Realism at it’s whitest [by Matt Baker]
What better time for such a show to be performed in the wake of proposed flag reform referenda. Advertised as spoken word meets theatre, writer and performer Jess Holly Bates has successfully amalgamated the components of poetic monologue and theatrical presentation in the inaugural homegrown production of her one-woman show. Monologue, however, may be in the incorrect word, as, although there is no dialogical response from the audience, there is a constant self-observation, analysis, and questioning that arises throughout the text.
The tone is set instantly with a karanga, the response to her call generated through the audience’s laughter as Bates sneaks in the given circumstances of the event without irreverence to the cultural context. A simple, isolated set, designed by director Geoff Pinfield, surrounded by openly acknowledged dance lighting from the sides, designed by Ruby Reihana-Wilson, both sculpts the performance area and fills the void of additional space in the theatre.
Lighting and sound operation by Lydia Zanetti is a character of its own, with Bates breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging the technical aspects of the show. This fourth wall break is continued in conversation with the Pinfield, allowing Bates to gauge the audience’s engagement and understanding of the piece.
The entertainment element of this show comes directly from Bates as a performer; engaging, relentless, and humourous, however, the pitching of the narrative beats occasionally results in the pace lagging in what is presumably meant to the more poignant moments. As a writer, Bates evokes strong images through a combination of analogies, juxtapositions, and repetition. Although the themes addressed invoke a sense of patriotism and loyalism, there is never a condemnation of the jingoistic or xenophobic attitudes that consequently arise. There is no judgement from Bates, simply an illustration of the various perceptions of our colonial history. That, however, may not be the experience for the UK audiences in Bates’ sights, their understanding and acceptance, or lack thereof, of the colonial issues raised in this truly Kiwi piece of theatre possibly having a greater impact there than at home.
Real Fake White Dirt plays as part of the Mouth to Mouth Spoken Word Festival at The Basement until 5 April. Details see The Basement.