[Far from Home]
As 2016 draws to an end it seems that we can’t wait to escape the changes the past 12 months have brought. From Trump to Brexit, to the constant swelling threat of irreversible climate change, and of course the death of David Bowie, our little planet has taken some beatings. However, when that clock strikes midnight on December 31st the promise of a new start makes some people believe we can have a rosy future ahead with little to no effort required, but is this year really any different from those before?
Company of Giants tackle the relationship between cause and effect and the human condition in their new development piece Milk and Honey. The tag line on the poster says “The world is in crisis. Again.”, suggesting the aim of this play is not to prompt pity but to implore responsibility for a constant state of crisis. This vaudevillian tale follows a group of animal/human hybrids as they fall prey to a series of events reflecting reality such as a flood, a housing crisis and immigration issues that ultimately leaves them stranded and homeless, wandering the earth in a pack. However, as each character pipes up with their story it becomes clear that we all have our part to play in the turning of the world and therefore have a responsibility to engage with and fix our messes, whether directly or indirectly responsible.
The production is devised and presents an enigmatic ensemble that carve their way through the space cleverly emulating their epic journey from prosperity to ruin and despair through the hour-long show. Despite some issues with shaky timing in improvised lines, overall the ensemble are incredibly strong with standouts from Summer Millet, Finn Gilbert-Keene and Thomas Gowing.
The overall aesthetic has no clear theme but combines different influences to make a quirky and dark aesthetic. In the packed-out courtyard pre-show refreshments of candyfloss and ice lollies are served that starkly contrast with a macabre band. The characters’ don Tim Burton-esque costumes that deserve to be studied with care. The design is cleverly balanced with minimal set and cosy sofa and cushion seating for the audience. Once the show moves into a better equipped theatre it would be interesting to see how lighting could be incorporated further to assist the storytelling.
One of the strongest elements of this production was the composition and musical direction (Adam Ogle) that wrapped the action in emotionality. The choice of music effectively supported the tone of the production and helped when the action of the play became a little muddled or lost and. Also, the varied use of choral singing (vocal arrangement credit to Hayley Douglas) was incredibly satisfying.
The community of Whangarei have proven that clever theatrical performance, with strong leadership from Katy Maudlin and Laurel Devenie, can come from even the untrained and unknown and compete with the big leagues. Theatre isn’t just exclusive to the larger theatres that sit within Auckland’s perimeter but can come from the passion and expression of one small community. Knowing that this production has more to deliver is a very exciting prospect, and one hopes it can make its way to Auckland for a well-deserved debut.
Milk and Honey was presented by Company of Giants and played at 116 Bank Street Whangarei 1-5 December. Details see Creative Northland.