Inconclusive Result [by Matt Baker]
Working in the arts industry is by no means a secure trade – especially in New Zealand. The independent contractor status coupled with the number of people versus number of jobs means that diversifying and creating self-instigated works is often a key component to longevity in one’s career. Actress Elisabeth Easther clearly understands this, and the result is her 2014 Adam New Zealand Award winning script, Seed, now playing at The Basement.
The dialogue starts out playfully, and there are puns abound, not to mention the odd couplet, however, as the lyricism wanes and once we’ve heard every colloquial variant of the noun cum the content is revealed to be quite dry. Everyone says exactly what they think and feel, leaving the audience with no need to actively engage. Add to this some of the most brazen and morally corrupt attitudes of the characters, and the result is that there is no real emotional investment for the audience to make.
Fiona Mogridge pitches the show with an immediately heightened sense of theatricality, while Renee Sheridan and Janine Burchett are far more subdued – their performances and vocal projection bordering on filmic. Mogridge’s performance seems more in tune with the tone director Emma Willis has set for the show, that is perhaps also more in line with the voice of the writer. The problem with this, however, is that any moments of pathos aren’t allowed to sit, and the moments that should resonate seem frivolous.
Alex Ellis finds an excellent balance between playing both the truth of her character and the heightened style of the play, although the confidence her performance affords me does not last long. Virginia (Ellis) never attempts to justify her actions. She claims to be a midwife, not a saint, but I would argue that psychopath or attempted rapist is a more accurate label – seriously, she verges on attempting to rape a man for his eponymous product.
Callum Stembridge supports his lead actresses diligently and does an excellent job of individualising each of his fourteen characters, and, although some characterisations are clearly stronger than others, he never resorts to caricatures. Both Dion Boothby’s set and Nik Janiurek’s lighting design compliment the style of the show perfectly, and embrace the bold and occasionally enjoyable tackiness of the spectacle, however, the latter is let down by operator Russ King who is late on several cues and clicks away throughout the show.
Regardless of my paternal instincts I am most certainly not the target audience, but I wonder what the intended demographic are supposed to take from it. Come journey’s end, the characters’ situations may have changed, and the characters themselves may have calmed down a bit through a sudden and dramatically unseen shift in their outlook, but, ultimately, there is nothing for me to take away from the play. The audience addresses and the overall tone is quite presentational, and I wonder if had the script been constructed from interviews and performed as verbatim theatre, whether it would have been more affecting. That’s not to say that these types of women do not exist in real life, simply that, as fictional characters, it’s easy to flippantly negate them and their morality.
Seed plays at The Basement until 28 June. Details see The Basement.