Kinane’s Gail is a big-hearted woman who’s devoted to her kids, and who survived a difficult marriage only to find everything she holds dear under threat. Tim Spite’s Ariel is at once endearing and frustrating, as he works out complicated equations in his head while being unable to cope with a chair being moved out of position. Rachel Forman’s Susan is a complex mix of strong and emotionally vulnerable, though it’s only as the play progresses that we come to find out why. Nick Dunbar is convincing as the power company’s spin doctor with both a heart and a conscience.

The use of giant whiteboards on which the cast draw and erase images is extremely effective, as is Jennifer Lal’s lighting. The ending is not what you’ll expect or even where you expect it to be. There’s a lot of humour in Turbine but at the heart of it is an important issue.


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Never a dull moment

Review by Mary Anne Bourke 03rd Dec 2006

This is a comedy about wind-farming. No, it’s nothing do with the Fart Tax. But it’s all eco-politics, isn’t it?

This show is about the choice we face — some of us already, by extension, all of us — between the lesser of two evils: on the one hand, the loss of the beauty and peace of our ‘unspoilt’ landscape from the erection of wind turbines (noisy, ugly, drive you nuts if you look at one for long); on the other hand, so much renewable energy can be harnessed this way for comparatively nix.

So, you thought wind turbines were the answer? Think again, NIMBY. You see, like all SEEyD shows, this one is designed to give any thinking person a headache. After all, if there was an easy answer to this, there wouldn’t be a play about it.

Tim Spite and company perform on a charming retro lounge set, enhanced no end by Jen Lal’s witty and devastating practical lighting (shadow of a turbine turning is particularly nasty). All four members of the cast are busy drawing a cartoon of a remote New Zealand farm in a funky perspective on the whiteboard walls of the set as the audience settles. I find this a mesmerising theatrical device. We all sit there watching them draw …

Tim does a Rolf Harris turn with a frayed felt-tip. Whenever the turbines are mooted as an idea—up they go on the ridgeline. Nasty.

But this show is just too funny to get me worried about wind-farming. Because Tim and company can make any line funny. And then there are the lines that would be funny, anyway. They all play a variety of recognisable types: the venal corporate chief with the Sco’ish accent (Tim); the clean-cut eco-exec with all the answers (Nick Dunbar); the concerned rural mother-of-two (Emma Kinnane) who is caught out over an affair with a sell-out part-Mâori cockie neighbour (Tim); the cynical writer of erotic fiction (Rachel Forman) who falls for the eco-exec (Nick) after a night on the town, which is played out in a hilarious sequence of mimed ‘stills’.

Okay, the story is all chopped up and the chronology moved about just to keep you guessing and this can make you wonder where it’s all going, but just when you think you’ve been taken back to the murky past once too often, you realise you’re at the show’s climax. Big ups. Never a dull moment.

Is there no end to Tim Spite talents, or the rabid comedy he and his cahoots can make out of thin air? Well, hot air. It makes me laugh just to think about him and his worryingly short stubbies playing Ariel, the most abject, yet somehow, the most perfect role he has yet devised for himself, if I may say so. Ariel is the idiot-savant rural son (obsessive, neurotic, humping the couch) who senses imminent betrayal as his family contemplates selling to the eco-sharks who will turn their beautiful ridgeline over to a crop of turbines. "I love my Swim Citys," Ariel reminds his mother as he lovingly fondles his shorts.

Everyone has his price. This is what we find. What, me worry?


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A welcome gust of stimulation

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 02nd Dec 2006

If you thought it was about time the SEEyD Theatre Company came up with a turkey – the laws of theatrical success being what they are – you are going to be disappointed even if the plotting of their latest offering Turbine gets a bit confusing at times.

The strengths of SEEyD’s past productions have been their theatricality, their topicality and the way the effects of scientific and technological advancements have always evolved into dramas (with liberal doses of comedy) about the lives of ordinary people, whether they are facing the problems of infertility, genetic engineering, or immunization. While the pros and cons are presented and proselytizing is scrupulously avoided the dramatic thrust always lies in the human dilemmas.

Set in a small rural community not unlike Makara but called Ohaunui, Turbine delves into the lives of a family facing a power company that wants to set up a huge wind farm that will change the environment and their lives for ever.

There is one central scene: a visit by Mark (Nick Dunbar), a representative of the power company, to the Gusten family on their property in Ohaunui. The action of the play cuts backwards and forwards in time from this funny, violent scene and returns to it from time to time, as we discover about Gail Gusten (Emma Kinane), her dead husband (Tim Spite), her autistic 27-year-old son Ariel (Tim Spite), and her daughter Susan (Rachel Foreman) who writes erotic novels.

The jumps about in time are cleverly handled. In one instance they jump too far ahead and the future has to be wiped quickly away – the actors are all scene painters too – but I’m afraid I got lost once or twice particularly towards the end when I wasn’t sure where or when the two simultaneously played scenes were taking place.

There are scenes of hilarious farce in an Environment court hearing and when both ‘sides’ of the debate hurl clichéd insults at each other (‘homespun, homeopathic homosexuals’), as well as scenes of gentler humour such as the one when Ariel noisily pedals away on an exercycle during a discussion of the noise factor of the wind farm.

Despite the romantic attachment that develops between Mark and Susan, which strikes me as a shopworn theatrical device, and the over-complex plotting, the beauty of the production lies in its use of theatre to stimulate the arguments for and against, to challenge the audience to think, act and sympathize.

So hats off to Tim Spite, Emma Kinane, Rachel Forman and Nick Dunbar for their exciting, funny, touching performances, to Jennifer Lal for her excellent lighting effects and to Gil Eva Craig for her often beautiful sound design.

With Turbine SEEyD once again blows a welcome gust of fresh, stimulating air through Wellington theatre.


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