REVIEW: Big Story, Small Space (Auckland Fringe)

Big Story, Small Space
Electrocution! Sabotage! Elephants?

Which genius lit the world? [by Sharu Delilkan]

Big Story, Small Space
Electrocution! Sabotage! Elephants?

As the audience pile into the ‘small space’ I couldn’t help thinking ‘How many more can you fit in?’.  But the constant stream keeps flowing and eventually the show’s co-writer and director Pip Smith bellows ‘I’ve added a chair at the end of that isle across the stage but can I make anyone else more comfortable by adding another chair?’. We nod profusely and say ‘yes please’, emphatically. I finally was able to exhale and begin settling in.

The Basement has basically been shrunk into a tiny space where there’s almost no delineation between actors and the audience who’re literally on top, around and between each other.

The tiny 2-m square stage in the middle is just sufficient for the actors to move around in – making us feel like we’re in the thick of the action – which I particularly liked.  I also enjoyed actors coming onto the stage from all four corners keeping everyone on their toes.  And the most interesting was when two of the actors had to clamber over people to get centre stage. The ‘small’ part of the billing gets a tick with the intimate setting that allows bombardment from all sides with dialogue, sound effects and cool lighting.

Big Story, Small Space is fast paced and keeps us enthralled throughout the show, that’s just under an hour.

Based on the fictional retelling of electricity’s invention, the show spotlights the legendary rivalry between Edison and Tesla, direct and alternating current, as well as mankind’s good versus huge profit.

And as the programme says ‘Electrocution, sabotage and elephants’ were definitely the order of the day.

The first planned collaboration between Smith and co-writer/producer Jen Mead, is a great starting point for a bigger production.  Many questions were asked but few were answered.  That’s the whole point of a Fringe show – to plant a seed for further development to grow to its full potential, given enough time and money.

Stand out performances worth noting were Roberto Nascimento (Tesla) and Fabian Takiari (Edison).

The clash between classic eccentric European and commercial brash New America is brilliantly highlighted by Tesla and Edison.

Nascimento’s characterisation of Serbian-born Tesla is spot on – something I can vouch for personally as we are honorary members of Auckland’s Yugoslavian community.

His deadpan and sincere, almost direct delivery, is perfectly believable.

When Edison says “You still haven’t got the hang of the American humour” his quick- witted response is “You’re still not funny.”

Takiari’s interpretation of Edison was initially a little confusing.  Was Edison meant to be gay?  If so, I must have missed that leaf in his biography.

Edison’s request to his assistant Andy (Maddy de Young) to cook him some eggs is a great local reference reminiscent of Once Were Warriors’ famous line ‘Cook the man some f%#$@ing eggs!’

The props, created by art director Pritika Lal assisted by Linh Pham, had a ‘No 8 Wire’ flavour aptly reflecting the inventiveness and pioneering spirit of the era.This included using parts of a hand held mixer and plastic cups to represent the inventions.

The explanation of scientific subjects brings some of the most far sighted and dastardly intellects of the past together in this clever recounting of historical events.

The proximity makes us feel we’re privy to Edison’s and Tesla’s inner most thoughts during their triumphs, jealousies and disappointments.

Relevant well-known characters of the 1800s were also brought to life including the financier JP Morgan and the prolific inventor George Westinghouse.  Ben Cragg gets special mention for playing the perfect Westinghouse.

I was completely caught off guard when a neighbour of mine had her wine ‘stolen’ by Westinghouse which he skillfully used as a prop for much of a party scene, enhancing the feeling of being part of the story, and not mere observers.

Other quirky characters include a modern day inventor/narrator Chris Tam

Ando f course Edison’s trusted assistant Andy who creates a great foil for his conceit, vanity, domineering nature and greed.

Everything becomes clear when you realise that the inventiveness and industry of a couple of intellects have changed all of our lives forever.

The only tragedy is that while some great thinkers are recognized within their lifetime, others die never knowing their legacy has been so beneficial to mankind.

 Big Story, Small Space plays as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival at The Basement until March 11.

More information at the Auckland Fringe Festival Website.

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