[Complete Education in 60 Minutes]
What is the measurement used to gauge the success of a piece of theatre?
Whether you laugh? Whether you are challenged into action? Is it measured by achieving the perfect level of audience participation, or by how skilled and flexible the actor is? Perhaps the yardstick is how many levels the script can operate on at once. Or perhaps, it is all of the above.
‘All of the above?’ you say, ‘What show can possibly be brilliantly funny and yet confronting while inviting audience participation and exhibiting an actor without compare as well as layering nuance upon joke upon truth?’
That show, is playing at the Basement Theatre until the 14th of September.
Artsense Productions’ I Didn’t Invite You Here to Lecture Me is unmatched. Working with a script constructed from lines taken verbatim over seven years of lectures at the University of Auckland, the phenomenal Mika Austin delivers an hour of the finest character work, comedic turns, and soul destroying truths one could hope to see. Flickering through a cast of lecturers covering the subjects Law, Shakespeare, Anglo-Irish Lit, Music, Linguistics, German, Policy, and Education, (each with a different voice, posture, and teaching style) Austin has her audience alternating between tears of laughter and gasps of comprehension.
The script is ingenious in design. Amy Mansfield has masterfully manipulated this plurality of voices and subjects into a single lecture. This is a lecture which manages to speak through humour, clever juxtaposition, and a superb use of PowerPoint to the biggest questions and problems of our world – sexism, colonialism, the power of language to subjugate, mixed-race identity, to how much are we really controlled by the nanny state?
Voices and subjects rise to the surface and recede, from Law to Linguistics, to Anglo-Irish Lit to Music. Sometimes you are listening for a couple of minutes, becoming familiar with a particular lecturer’s delivery and sometimes it is just the flash of a line before switching back or switching on to the next voice.
The transitions between each lecturer is aided by the use of two pairs of glasses but largely carried by Austin’s supreme control of voice and bodily expression, and as Austin shifts seamlessly from one character to the next I am reminded of Jacob Rajan’s fluid mask swapping in Krishnan’s Dairy.
The power of the piece is jointly shared between the script and the performer. As the lines crash up against each other or repetitions occur, eddy like in the stream of information, patterns or harmonic overtones of meaning emerge. Each disparate part, each line from Shakespeare, each legal case study, each vocal exercise, taking on infinitely more meaning and profundity in its positioning against the surrounding material. The audience is guided towards noticing these patterns through the use of the PowerPoint slides which neatly underpin the lecture.
This is not a lecture for napping in the back of the class. Austin’s delivery across all the characters is more than just supremely entertaining. Her outward focussed presentation deeply implicates the audience in the topics and also continually invites us to not only to participate (fully immersed as a class of students with exercises and questions to answer), but to meet the challenges presented – there may be some student protests in the coming weeks.
Now, I know you all want my lecture notes but this is one lesson you need to learn for yourselves. Be prepared to weep with laughter, this is an education no student loan can buy you.
I Didn’t Invite You Here to Lecture Me plays at Basement Theatre until 14 September.
Written and produced by Amy Mansfield
Directed by Nick Dunbar
Performed by Mika Austin