WATCH

BATS Theatre, Wellington

22/11/2014 - 13/12/2014

STAB at BATS

Production Details



You are never alone. We can see you.
You have nothing to hide. Not that you have a choice. 

We live in a world of surveillance – from the big government extremes of the GCSB and the revelations of Edward Snowden to everyday uses of Facebook and Google manipulating our view of the world.

Every day we are surrounded by varying levels of surveillance that mean we are always being watched, whether we realise it or not.

WATCH exists in a world where government observes anyone of criminal suspicion to keep the general public safe. Professionals are trained to observe criminal elements and they are very good at their jobs.

New recruit Esther has her first job in the field. A suspected terrorist cell has emerged in Mount Cook and it’s up to her to monitor their activities to get the evidence to bring them down. Before it’s too late. 

We can see you. We can see everything you do. Every minute boring detail of your lives. We observe, record, report, and repeat. Every moment of every day. Don’t worry. It’s all for your own good. Trust us. Not that you have a choice. 

STAB is a sought-after annual commission geared towards defying theatrical boundaries and is offered by BATS Theatre with generous support from Creative New Zealand. This year’s STAB commission gives audiences the exciting opportunity to explore the psychology and language of surveillance in a theatre setting.

WATCH seamlessly integrates AV technology across two performance spaces in the newly renovated BATS Theatre in a cutting-edge synthesis between live theatre and the distorting lens of surveillance and on a scale not seen before on Wellington’s stages. 20 live cameras, 16 screens, and 6 projectors are used to create an environment where the audience is complicit in the voyeuristic experience of spying on someone else’s life.

My Accomplice and the WATCH team are introducing audiences to the new BATS Theatre at 1 Kent Terrace after almost two years of earthquake strengthening and refurbishment. Producer David Goldthorpe says the company is excited to be creating the first show in the new venue: “BATS is our creative home, we’re honoured and humbled to be showcasing the new theatre and we’re ready for the challenge!”  

22 November – 13 December, 7.30pm
BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Tce
TICKETS: $24/18
BOOKINGS: www.bats.co.nz / book@bats.co.nz / 04 802 417504 802 4175 

MY ACCOMPLICE was formed in late 2009 by Hannah Banks, Uther Dean and Paul Waggott. Since then they’ve made more shows than they can count including Joseph K (nominated for 5 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards), A Play About Space (Winner of Best Design at the New Zealand Fringe and Best Theatre at Dunedin Fringe), Everything is Surrounded by Water (Best Solo – NZ Fringe) and the highly popular podcast audiodrama series The Witching Hours. The artistic goal of My Accomplice is to activate our audiences and we believe that the only way to make something for other people is to make something for ourselves. We find interest in the common micro-absurdities of everyday living. We want to define the barriers between people and to create works where everyone involved owns a piece of that work. www.myaccomplice.co.nz

GOLDTHORPE CREATIVE is a Wellington production company run by David Goldthorpe and Debbie Fish, known for their work on The Performance Arcade and the hugely successful Wellington LUX Light Festival. We delight in bringing together talented creatives and skilled practitioners, fostering relationships to achieve ambitious projects. We are very excited to be working with My Accomplice and BATS


CAST 


Hannah Banks as Esther 
Miranda Manasiadis as Grace 
Paul Waggott as Isaac 
Jason Whyte as Jonathan 


And


Elle Wootton as Ash
Michele Amas as Ruth
Debbie Fish as the Voice 


With


Hayden Frost, Amy Griffin-Brown, Michael Hebenton, Nic Lane, Thomas Rollandi, Lori Leigh, Luke Gumbley, Ashley Whyte and Tasman Whyte.


CREW 


Production Design:  Meg Rollandi
Lighting Design:  Marcus McShane 
Assistant Lighting Design:  Antony Goodin 
Set Design:  Meg Rollandi
Costume Design:  Meg Rollandi
AV Design:  Andrew Simpson, Meg Rollandi 
Videography and Editing:  Andrew Simpson 
Sound Design:  Tane Upjohn-Beatson 
Music Composition:  Tane Upjohn-Beatson 


Producer / Production Manager:  David Goldthorpe 
Script Advisor / Dramaturg:  Gavin McGibbon 


Lighting Operator:  Antony Goodin 
AV Operator / Install:  Joe Newman 
Sound Operator:  Jen Currie
Stage Manager:  Debbie Fish 
Assistant Production Manager / Deputy Stage Manager:  Keely McCann 
Stage Manager’s Assistant:  Greta Evans 


Construction and Architecture:  Nick Zwart
Build Assistants:  Lucas Neal, Jack Blomfield, Kiwa Conroy 
Sound Install:  Matt Eller


Publicity:  Brianne Kerr
Publicity Design:  Cameron Richards
Publicity Photography:  Paul McLaughlin
WATCH Photography:  Matt Bialostocki



Espionage thriller launches BATS transformation

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th Nov 2014

The refurbished and redesigned Bats Theatre is a truly remarkable transformation and it must surely be the smartest little theatre in the country. 

The first two things to hit you on entering the building are the spacious foyer and bar, which is no longer the size of a broom cupboard, while the ticket office which is now placed so you won’t get trapped in the crush that used to block the way to the auditorium. And the toilets are immaculate.

Uther Dean’s Watch shows the changes off well because the first half of his play takes place in the main theatre which feels similar to the old auditorium and stage except for the comfortable new bright red seats with good leg room, smart new flooring and sturdy balustrades.

Watch’s second half takes place in the spacious The Dome on the second floor which contains the piece de resistance of the building, the beautiful glass dome. It is a long rectangular space with dodgy acoustics which for this production is a traverse stage with the audience seated on either side of the acting area. Expect a variety of configurations of seating plans in future productions because of the movable rostra. 

Watch is a well-acted psychological espionage thriller which brings to mind Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the German film The Lives of Others, and many recent political events though the first act takes place in Tasman Street. 

Meg Rollandi’s excellent setting of the exterior of a house, of which we can see into the living room of the ground floor flat and into a room in the flat above, is covered with sixteen television sets on which two security agents are observing the activities of the occupants in various rooms below (a good indication of the size of the new backstage). The suspects are a young couple, Grace (Miranda Manasiadis) and Isaac (Paul Waggott).

Esther (Hannah Banks) is a new recruit to the Security Service; she’s nervous and a loner and her new role is not made easy by the prickly presence of her unconventional boss Jonathan (Jason Whyte) who watches the suspects in his dressing gown. There’s been a car bombing and the Justice Minister is in a coma and demonstrations are taking place in the city. 

The first half ends in a thrilling climax. The second act loses the momentum and is not quite as explicit as one would like and the performances are not helped by the acoustics.

It is all about the interrogation of Esther but don’t expect the normal.  People are not what they appear to be, and everyone is revealed to be cogs in the machinery of surveillance by the state in which, ominously, there are no innocent citizens. 

[Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media]

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BATS flies home into tangled webs

Review by John Smythe 22nd Nov 2014

First, the splendiferous venue: old BATS reconstructed, renovated and rejuvenated; ‘BATS to the Future’, as one wit has put it. Architecturally she may be seen as the sophisticated but still precocious live-theatre love-child of Art-Deco cinemas the Embassy, just up the road, and the Roxy in Miramar, whence hail her generous fairy godparents (or star parents, if you prefer).

When the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes suddenly put their octogenarian building on-the-market, Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh saved it for BATS by buying it. This, I believe, was to acknowledge that many of the valued human resources who fuel their film-making enterprises have developed, and continue to practice, their crafts in the co-op shows BATS attracts. They funded its comprehensive earthquake strengthening and classy renovation, and gave BATS the security of a long-term lease. Meanwhile the Board, chaired by the redoubtable Victoria Spackman, launched the ‘Fly BATS Home’ crowd-funding campaign through which many individuals and organisations invested in the fit-out, furnishings and upgraded technical equipment.

The full frontal Lumen Bar is spacious yet cosy. The Men’s and Ladies’ lavs have swapped sides (please note), tripled in capacity and are now a pleasure to visit. No more ducking up to mum’s place (the Embassy) for salubrious relief. The BATS office now occupies the floor above. 

Branded the ‘Propeller Stage’ (sponsored by Propeller Studios, ex-Westside Studios in Shelley Bay, whose people also owe much to BATS), the layout of the downstairs theatre is as before but more comfortably appointed and structurally safe, with a flash operating box behind and swish dressing rooms backstage – glimpsed, I am guessing, as one of the rooms being observed in Act One of Watch.

A classic ‘black box’ space, it will ensure the focus remains where it should be: on the play. I do miss the sudden anticipation generated by the Box Office person giving a thumbs-up to the operator; all that’s done electronically now. But the same black felt hat is held at the door to collect our tickets.

Upstairs, where we troop after interval for Act Two, is The Dome. Directly above the downstairs auditorium, it is also well-appointed technologically and is endowed with flexible seating. This is where the Buffaloes held their Lodge meetings; where they stampeded on occasion: a sound we won’t miss below. The titular dome is the original stained glass feature which, at night time, may be illuminated (by roof lights outside) or fade into shade to avoid upstaging the action below. Both states are used in Watch.

Act Two is staged in the traverse with the pale walls used as data projection screens. Behind one Exit door there’s a staircase to the dressing room, the Propeller Stage. A fire exit and the side lane. This splendid inter-connecting feature is creatively used by Watch, by virtue (if that’s the word) of its all-pervasive and invasive surveillance cameras.

And isn’t this what theatre is all about: spying on the private / secret / hidden dimensions of human experience? Except theatre seeks the truth through fiction.

And so to the inaugural production of the revamped BATS, this year’s STAB commission, My Accomplice’s Watch, written and co-directed by Uther Dean. We watch the watchers watching the suspects and the watchword is safety: to keep people safe. But at what cost?

Meg Rollandi, Production Designer and Co-Director (with Dean), has filled the stage space with a two-storey weatherboard house, located in Tasman Street we soon learn. A window frames the living room (will our restricted views be a problem?), there’s a front door to one side and on the other outside steps lead to the upstairs flat. The central wall has been removed and the gap is surrounded with multiple TV screens.

Inside, cocooned in a blanket and asleep in a desk chair nestled within a conglomeration of retro electronic technology, is a grey-haired troglodyte: Jonathan, played with seen-it-all grouchiness by Jason Whyte.

New to his game – at this level anyway, ‘in the field’ – is Esther, deeply committed to her watching brief in order to “keep people safe”. Arriving with a military lack of emotion, Hannah Banks channels Benedict Cumberbatch in delivering Esther’s rapid Sherlockian analysis of their subjects’ profiles. Later she and Jon play at making up life-stories for random subjects of their scanning, which is both amusing and spooky. Banks goes on to reveal Esther’s humanity and fallibility in a formidably fine performance.

They are ‘scanning’ the politically active couple below, Grace and Isaac, and – thankfully from an audience perspective but otherwise guilt-inducing to be part of – a plethora of hidden cameras give us all a clear screen view of each room in their flat and what happens therein.

It emerges, for those listening carefully, that the Justice Minister’s car has been bombed, she is languishing on life-support (a plot thread that is very obliquely stitched in and later becomes lost in a tangled web of convoluted actions and motives) and these two are part of an activist cell that is implicated. Hence the surveillance.

Miranda Manasiadis and Paul Waggott bring an everyday reality to Grace and Isaac’s politically committed lives before piquing our deeper interest with slightly odd, inconsistent and questionable behaviours; all the better to bring us back for Act two, seeking answers.

During Act One they participate in a downtown demonstration. Footage custom-shot by the production team of the recent ‘No Way TPPA’ protest is cleverly stitched into the play. (Those of us who were there, however, need to accommodate the fiction that it ended in police-provoked violence.)

The most dramatically interesting scenes occur when Ether visits the couple downstairs – well Grace, usually, only to be given short shrift when Isaac returns. The tension of her being undercover combines with our ever-present quest to figure out the truth about each character, what they are up to and why.

Back-stories to do with the women’s parents emerge – and it has to be noted here that on this second preview night* a pre-recorded Skype session between Grace and her seriously unwell mother, Ruth (Michele Amas), disappeared from the pre-set and didn’t screen. Such are the perils of a technology-reliant production, although technology has also allowed Uther to email the YouTube clip to the critics so we, at least, can see what we’ve missed.  

The whole look and feel of the second act, under the dome, is extremely different, as are three of the four characters. We critics are, however, enjoined not to give the show away, concerning where we are now and who is doing what to whom and why. I’m tempted to say that’s a relief because, thanks to the aforementioned tangled web, there’s an awful lot I don’t comprehend.

I’m guessing the creative team has lived with the play for so long that, in the process of refining it and keeping themselves interested, they have lost sight of how it will be for an audience coming to it without prior knowledge. This is a real shame because the performances and production values – including Andrew Simpson’s videography and editing, Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s sound design and Marcus McShane’s lighting design – are exceptionally good and there is every incentive for us to decode what we’re watching and hearing. (After-show chats confirm many felt flummoxed.)

There are some potent moments, nevertheless, thanks to the dynamics inherent in interrogations, status games and power-plays. Archived footage of a scene involving Jonathan and a previous colleague, Ash (Elle Wooton), is memorable for its contrasting levity and the cautionary tale she tells about a girl “who was born seeing all the strings that connected everything together” (a classic tract of Uther Dean writing). It is important, by the way, to catch and remember her name and realise she is the woman in Act One’s phone box scene, captured on CCTV (just one of many very authentic-looking video images).

Insightful observations about the whole surveillance ethos register well, not least what Esther says about loneliness. And if the point is that such paranoia-induced regimes inevitably turn in on themselves and erode trust to the extent that no-one has any idea where reality or truth actually lie then, fair enough, that point is made. But not in a way that grips our guts or stimulates our brains, the way great theatre can.

Last year My Accomplice produced UK playwright Tom Basden’s Joseph K, an updated version of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, at BATS (Out-of-Site). I wish I could say Watch also brings the concerns of Kafka and George Orwell into the 21st century, locating them firmly in our domain as a warning that we are not immune. I think that’s the aim, given it was provoked by the whistle-blowing of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, but it leaves its audience as confused as its characters, if not more so.

Whether the web can be untangled enough to catch our enthusiastic interest is a matter of conjecture. Meanwhile there are many good reasons to witness Watch, not least to experience what the splendidly renovated BATS has to offer – a BATS which, it must be emphasised, holds fast to its core values and philosophy.

*The preview has been reviewed because of a clash with a Circa Two opening tonight and Chapman Tripp Theatre Award judging deadlines. The official opening is tonight.

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