Bravery the Massive Way [by James Wenley]
I see a lot of theatre, and I enjoy a lot of theatre, but it’s a rare show that’s able to cut through and grab you on a deeply personal level. That show is Massive Company’s The Brave.
Eight men, embodying bravery in body and souls, share their personal stories and experiences of their lives and masculinities.
Q’s stage is bare. Massive old-hand Scott Cotter begins alone on stage, a spotlight slowly building as his voice calls out in karanga. He acknowledges the people who came before us, an important theme – these men often define themselves in relation to others that have inspired and challenged them. One by one, the rest of the cast, ranging in age from 20-31, join him onstage. They walk around the room, taking us and each other in. Some walk solo, some walk together, powerful.
Directed by Massive founder Sam Scott, and Carla Martell and devised by the company, the show’s springboard were letters the cast were asked to write to important people who were in, or out of their lives. These letters – to fathers, mothers, grandmothers, and their own selves, are weaved through the show and form a powerful emotional backbone for the rest of the work to build around.
The cast face out at the front of the stage, and announce “This is me”. There are a variety of tones and languages. So who are these men – Neil Armituanai, Dominic Ona-Ariki, Leki Jackson Bourke, Scott Cotter, Todd Emmerson, Beulah Kole, Jonny Moffat and Andy Sani – that are fronting up to us?
We learn what uniquely defines them, both the trivial and the profound. One likes Sprite over Coke. Another is a huge Call of Duty fan. Neil Amituanai is an interesting case – over a ‘casual conversation’ he tells fellow actor Jonny Moffat how no-one knows he’s an actor. When people ask him what he’s been up to over the rehearsal period devising the show, he tells them he’s been doing “stuff”. And now here he is, on the Q stage, owning up to being an actor, nowhere left to hide.
Even though the show is under 90 minutes, you come away feeling you’ve shared some deeply personal parts of their lives and beings.
The Brave has the feel of an open rehearsal room, as if we’ve been invited into their space, a show still being made. Like Neil and Jonny’s conversation, which indeed feels plucked straight out of the rehearsal room, the show still carries strong traces of usually hidden rehearsal exercises that make up the show. Some movement moments, like the one that opens the show, will bear a strong familiarity for anyone who has taken certain acting classes. There’s a welcome rawness and honesty that hasn’t been smoothed out for the paying audience. The cast wear HuFFer street clothes, knee pads firmly secured to their legs.
Good thing too because, it’s a highly active show – lots of bursts of dance and physical expression. Scott Cotter and the towering Andy Sani make an incongruous pairing, but together they perform a moving duet embracing Cotter’s beautiful idea that “The boy and his heart became friends and neither was capable now of betraying the other”, the two supporting, holding and catching the other. There are some impressively playful lifts and flips from three of the more flexible members of the cast. And even a left-field diversion into the choreography of Beyonce musical Dreamgirls that had the audience cheering!
We get a real sense of what’s important to these men. It’s often the bravery of others, and their remarkable stories. Heritage and culture is important. Owning their own language. Being true to themselves. Not being defined by how others see them. Todd Emerson presents a very moving letter to his thirteen year old self – about the bad, and the lot of good, that’s to come.
Jane Hakaraia lighting shows skillful interplay with the cast, creating the perfect light scapes for these men to move within. The well chosen music soundtrack is a bonus highlight.
Beulah Kole emerges from the company late in the piece, but makes an electrifying impression. His letter is to himself. Now. A wakeup call, and a mantra about how he wants to live and what he wants to achieve. His absolute passion for what he does, and a call to hold onto his dreams no matter what. It’s a call to action not only for himself, but for the audience, to take stock of where we are and our drive for what’s most important.
In that way, the show is much more about these eight men, or men in general. In opening up themselves, they challenge and inspire us in turn to consider how we define ourselves, what we hold dear, who we respect, how we live our lives, and just what we might say if we were the ones up there onstage.
The Brave is presented by Massive Company and plays at Q until 22nd April. It then moves to Mangere Arts Centre 24-29th April. More details see Massive.
Check out Sharu’s interview with Jonny Moffat, the oldest cast member of The Brave.