Successful Sequel [by Matt Baker]
Breathing and listening. They’re key components to acting, and they feature in Toa Fraser’s direction and latest script, Pure and Deep. Even for those who haven’t seen Fraser’s first full-length play, Bare, the nostalgia embedded in this, its sequel, along with performers Ian Hughes’ and Mia Blake’s trust and familiarity is enough to sense the successful completion – not often found in sequels – it permeates.
While Fraser doesn’t pontificate, his liberal voice as a playwright is heavy-handed at times, and may distance audience members of a more right-leaning, conservative political or social philosophy. It’s sixteen years later, and where Bare explored two people coming together, Pure and Deep takes the logical evolutionary step and explores these two people and their place in the world.
The first monologue feels forced and presentational, as if Fraser has written a clumsy opening disclaimer to acknowledge the transmedia element and technological advances over the past 16 years, which is unnecessary, as all latter references are cleverly and humorously placed. Hughes and Blake are excellent chameleons, playing both fictional and real-life New Zealand personalities, and although some of Blake’s characterisations get in the way of her performance, the subtlety of her pathos is well-pitched.
Fraser’s direction works implicitly with John Verryt’s beautiful wooden-panel set design, which comes to together centre stage for a symbolic and shared space in which the actors work. Jeremy Fern’s lighting design shows just how far extremes can be taken with affective side-lights and shadows.
There’s enough history in the text, and dynamic between Hughes and Blake to prevent those who haven’t seen Bare from feeling ignorant to the characters’ journeys or the play’s arc as a sequel. This is best exampled with Hughes’ delivery of his beg/kiss speech in which Fraser perfectly encompasses the irony of memory, and presents the text as a genuine recollection from one person to another as opposed to a signpost for the audience.
My only concern with Pure and Deep is an elaboration of the same I have for most theatre – will the people who should see it, do so? Though the transmedia element is well-intertwined into the script, it doesn’t seem to have been as successful in the play’s marketing, with little of Anna Jackson’s transmedia producing doing the rounds online or generating word-of-mouth buzz. Hopefully, people will be listening.
Pure and Deep is presented by Auckland Alive and plays at The Herald until November 23. For details see Auckland Live.