Getting Lost in Space [by Rosabel Tan]
‘Warning: This entire review might be a spoiler’
Little Histories of the Life Ordinary follows a girl named Frankie whose deepest desire is to travel to space. You’ll never be lonely up there, you see, and the moon is made of cabbage, so you’ll never go hungry either. Also, the Milky Way is made of milk. Problems – all of them: solved.
Devised by Sam Bunkall, Julia Croft, Alisha Lawrie-Paul and Josephine Stewart Tewhiu, Little Histories presents us with a series of vignettes showing Frankie at different stages of her life. Stewart Tewhiu plays her as a precocious, lonely child whose imagination is as infinite as the defences she’s constructing to protect herself. Quietly terrified of the world around her, she spends her days preparing for the arrival of the wormhole, which will take her into space with her pet snail, Gonzalez – who would rather spend his days reading his English to Maori dictionary.
Alisha Lawrie-Paul plays Frankie as an old woman, though this character feels too broadly drawn and lacks substance, and Julia Croft plays Frankie as a young adult, working as a receptionist at a taxi company and trying desperately to become friends with her colleagues. Croft’s Frankie was the most compelling of the three, and easiest to relate to because we were able to see her engaging with the world around her. Her painfully awkward attempts at social interaction were amusing yet heart-wrenching and her desperation to travel to space felt the most poignant because of her alternatives.
Finally, there’s Gonalez the snail (at least, I think it was Gonzalez – this wasn’t clear). Sam Bunkall is a delight, creating an affable loner whose life is punctuated with charmingly awkward interactions, talkback radio and mysteriously upsetting letters.
The scaffolded set, designed by Ella Mizrahi and Celia Harrison, is gorgeous and compact and harks to the relationship between the characters, which wasn’t apparent until half-way through this fifty-minute performance. As plot devices go, it’s a great one, but one that doesn’t need to be a twist since the play is driven by character rather than narrative – though in saying that, I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be a twist, or if it was a lack of clarity.
This relates to one of the play’s weaknesses: the lack of narrative and connections between the vignettes. The ‘twist’ isn’t enough to carry the play, so we’re left with just the characters – and not only is it difficult to do a crazy character well, it’s even more difficult to do it in monologues where it’s not clear they’re the same person. While the sketches occasionally entertained, they offered us little beyond their desire (or lack thereof) to travel to space, making it hard for the audience to engage with them beyond this and to find the story sufficiently satisfying.
Little Histories of the Life Ordinary plays at The Basement until 24 March. More details see The Basement.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe