WHAT KEITH DID
two/fiftyseven, 2/57 Willis Street (entrance located at 70 Victoria Street), Wellington
02/03/2023 - 05/03/2023
It’s the future. Technology has advanced. Climate change is a thing of the past. Everyone generates their own power. The world is at peace.
And yet, the world is still full of angry people.
This show follows the exalted legacy of Human 49207b, and their lighthearted rendition of one time somebody really pissed them off.
Two/fiftyseven, 2/57 Willis Street, Wellington
Thu 2 – Fri 3 March 2023, 6.45pm
Sat 4 – Sun 5 March 2023, 6.30pm
Link to Manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1b4XehYInH7dDPMjc5xpthWV17wbi_ERY/view
DIRECTOR: Human ZOOsa37v (aka Alex Suha)
PRODUCER: Human 03851x (aka Sabrina Martin)
PERFORMER: Human 49207b (aka James Kiesel)
PROJECTION / LIGHTING: Human 92660g (aka Jacob Banks)
GRAPHIC DESIGN: Human 55555s (aka Aimée Sullivan)
Clown , Comedy , Physical , Theatre ,
Entertainingly absurdist production raises pertinent questions about being disenfranchised, robbed, angered, apologetic and even forgiving
Review by John Smythe 03rd Mar 2023
Finding out What Keith Did is well worth it. But first, a word on finding the venue, two/fiftyseven. A coworking and event space on level 2 of 57 Willis Street, it is accessed after hours from 70 Victoria St (find the lift in the arcade alongside Unity Books). The whole floor’s ultra-casual and friendly feel is enhanced by art works and an operating café.
The space What Keith Did plays in has a faint sign above the door: ‘The Well – About Wellbeing and Reflection’. The seating is a collection of benches, stools and cushions in an L-shape facing a performance space where a man in white overalls lies face down and possibly lifeless. Is this what Keith did? Just out of reach, across a dotted line, a deflated female breast, with a hairy tassel attached, has been discarded.
We’ve been handed a glossy Manual on entry (to be handed back after the show, although you can find it online here). Published on 3rd March 2039, it contains 32 extraordinary pages of information and instructions that reveal a dystopian world ruled by faceless autocrats. For example, since 2031 monikers are limited to Keith, Kevin, Kai or Kendrick. (Apart from the breast, there is no sense that women exist in this world at all.)
Also, “intimacy of the highest form” has been outlawed because “Sex is the reason our ancestors were so unhappy and violent, and you are better off without it.” And although you may notice Another Person in your room, you are told to minimise contact with them and that your room is divided because “91.36% of all Other Person killings began with people talking to one another.” Hence the dotted line.
Other topics include housing, nutrition, waste, colour-coded self-injection systems, morning workouts, in/out pipes and the importance of your crank. A promotion for a vacation in Mammalia (p08) offers a Milk Spa and the opportunity to “Relive the magic of your first days of life”, albeit in a lab. There is a gruesome account (p30) of what happened in the Breakfast Wars of 2031 in which Weet Bix prevailed.
All these elements emerge as part of this world premiere production of What Keith Did, a 40-odd minute solo performance abetted by a stage manager (Sabrina Martin) dressed as a cow (a coworker?). Skilful yet retro AV projections by Jacob Banks and some lo-fi devices add to the sense that external powers are in control.
The prone man (Human 49207b, aka James Kiesel) wakes, stretches, cranks the handle to boost the battery icon from 0% to 1%, injects his forearm from one of the 5 Injectables provided (p10), finds Weet Bix – and needs milk. But the breast is on the other side of the line. And it’s empty. We find out later who is responsible and witness the anger it provokes.
Meanwhile Human 49207b receives a vexatious phone call, enjoys – or fantasises? – a visit to Mammalia, courtesy the coworker, dances with a bulging mammary, guzzles milk – and still has none for his Weet Bix. His pain and anguish is vented into a lavatory.
When commanded to “Do the work!” he suddenly engages with the audience but it’s awkward because it’s not clear what he means by, “Do you do the work?” Instead of working the situation, he drops it. This raises the question of what performance conventions are involved here. I’ve discovered the director, Alex Suha, studied physical theatre at the Le Coq school in London and comes to Wellington fresh from a clowning workshop in New York. He and James (both from the USA but James has an IT job in Wellington) mostly devised this work via WhatsApp calls across the Pacific Ocean.
It’s one of the magical properties of theatre that a solo performer can convince us they’re all alone while connecting conspiratorially with the audience. Such direct audience connection is a key component of clowning and it seems clear to me this could become a key component of What Keith Did. While James is certainly physically adept and very personable, I feel there is more potential for distilling this character’s circumstances, experiences and childlike emotions through contemporary clown conventions. As it stands, this entertainingly absurdist production raises pertinent questions about being disenfranchised, robbed, angered, apologetic and even forgiving.
P.S. I have yet to work out what the clump of hair dangling off the back of the breast denotes. Is it a mirkin (if so, why?) or an evocation of mother’s hair dangling as her baby suckles? Suggestions welcome.
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