Wellington Performing Arts Centre, Wellington

19/02/2010 - 20/02/2010

NZ Fringe Festival 2010

Production Details

“Nibble nibble little mouse, who is nibbling at my house?” 

Undergrowth will be performed at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre, February 19th to 21st, as part of the New Zealand Fringe 2010.

This original collaboration by artist-storyteller Kristin Herman and musician-composer Peter Willis retells the story of Hansel and Gretel for adults. Spoken word, movement, found object art and music (piano, song, sound objects) are melded to create a hypnotic, dream-like rite of passage. Theatrical innovator Warwick Broadhead described it as “enchanting – in the true sense of the word.”

Kristin Herman has been a finalist in the James Wallace Art Awards and was the first artist-in-residence at the Britomart City Artists’ Network Project in Auckland. Her interest in storytelling and re-working European fairytales has found expression recently in experimental theatre. This has allowed her to combine painting and found object sculpture with writing, storytelling and performance design.

Peter Willisis a founding member of Auckland composer collective The Committee, contributing regularly as a composer, performer and concert organiser, and has had a number of his works broadcast on Radio New Zealand Concert. He also performs with Auckland free improvisation collective Vitamin S.

For more images, see: www.myspace.com/undergrowthperformance

Performance details:
Friday 19th Feb, 9pm 
Saturday 20th Feb, 2pm & 9pm
Sunday 20th Feb, 2pm 
Wellington Performing Arts Centre 
36 Vivian St 
Door sales only: $12/$10 (concession) /$8 (fringe friends)
Enquiries: 027 3211 089 

Esoteric, self indulgent, far too long

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 22nd Feb 2010

Another but less successful devised work, though just as intriguing [as For Real], is Undergrowth, an adult take on the Hansel and Gretel story. Divided up into four movements – Earth, Air, Fire and Water with interludes – it is, like a piece of music, very rhythmic, at times mesmerisingly so, like a mantra from a mediation class. 

Each of the movements represents, in a very esoteric way, stages in the Hansel and Gretel story – being cast out, getting lost, destruction of the witch and the return home. 

It is also like a living art installation, the set cluttered with innumerable bits and pieces including an incredible array of musical instruments. All of which is not surprising given that the two creators who also perform the piece, Kristen Herman and Peter Willis, come from a background of art installations and music. 

The problem is, though, that without a director or dramaturge (not mentioned in the programme) the piece suffers from not having a sense of theatre, becoming rather self indulgent as well as far too long. 

Herman’s soft, subtle storytelling style works reasonably well, but she really comes into her own as the witch and it is just a pity that more of the energy and dramatic content of this was not seen in more of the piece.
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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Too embarrassing

Review by Maryanne Cathro 20th Feb 2010

There are two adjectives describing shows I am beginning to dread as an audience goer: “devised” and “experimental”. 

To understand their meaning, do not go to a dictionary, Reader, for what is written there will not help you at all. They are euphemisms for, “We don’t believe in Directors or Dramaturgs, WE know what we’re doing, TRUST US.” Yeah, Right. 

In other words, these are adjectives used by performers, not by audiences, who are more drawn to adjectives like ‘self-indulgent’, ‘contrived’, ‘boring’ and less polite ones I cannot repeat on this site. Undergrowth is “an experimental theatre adaptation of Hansel and Gretel retold for adults.” Spot the adjective? You have been warned.

My recollection of the story of Hansel and Gretel is that a witch locks Hansel in a cage and keeps him there until she can feel his fattened finger. I empathise hugely with his plight this evening. The audience is locked in the cage (the studio) and fed this stuff until we can show a fattened finger of what…appreciation? Understanding? Please God no, I am not that good an actress!

At least we get lots and lots of lollies thrown at us and they are really good quality ones too. They soften me up a bit towards the piece. But then, the water comes out, and the two performers spend a happy five minutes playing loudly with the water while we listen. And various audience members, including me, start to squirm as the sound of tinkling water has the inevitable effect.

Look, for a while there I was beginning to doubt my own deep cynicism about alternative forms of theatre. Perhaps this was some brilliant thing I just didn’t appreciate because I am too thick or superficial. Two adults walking around banging things with a wooden spoon wearing small chairs strapped to their backs must be good, otherwise why would they do it? I may go to my grave without answering that one, as will most of the audience, who all left the studio in silence without making eye contact with the performers or each other. It was just too, too embarrassing, and we shall never speak of this night spent together again. 
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. 


Phil Brownlee March 2nd, 2010

Might I suggest you're viewing Undergrowth with inappropriate criteria?

I found it to be a sensitive and beautiful musical performance, which incorporated aspects of theatricality. I especially enjoyed the use of sounds produced from everyday objects, as a contrast to the more conventional sources, such as piano and singing.

So the staging, and the performance were in the service of a musical structure which this review fails to acknowledge.

Here's another point of view:


martyn roberts February 25th, 2010

ah no, I don't mean 'inhuman', that is something else completely. What I suggest is that while a critic or reviewer can participate in the active part of being 'audience' they can also be an observer outside of this. A duality is at play here. It is not unlike the actor who is both 'in' the moment of acting but is also able to observe themselves in the greater picture of the story simultaneously. Impartiality does not imply being cold and immune to the effects of what is happening, but that it is possible to bring to bear the greater knowledge of what is happening at the same time, thus being able record and understand the event for others to read about.

John Smythe February 25th, 2010

You are absolutely right, of course Marty, but by ‘impartial’ you appear to mean ‘inhuman’. Yes of course we must get over our rage, boredom, disappointment, whatever, then do our job – especially when others have failed to do theirs. 

But heaven forbid that we should become so dispassionate that we operate like robots.  And in the thick of the Fringe with so much competing for our attention and time, it can sometimes be very tempting to say “why bother?” when it seems that others have not.  That’s not an excuse, just an observation. 

Maryanne Cathro February 25th, 2010

Well then noone can accuse me of patronising the performers, having met like with like. This however is not something I have made a habit of, as regular readers of Wellington reviews will know, nor do I intend to.

I am interested however in the notion that the reviewer is held more to account than the performers, given the relative roles they play.

For a more detailed and objective critique, follow the link to Ewen Coleman's review.

martyn roberts February 25th, 2010

What do you mean 'It is very hard to constructively critique a work to which you have not felt ‘invited’. Surely being impartial is a vital aspect of critique, and that the reviewer is able to step away from any emotional outburst and examine clearly the performance and any 'failing' that might have occurred. All performance is able to be constructively reviewed, no matter how difficult the work, be it that ii is poorly written, performed, staged, whatever. Any reviewer must have a basis of understanding why and what is happening in order to convey their opinion. To merely have a 'i didn't like it' response without due course to explanation  is lazy, unhelpful, and fails as much as the so called performance failure being reviewed.

John Smythe February 25th, 2010

I agree, Bronwyn. Whole heartedly. In principle.

I didn’t see Undergrowth but all who did that I have spoken to have said they wondered why they were there: the presence of the audience seemed entirely incidental to what the ‘artists’ were doing, which all called self-indulgent. I do empathise, in such circumstances, with a critic feeling it’s beyond the call of duty for them to deliver a ‘Performance 101’ tutorial. It is very hard to constructively critique a work to which you have not felt ‘invited’.

It seems to me the makers of Undergrowth should be able to glean some fundamental value from the reviews and the comment stream so far. Vituperative anger as a sincere response is something to take notice of. Some may argue it is more attention than they deserve given their apparent attitude to audiences. 

bronwyn February 24th, 2010

John, yes, I think we can assume that the vast majority of artists want to make a show that engages and connects with an audience, which is why I think reviews that seem to just write off a work, or the intentions behind that work, seem more disrepectful than anything else.

You might argue that work that doesn't engage with an audience is equally disrepectful, but I think it's important to say why this might have  happened, rather than just writing something off as "embarassing". I don't imagine that anyone wants to prompt this response in their audiences, so if they have, it might prompt a more constructive dialogue to dissect why this has happened rather than dismissing a whole area of theatre practice.

John Smythe February 24th, 2010

I agree with you, Mark, about the value of an unmoderated ‘free-for-all’ Fringe (although it should be noted there is a small participation fee involved). But I cannot for the life of me see why anyone would put on a performance for audiences without wanting to give them some sort of value for the time and money they have invested – on trust, and at the expense of choosing something else (given that in a Fringe festival one simply cannot see everything).

You speak of a “contract between artists and audience”. Surely we should be able to take it for granted that the performing artists intend that it will be worth an audience member’s while to see their show. Otherwise – regardless of whether it’s for 3 performances or 30; $10 or $100 – why should anyone bother?

Mark Barrett February 24th, 2010

While many of your observations had me chuckling in recognition, I disagree with your notion that what's needed is risk management. "Caveat emptor" should be the mantra of the Fringe; Fringe shows should be seen as a collaboration or contract between artists and audience where both sides agree that the work is completely unmoderated and as such is exactly what the artists want to present, within the bounds of budget.

There's a good chance these works are not concerned with pleasing their audience, because they're on for 3 nights and charge $10 a ticket. From that perspective, then, although I personally didn't find it to be an enjoyable work, to a large degree this wasn't a work for me, it was a work for the artists that I got to join in with. I'm not going to go as far as Simon and say that the failure of the work was my fault, but if I can't say I'm glad I've seen the work I can at least say I'm glad the work exists, and exists free of the meddling or "management" of any external body.

The work (presumably) pleased the artists, and I think the Fringe is stronger for it, as opposed to forcing them to attempt to cater to my whims as interpreted by someone else.

Corus February 21st, 2010

Completely disagree with Simon.  This is one of the best reviews I've read in a long time.  

Maryanne Cathro February 20th, 2010

I'm all for taking risks, and I want to see shows that push the boundaries. What I would also like to see though is some risk management, as opposed to risk aversion. The danger of any free-for-all like the Fringe is that it can so easily become about the performers at the expense of the audience.  Therefore it is a case of "caveat emptor"

And Simon, you're probably right, this is more of an opinion piece. But I try to find something constructive to say about most things I see, and in this case I did mention the very nice lollies.

I suggest that you go and see the show and make your own mind up. And if you have seen it and have a different point of view, post your own reviews!

Paul McLaughlin February 20th, 2010

 Your gross assumption that devised works are self-indulgent, contrived, boring - "'We don't believe in Directors or Dramaturgs, WE know what we're doing, TRUST us" Yeah, right' is pretty harsh. I'm sure this group would have thought of the direction of the piece, and perhaps some dramaturgy.

But regardless of this, the best aspect of the Fringe is that it is open invite. Anyone can have a go, and risk failure or success. It's participation in the art of creating a performance. Glib dismissals and assumptions such as this do nothing to support the spirit of Fringe. I welcome strident reviewing, but don't go dissing devised work. It is a legitimate method; one than has inherent risk.

Risk nothing and that's what you'll get. Nothing. 

Simon Taylor February 20th, 2010

You are not a reviewer. This is not a review.


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