REVIEW: Everything is Surrounded by Water and A Public Airing of Personal Grievances (My Accomplice)

Review by Matt Baker

[Everything is Surrounded by Storytelling]

This week Uther Dean performs two of his solo shows at The Basement. 

Written by Uther Dean and Hannah Banks, and performed and directed by the former and latter respectively, Everything is Surrounded by Water is a journey of quarter-life crisis soul-searching. Fortunately, Dean has an acute awareness of and philosophical regard to the content of his work, which, in addition to his knowledge as a theatre practitioner, prevents the show from being yet another narcissistic theatre show about a journey of quarter-life crisis soul-searching. Dean prefaces his performance by proclaiming that this is a story, not a theatre show, however, if one considers theatre to be a form of storytelling, and the inclusion of a simple yet evocative lighting design to be a theatrical component, this statement seems to be more about setting the style for the audience rather than negating a medium. The show may have started in homes and cafes, but The Basement is Auckland’s most prolific theatre, and its profit share model cannot be the only reason to choose it over Garnet Station or the Old Folks Association.

Dean deals with heavy themes, but uses light and poetic lyricism, a counterbalance that avoids potential pessimism, and makes for both a charming and feel-good show. Written in 2013 and previously performed in Auckland in 2014Everything is Surrounded by Water does feel somewhat dated, whether this is due to Dean’s own distancing from the piece, or the fact that the first third of the play (regardless of being true or not) also happens to be the plot of a 2001 Paul Rudd film.

If you enjoy Everything is Surrounded by Water, then you’ll enjoy A Public Airing of Personal Grievances (by Uther Dean feat. Tiny Temper feat. Labyrinth), and vice versa. Where the first is a drama with comedy, the second is a comedy with drama; a balance only perceptible due to the knowledge that the latter was first performed at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival earlier this year. In this case, comedy is not tragedy plus time, but tragedy plus timing. Dean knows exactly where to take a breath and how to hit the words to ensure the most resonant musicality of his text. A talented wordsmith, he wields nouns and verbs with razor sharp precision, and uses adjectives to perform coups de grâce.

However, for all his lyricism, Dean doesn’t give the audience much to take away from either of his shows other than a sense of introspection that fades too soon after leaving the theatre. It’s like the DVD copy of that foreign film you loved at the film festival, which simply collects dust on the shelf post-purchase. But Dean is an anarchist, who flips theatrical convention on its head. He understands the rules, which is why he can bend them to his will so well. Originally from Wellington, now based in Auckland, his 2015 Young & Hungry play was a chaotic ensemble piece that provided young Auckland actors with a script into which could truly sink their teeth. If you have any interest in where Dean may take Auckland theatre, it’s worth catching both of these shows for an intimate prelude of what may come.

Everything is Surrounded by Water and A Public Airing of Personal Grievances play until 14 October. Details see Basement Theatre.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz reviews of Water and Grievances by Leigh Sykes 

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