BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
31/10/2017 - 04/11/2017
A new comedy with music – October 2017
You are in The Matrix. You get unplugged. Nek minnit; you are not Neo. Not Morpheus. Not Trinity or The Oracle. You’re one of those assholes in a suit and tie.
Waylon and William are waging a war on the past. Their weapons are guitars, suits, a security pass to a government department, and 60 minutes of sometimes uncomfortable self-reflection about racial identity in Aotearoa New Zealand.
WEiRdO, a new dark comedy about suits, ties, and colonisation, opens at The Heyday Dome, BATS Theatre on 31 October. Set in a government department, WEiRdO gets stuck into awkward biculturalism in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand.
Waylon (Waylon Edwards) is a Māori civil servant who thinks he’s winning but deep down knows that he’s fake and out of place, and Richard (William Duignan) is a Pakeha guy trying, often unsuccessfully, to help.
WEiRdO playfully examines uncomfortable moments that occur in Aotearoa every day – particularly in office buildings along Wellington’s Lambton Quay and the Terrace.
The play features original music by Waylon and William. Originally created by Waylon and William for the 2015 Putahi Festival, Weirdo has been reworked with director Jane Yonge.
“I sometimes feel like a fly caught in a colonial spider’s web – the spider might be dead but the web is still there, catching people and leaving them covered in sticky stuff. This show explores that uncomfortable stickiness,” says Waylon.
“It’s been a really fascinating process working with Jane and William to find ways to express the discomfort we feel about identity and race. We want to empower people who feel like outsiders to laugh at themselves, each other, and make up for lost time,” Waylon says.
“We’ve tried to make what can be very serious and uncomfortable subject matter fun and engaging,” says Jane. “Being comfortable with things that are often inherently uncomfortable – like racism, identity, and colonisation – can help us listen to each other better and make change.
“The three of us are Māori-Welsh, Pakeha, and Chinese-Pakeha, so we bring different experiences of race and identity into the room. If as New Zealanders in 2017, we can laugh together and make music together while we interrogate our identities, that’s got to be a good thing,” Jane says.
William says, “At times it’s been challenging writing freely about race. But the more talking we do to work through this, the easier it gets to see the interconnectedness of our experiences. We’ve also found that talking about ourselves and identity doesn’t have to be tiring – it can be exciting and funny.
“One minute we’re talking seriously about colonialism, the next we’re dancing round the room like idiots or picking up a guitar. Making this show, I’ve really enjoyed using physicality to affect my brain and my thoughts.”
BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome
31 October – 4 November
Full Price $20
Concession Price $15
Group 6+ $14
Theatre , Musical ,
Far more profound than it first seems
Review by John Smythe 31st Oct 2017
In the days before this opening night I did ponder the hidden meaning in the upper/lower case writing of WEiRdO and in the epilogue, when it’s explained, I feel chuffed I’d cracked the code. I’ll leave you to have that pleasure for yourselves.
Receiving our tickets tucked into a plastic pocket on a red lanyard is the first hint we’re in for something a bit different. An eager-to-please Waylon Edwards, on the landing leading up to BATS’ Heyday Dome space, confirms we are attending a seminar. Inside, as we find our seats, William Duigan introduces himself as Richard and, in a casually confident manner that ‘owns the space’, he asks person after person who they are and where they come from.
This is but one element that one may judge in a certain way initially (I’m thinking: can’t he vary it a bit or develop it somehow?) – only to realise in retrospect there is method in this ‘madness’: it’s bang on theme. Meanwhile I find myself wondering, is it trivial or profound to identify ourselves by where we come from? (When I was a young man I was also asked where I went to school, what car I drove and which pub I drank at; a Pākehā version of whakapapa that established my ‘tribe’ and whether I could be trusted.)
A koru curl within a circle is the logo for what turns out to be the Department of Lifestyle Encouragement (DOLE). Is it a symbol of rebirth or, given the big black dot at the centre, a whirlpool that sucks us into its depths? Emily Hartley-Skudder’s set design also features a modern work desk adorned with very retro items: a chunky cathode computer screen, an ’70s pert phone … The PowerPoint presentation is pretty basic but it’s not OHP so I remain confused as to whether the timeframe for WEiRdO is contemporary or retro.
The seminar is all about how to move on from unemployment and we’re also treated to intra-office dynamics. I’ll ‘say no more’, as the saying goes: the way it all unfolds, how we respond to each moment and how we reassess what’s happened is integral to the experience. Suffice to say the colours of the lanyard ribbons signify status; the oddness of Richard always talking ‘on mic’ even in an office scene with Waylon makes sense in relation to who has the power; there is a reason William is ‘in role’ as Richard while Waylon retains his own name …
On certain levels one could make comparisons with Roger Hall’s seminal Public Service send-up, Glide Time, or Sam Fisher’s work-place satires (e.g. Location Location) but WEiRdO has a very different purpose. Originally created by Edwards and Duigan for the 2015 Putahi Festival, director Jane Yonge has helmed this development and the result subtly and entertainingly provokes us to consider our own levels of cultural awareness without even realising we have been challenged.
Allow me to venture a little more, for the record, while avoiding spoilers. The first hint all is not as light as it seems comes with the resonant voice of a kaumātua, challenging Waylon: “Ko wai koe? Kei hea tō kāinga?” (“Who are you? Where is your home?”) Then a flippant comment by Richard has a profound effect on Waylon (I respect a production that isn’t afraid of silence), and Richard’s attempts to make amends only make matters worse. And everyone is likely to relate to that situation at some level.
The way it all ends is a big surprise, delivering as honest, vulnerable, awkward, brave and compelling a moment in theatre as you may hope to experience. To criticise WEiRdO for mashing up genres would be to miss the point. It has all been cleverly – yes, and weirdly – wrought to ensure we transition from wry (possibly smug) observation to experiencing subjective feelings and locating our own positions in relation to the core themes.
I am surprised to discover it is far more profound than it first seems.
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