BATS Theatre, Studio, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
08/03/2023 - 11/03/2023
created and performed by Austin Harrison and Megan Connolly
Lighting by Emily K. Brown
What happens when the champagne buzz dulls and the wedding cake is packed away? What happens when the newlyweds retreat to their hotel room? Is it everything they expected?
This improvised heartfelt comedy show explores unconditional love and unconventional relationships through the peep hole of a hotel room door.
8-11 March, 9:30pm at BATS Theatre
book through bats.co.nz
Greg- Austin Harrison (he/him)
Janine- Megan Connolly (they/them)
Operated by- Emily K. Brown
Improv , Theatre , Comedy ,
Fantastic concept: joyous, hilarious, balm for the heart and could have more narrative structure
Review by Emma Maguire 09th Mar 2023
Let’s start with a disclaimer: I know both performers of this show, Megan Connolly and Austin Harrison, very well. I’ve performed with them both. However, such is the curse of reviewing and performing theatre in Wellington – it’s unavoidable. And if you can’t be honest with your mates, who can you be honest with? I’m also uniquely positioned to review this piece, being (presumably) one of the only vaguely ace-spec Theatreview reviewers.
Now that we’ve said that, a definition. Asexuality is characterised by a lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity. It’s really an umbrella term for a series of queer sub-identities. Ace people can be in healthy fulfilling romantic relationships with people of any gender, might be interested in sex or kink, and can fall in love. It’s a spectrum, rather than a hard-and-fast rule. For more information, check out the Trevor Project and James Wenley’s excellent piece on Asexuality and the Artist. Now, onto the review!
Greg (Austin Harrison) and Janine (Megan Connolly) have just got married, and judging by the way that Greg bridal-carries Janine through the hotel room door and throws her onto the bed, they’re pretty darn excited about it. We’re in BATS’ Studio, it’s about ten thousand degrees Celsius, and the room is decked out with a full double bed, fairy lights and red confetti. The couple is here for their honeymoon and the mood is… there. We’re all poised on a knife’s edge, the room is tense, and it’s like we’re all waiting for a pin to drop.
And it doesn’t. Greg and Janine crack open a bottle of champagne, lodging the cork somewhere in the ceiling of the Studio, and crack out their honeymoon pyjamas – Greg in a plaid two piece, and Janine in an Eeyore shirt and some sweet floral shorts. They play cards – Greg tries to teach Janine how to play Gin Rummy and then they both just default to Snap – and end up cuddling in bed together by the end, knowing that they don’t have to consummate their relationship on their wedding night – or ever – and they can “just chill forever”.
Ungartered Territory is lovely. It’s just truly lovely. Watching two performers with excellent chemistry enjoy themselves on stage is one of the delights of an improvised show, especially seeing the little moments where the characters break and we get a glimpse at the actors underneath. Connolly and Harrison have worked together a lot and you can see that in their rapport and natural comfort performing together, which lends itself well to the development of comedic bits and tender moments as both can clearly build on each other’s performance in a very trusting way.
The audience provides ask-fors of some sort on post-it notes before the show, which the artists pull out and use during the piece. I’m not quite sure what they end up being, however, whether lines of dialogue or otherwise. A surprising, but not unwanted addition that appears to be spur of the moment is the use of some Kathmandu playing cards which have hot tips for camping on the back. “Superglue can be used in a pinch to seal a wound,” is one, while another, that is built upon excellently in a more tense moment of the show, is that, “Disasters are always likely.” This new kind of improv prompt is super clever and genuinely seems to work in the show better than the post-it note prompts.
If there is one flaw in this work, it’s that narratively it’s a little sparse. This is a new show and a quite recently created improv format, and I believe it would benefit from a little more direction. While it’s fantastic getting to see two brilliant performers do their thing on stage, there is minimal tension across the piece and not much rising movement – rather indefinite bits and chatter for about 40 minutes before Janine and Greg admit to each other that they’re not vibing with the sex thing. This chatter is joyous to watch – a little like hanging out with two of your mates – but doesn’t quite hit some of the points the show feels like it is trying to make with its marketing. A directorial hand or outside eye would provide guidance in its direction, and I hope to see this show find its structure in later iterations.
Ungartered Territory has been marketed as possibly the first ever asexual-spectrum-based improv show, and it certainly is that. The intimacy shown in this piece is so genuine and does so much to distinguish itself from of the commonly-held beliefs of asexuality – that it’s a synonym for ‘unable to feel love, desire or intimacy for others’ – when in reality, it’s a spectrum and ‘feeling love’ and ‘wanting to have sex’ are very different.
Asexuality is so rarely recognised on stage or screen that I genuinely feel it in my heart when Janine says (paraphrased), sort of hesitantly, “I just thought I was lazy at high school, everyone was dating and I wasn’t. But I just didn’t want to,” because yeah. Same. No stage moment has ever hit me quite like that before, and that’s the fundamental reason why shows like this are important. Ungartered Territory is hilarious and a fantastic concept for a show, but it’s also so powerful to be able to watch a piece and feel represented in a way that I’ve just never felt. I urge you to check out this show, and future pieces from Ace-ssential Workers, not just because they’re incredible performers with a lot to say, but also because in times like these when queer rights are being eroded across the world, something like this is a balm for the heart.
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