Ironbar, 150 Karangahape Rd, Auckland

25/02/2015 - 27/02/2015

Auckland Fringe 2015

Production Details

Words of women wound through history and myth. Women who are wives, who do not know what they have and hold. Women who are not warriors but are no less at war. 

A year’s development work in Printable Reality’s page2stage programme has produced VOW – presented at Ironbar 25-27 February as part of Auckland Fringe.  

Writer/Performers Maria Ji and Hannah Rose Owen-Wright (performing with Kiran Foster, Joni Nelson, & Marianne Villanueva) each bring recreated stories of violence and love, ancient tales given new tongues, of women who are wives, and of who and how they have loved.

After their gorgeous performances at TAPAC, the individual pieces SLANT by Maria Ji (created under the mentorship of Natalie Hugill) and [EM]BEDDED/BODIED by Hannah Rose Owen-Wright (created under the mentorship of Raewyn Alexander) have been re-fitted for the Auckland Fringe, and are being presented under the new banner of VOW at Ironbar on K Rd. 

SLANT is narrative as condemnation and creation myth. Painting lip or painted lip or Freudian slip or lip service? Pulling threads of womanhood from the torn edges of myth, SLANT puts tongues in the mouths of Persephone, Bluebeard’s fourth wife, and the biblical Delilah. 

[EM]BEDDED/BODIED is a queer/trans love story embedded in the heart of an ancient empire. The latest incarnation of a story that first came into being as a 13th Century French chanson de geste ‘Yde et Olive’, it tells the story of Yde, a trans knight who rises to the highest possible chivalric glory in the ranks of the Roman Empire, through the voice of the Emperor’s daughter, Olive, who falls fiercely in love with him. 

VOW plays
Dates:  25 – 27 February, 7.30pm.
Venue:  Ironbar, 150 Karangahape Rd, Auckland
Tickets:  Koha 

Auckland Fringe 2015 is an open access arts festival where anything can happen. It provides a platform for practitioners and audiences to unite in the creation of form forward experiences which are championed in an ecology of artistic freedom. The 2015 programme will see work happening all over the show, pushing the boundaries of performance Auckland wide from February 11 to March 1. www.aucklandfringe.co.nz

Theatre ,

Performed with confidence and that hint of arrogance that comes from sincerity

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 28th Feb 2015

The marketing for this unique, choreographed, spoken word production tells us that we’re about to experience “words of women wound through history and myth. Women who are wives, who do not know what they have and hold. Women who are not warriors but are no less at war.”

Stylistically it’s like that too, it’s lyrical, painfully beautiful, intense and intelligent. I have a most enjoyable 40 minutes listening to some of the best feminist poetry I’ve heard since the 1970s and watching some charming if, at times, somewhat earnest performances. I don’t mind ‘earnest’ and, if it’s not self-indulgent and this isn’t, it can be immensely appealing especially if, like this, it’s extremely intelligent, connected work.

Having checked iTicket and ascertained an 8pm start time we – my spouse, son and myself – arrive at the IronbarCafé at 7.30pm with the idea of having a pizza and smoothie before the show. Whoops! iTicket was wrong and the show has started with a live music set at 7.00pm. Hastily ordered vegetarian pizza (particularly yummy) and apple smoothie (uber healthy) and we’re through to the performance space called, interestingly, Biz Dojo. Being martial artists we feel instantly at home, though that might just be the full house seated on cushions, beer crates and random chairs and eating their pizzas off giant cable reels turned on their sides and doubling as tables.   

The music set is by tonight’s guest, the extraordinarily talented singer /songwriter Yasamin. Born in Baghdad, she moved to New Zealand at age eleven and purchased her first guitar at thirteen. She’s a science graduate from the University of Auckland after which she attended the Nelson School of Music. She’s recorded an album and in the throes of recording a second. I regret not chasing her down the road to get a copy of ‘Chasing Melodies’ because I’m sure it’s a wee cracker. Oh well, another time …

Desperately seeking a comparison – odious, I know – so you’ll get what I mean, I dredge the archives to come up with Suzanne Vega and, perhaps a more contemporary illustration, Regina Spektor. Actually, though I like Vega and Spektor, I find Yasamin’s voice and lyrics more pleasing and I get to hear four delicious silky songs before she winds up her set. 

There’s a 10 minute break at 7.50pm before the main part of the evening begins and we’re treated to a taster of what’s to come, a brief snippet where language overlaps itself and we’re made aware that later, the acoustic may well be a challenge.

After the break and an opportunity for the largely young – 20s to 30s – audience to give koha to support this otherwise free show, we get to experience Vow. The group’s Facebook page tells us that this is “a year’s development work in Printable Reality’s page2stage programme” and that “writer /performers Maria Ji & Hannah Rose Owen-Wright (performing with Kiran Foster, Joni Nelson, & Marianne Villanueva), each bring recreated stories of violence and love, ancient tales given new tongues, of women who are wives, and of who and how they have loved.”

I’m reminded of the wealth of both talent and variety I’ve been able to experience during this Auckland Fringe and this is clearly up there with the best of them. It’s performed poetry, a rarefied form which performance-poet-of another-genre Matthew Harvey informed us earlier in the festival no-one wants to go to see. I keep hoping he’s wrong because the heightened language and intensified performance delivery offer a dimension to our emotional understanding of life, the universe and the vagaries of fate that’s usually the domain of opera alone.

I’m reminded of the feminist poetry readings of the 60s and 70s; the joyous, hippie-like events of wonder dressed in diaphanous draperies that some of us loved so much. This is edgier though and leaves a different, tarter, taste in the mouth. I must say I like that too. 

Hannah Rose Owen-Wright and three excellent support artists present [EM]BEDDED/BODIED which has already seen a season at TAPAC, as has the second work, and is soon to be taken overseas. Mentored by the experienced Raewyn Alexander, on the surface it’s polished and elegant but the text is torn and tortured, a horror the like of which lies at the heart of every transperson who has ever dared to ‘pass’ and tried to love.

The central character, arms wrapped in bloodied bandages, performs a beautifully exposed narrative that contains a heart-breaking “I have nothing to give you” and ends with a fatalistic “and I love you”. What is, fleetingly, a powerful heteronormative account with Game of Thrones overtones, becomes something quite other and I am stopped in my tracks. There are delicious ritualised moments and the whole is at once satisfying and disturbing. 

Next, an epic triptych by Maria Ji, is anchored in legends from Brittany, Greece and the bible. The first – ‘Fourth Wife’ – is loosely based on the mythical Bretton wife-murderer Bluebeard (La Barbe bleue). We are reminded that “love is not a rescue mission, love is not a favour’”as wife number four cleverly works to sustain her mortality.

In this and the following piece – which channels Persephone, the maiden queen of the underworld who is forced to spend part of each year below decks with the god who kidnapped and raped her – great choreographic and metaphoric value is achieved by the use of long strips of white cotton fabric which is one moment a shroud, the next a dress and even, at times, a means to evade. Again, it’s immensely powerful with lines such as “on the day that he was born his mother sewed the bodies of bees to his lips” ensuring our focus is always exactly where the writer wants it to be.

The final segment of Ji’s excellent work is SLANT, sung by the writer herself and sourced from the biblical story (found in Judges 16) of Samson and Delilah. Ji sings much of the song behind a screen of hanging rope which seems to replicate Samson’s hair and the ropes and bowstrings that Delilah binds him with. “I carve your face into a coral reef” grabs our attention, just one of the fabulous lines that litter the evening.

The bible story is a bizarre amalgam of deceit, dishonesty, lies and sexual sin that culminates in God forgiving Samson and returning his strength, which Samson immediately uses to bring down the pagan Temple of Dagon, thus killing many thousands of Philistines and, ironically, himself as well. God works, after all, in mysterious ways. Ji’s narrative is, fortunately, much more economic – and enjoyable – even if the content is no less anguished.

She has the most magical Gauloises-and-whisky voice firmly anchored in cabaret and she delivers her lyric with all the lithe panache of a Brel or a Piaf. It’s mature, rich and beautifully performed and, despite the excellence of Natalie Hugill’s mentorship and a classy restaging by Charlotte West, Ji makes it her own. It’s a truly class act to end with. She is accompanied by a handsome but nameless young man whose contribution, I hope, earns him a serious backstage hug. 

It’s a rare thing, an unashamedly feminist performance poetry show, but these women (and a couple of blokes with, may I say this, ‘small parts’) perform like it’s a mainstream genre, with confidence and that hint of arrogance that comes from a sincerely held belief in their work. 

It’s a luxurious 40 minutes worth and I’d have liked one more piece to be fully satisfied. But then, I’m greedy, and they left me wanting more so who can complain about that? Not this happy customer, that’s for sure.


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