Zarathustra Said

Happy (Cnr Tory & Vivian), Wellington

26/02/2008 - 27/02/2008

NZ Fringe Festival 2008

Production Details

God is dead.
Oh the horror, the horror.

Theatre company Bow Chicka Wow Wow are to perform their production of Zarathustra Said by the late Alan Brunton. Through Zarathustra Said, Alan Brunton poetically explores the teachings of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Director Lilicherie McGregor has recently returned to New Zealand after working as assistant to internationally acclaimed director Eugenio Barber and the Odin Teatret in Denmark.

The show is homage to the work of Wellington’s Red Mole theatre company and its founders Alan Brunton and, in particular, Sally Rodwell who worked with Lilicherie McGregor and the cast before her passing in 2006.

Wellington jazz band Fertility Festival feature through out the show to create a truly unique and memorable piece of theatre which incorporates dance, live music, butoh and film by France Hervé.

Zarathustra Said is returning after sold-out performances in November, 2007. 

Zarathustra Said
February 26, 27, 8.30pm
Happy, 118 Tory Street, Wellington
Entry $15/$12/$10

‘Death song’ full of joy and sex

Review by Diane Spodarek 06th Mar 2008

Zarathustra Said began in the dark, the space softly illuminated by candles around small rocks near pillars. Sounds of live music filled the space as three musicians in white suits entered playing their instruments: a clarinet, a horn, and a plastic toy horn. They marched and strutted, followed by three characters: a nymph in white rags who climbed the bar, her face, arms and legs dusted by white clay; next the Master of Ceremonies in a tux and white face with painted red cheeks and bow lips who greeted the audience with a stance as if she could swallow us whole; the Butcher menacing and proud; and walking on her hands a sexy blonde wearing a very short dress. This was just the beginning of Zarathustra Said.

You had to leave your expectations at the door, this play was not a ‘get comfy sit back and enjoy’ theatre piece. Happy is a deep basement hole and the perfect place to experience Red Mole theatre where the original members had performed before. Zarathustra Said, directed by Lilicherie McGregor, only had three performances as part of the Fringe 2008 Festival. It was the last piece written by Alan Brunton, who with his partner Sally Rodwell founded Red Mole in New Zealand in the 70’s. It was also the last theatre Brunton performed. Alan published the play in 2004 along with other works in a book entitled, Grooves of Glory, by Bumper Books. In an introduction Sally Rodwell says, "Alan was brilliant. Not one of us could have imagined that his fiery performance on that fine Norwegian night was to be his last in the world."

Embracing the last work by Brunton can only be an immense challenge for a director.  Brunton was a master of ambiguity, a poet who understood the impact of sound and image together, a poet who heard his own voice and those of his long-term collaborators when he worked on a theatrical script. His work always embraced the political and demanded that the audience have as much fun as the performers. McGregor transformed this theatre piece into a multi media event full of surprises. Each actor embodied a unique character, each movement was carefully choreographed, and each sound from the three musicians had its place. Nothing made sense and nothing did not make sense — just as Alan had written it.

Not since I have seen theatrical shows by such diverse groups as The Wooster Group and Richard Foreman in New York have I experienced avant-garde theatre that is both engaging and precise as McGregor’s direction of Zarathustra Said. From the first moment to the last, the work was in perfect sync.  Multiple images and sounds came at the audience simultaneously arousing all the senses. There were surprise moments like the tiny babies that fell from the sky as a result of The Butcher releasing them from their bondage; it was so precisely directed, you could almost hear the ghost of Alan sigh in approval.

It’s a tall assumption, I know, since it cannot be proven, but the text contains absolutely no information, no stage directions. It was written in a hurry, so fast, that when McGregor contacted the actors who had performed the work in Norway with Alan (back in 2002) for information about that show, they said they just read from the text that Alan gave them. McGregor brought that immediacy — that fire that Sally said was burning in Alan — to life.

In an interview with McGregor, she said that while she was teaching at the Wellington Performing Arts Center at the end of 2007 she wanted the students to experience a New Zealand work. Since Sally had died the previous year, Red Mole seemed to be a good choice. McGregor saw in Zarathustra Said an opportunity for her and the students to create a new staging for the written text. McGregor, the actors, and the musicians are now part of a continuing legacy of Red Mole. 

In the history of experimental theatre in New Zealand Red Mole were pioneers. Documentaries of Red Mole were made available to the WPAC students and they staged the first performance of Zarathustra Said as part of their student work at Happy in December 2007. The work was so engaging McGregor began work to develop it further with the same actors. This second performance the actors, although recent graduates, are at par with the best on the Wellington stage.

The four actors were unique, both in costume and performance: Debs Rea played Zarathustra, (Brunton’s role) with an androgynous fix as if she was a junkie spider and could climb the walls. Emmy Walker – who looked remarkably like Deborah Hunt dressed in tux, cleavage and mask – played the Master of Ceremonies. (Hunt often performed in a mask to the point of making it her trademark.) 

The Lover played by Jessica Aaltonen was a young Sally, beautiful, sexy, animated and still; her eyes focused like a fox seducing the audience and simultaneously inviting us to consume her. The Butcher, played by Tamati Pere was anyone you wanted him to be. When he was slashing bones on a table he was your corner meat seller, providing sustenance; but when he held The Lovers heart in his hand and squeezed it, he was any man, woman or country who stole your heart and crushed it just because he could. 

Zarathustra Said is Alan Brunton’s death song. It was his last work, and because of that, you realize that the creation of the work is one of those things that happened because it was as if death already had a hold of him when he wrote it, when he performed it.

Zarathustra Said is also full of joy, fun and sex. There’s a tango dance with The Lover and The MC which McGregor took from an early Red Mole cabaret piece where Rodwell and Hunt danced together topless. For those of us who knew the original Red Mole performers you could see how these young actors channeled their spirit. If Sally and Alan were in the audience, they were smiling and clapping; perhaps they wrapped their arms around the actors and danced along with them.

McGregor’s provocative direction shows the skill of someone who not only knows the history of Red Mole and New Zealand theatre but international theatre as well. This production is now an important part of Red Mole history, and New Zealand theatre. This is what a great director does best: understands the collaborative process and yet brings something new and wonderful to the production. 

The musicians, the Fertility Festival, were true collaborators. They played with jazz instincts to work with the words, the sounds and the movements of the actors. They were: Gerard Crewdson, Warwick Donald and Jeff Henderson. Lighting and set design by Lisa Maule. Creating a unique environment in both lighting and set design in a bar is a challenge. Maule worked with the accoutrements in the space drawing attention to what was already there — the long bar, pillars, and seats — drawing attention rather than working around them or covering them so that we accepted everything in the space as part of the musical and theatrical journey. 

Diane Spodarek is a writer and performer. Her blog can be read at 


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Colourful, side-show like spectacle

Review by Melody Nixon 06th Mar 2008

‘BOW CHICKA WOW WOW’ has polished up a fluid and extremely vibrant production of Alan Brunton’s  Zarathustra Said for this year’s Fringe Festival. First performed as a graduate piece at WPAC, director Lilicherie McGregor and cast have moved the production to the moody space of Happy for two nights only, this week. Together with the revelling accompaniments of ‘Fertility Festival’ – musicians Gerard Crewdson, Warwick Donald and the fabulous Jeff Henderson – the show provides a wild melange of morality, hedonism, Christianity and poetry, all with a suitably avant-garde twist.

The script, a jazz cabaret/rock ‘n roll/operetta style account of the journey of Nietzsche’s character Zarathustra into the ‘underworld’ of human life, is based on the German philosopher’s seminal ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ and includes experimental poems and songs written by Nietzsche himself. The play explores the tension that exists between the mouthpiece and the ears – in the case of Nietzsche between the moral figure of Zarathustra, the mouthpiece, and the writer’s own immorality, the ears. The poet’s descent into the human world is warped with confusion, and he tries to reach out and aid the toiling people he sees there, believing he might lead them to happiness through ‘Truthfulness’. But spurned, Zarathustra eventually recoils to the hills. There the creator of morality must be the first to realise the ‘calamitous error’ of morality.

As Zarathustra, Debs Rea plays the longyi-clad sage with great intensity. She rolls her eyes and limbs and imparts the deep sorrow and ambiguous wisdom Nietzsche’s character is remembered for with a commanding voice. It is shame here that the small space of Happy distorts the words of some of Rea’s speeches, and sound effects make it difficult to follow her narrations.

In the role of The Butcher, among others, Tamati Pere excels, and is charismatic and compelling to watch from beginning to end. Cast with a difficult role for some, Jessica Aaltonen is The Lover, and the seductress, who explores the quest for happiness through sex, and voyeurism. The nimble Aaltonen approaches the role’s many highly sexualised positions with confidence, and while her voice could do with greater strength at times, her heart – both figuratively and literally as it happens – is on full display.

Finally Emmy Walker is powerful and resonant as the MC, Ring Madam and various other, masked creatures, encouraging the audience to participate in the colourful, side-show like spectacle with gusto.

With this work Brunton has tapped into a long tradition of operatic works with a focus on Zarathustra – or Zoroastre, as the poet is known in English – which includes composers such as Jean-Phillipe Rameau, Mozart and Strauss. More than happy to provide the pace and rhythm for the evening, musicians ‘Fertility Festival’ bring Zarathustra Said completely to life, and grace us with the most exciting opening and closing of any show in this year’s Fringe.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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