REVIEW: Tampocalypse (Te Pou)

Review by Camilla Walker

[Tampocalypse now needs a Redux]

“At the end of the world, not everything stops.” So claims Embers Collective, a daring new production company set up by Unitec grads, Ashleigh Hook and Rebekah Dack, the dynamic director-producer duo behind Tampocalypse, which concluded Te Pou Theatre’s Rangatahi development season 2018.

The show’s tagline couldn’t be more fitting. Tampocalypse gives us a world in which periods do not stop. Bladders do not stop. Blood-sucking mosquitoes do not stop, and nor do our heroines. Through an ingeniously witty, intelligent and incisive narrative frame – that of a young female screenwriter pitching her idea for a groundbreaking zombie apocalypse film to a hackneyed film exec – we see a cast of unstoppable, recognisable women materialise on stage. They are our friends and sisters and daughters: lovable, brave and imperfect, and they break every rule in Hollywood’s book.

The cinematic world of Mary’s screenplay comes to life to complement her darkly hilarious interactions with the film exec, played brilliantly by Ashleigh Hook. As Maeve Kelly’s engaging, impassioned and elegant Mary defiantly defends her creative choices, her cast of feisty women flesh out an eloquently imagined and thoroughly subversive apocalypse film: one in which women are represented as they really are.

In a world with limited access to sanitary products – which the production’s support of an anti-period poverty initiative made clear is the one we actually live in – these women have to be innovative. In a bravura rally between the spirited Cat (played with energy and passion by Alex Schofield) and powerful Farris (played with gusto and great presence by Georgina Marie), we see a showdown of ingenuity. We might laugh at them brandishing inner soles of shoes and make up sponges at one another, but the underlying message is that this isn’t far from reality for millions of people.

Hook’s film exec’s caricatured horror at the idea of showing period blood on screen had audiences roaring in their seats, but carried a powerful subtext as she systematically finds fault with Mary’s ideas for stepping outside of the norms of acceptable representations of women. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and calling out of systemic misogyny in the film world, Tampocalypse triumphantly dramatises both the oppressive power of the entertainment industry and the power that new voices can have in calling it out.

As the show develops, a tooth and nail battle with the tropes of mainstream filmmaking (and its misogynistic tendencies) ensues. In the apocalyptic world, the hunt for tampons is on and, as supplies run low, the stakes get higher. Questions surrounding feminine identity, expectation and representation are raised by the characters. Daedae Tekoronga-Waka’s performance of Uma, a transgender Pasifika woman, is as intricate and beautiful as Georgina Marie’s ‘Amazonian’ Farris is fiery. The understatedly excellent comic timing of Catherine Yates’ Onida sizzles against Bridie Sisson’s light-footed performance of the impish Helen, while Alex Schofield’s athletic Cat had everyone impressed with her dexterity with make-shift weapons.

The very existence of these characters is under threat from the film exec’s determination to bash Mary’s screenplay into submission, however. The edits the exec makes deliver emotive blows to its cast and audience, which bring us to a desperate climax. How will Mary respond? You’ll just have to wait for the show’s next season, which is bound to be spellbinding, because even as a development piece, this is multi-layered story-telling at its best.

Embers Collective’s rigorous devising process has produced a show that literally sings with the haunting reality of how original thought and liberal thinking can be abused by the powers that be, and yet a strong sense of hope that depicts it evolving and surviving. The cast bring an electric energy to the stage, and there’s a spark here that more than does justice to Embers Collective’s name and mission statement to enliven the passions of its creators and collaborators. The content and performances smoulder with nuance, poetry, and the thrill of being able to claim, play with and subvert the narrative of female suppression in the film and creative industries. This is not just a fabulous night out, but an important show that must return to provoke thought and stoke imagination in larger audiences.

Tampocalypse was presented by Embers Collective and played at Te Pou 16-19 May as part of the Rangatahi Season.

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