REVIEW: The Keepers (Thread Theatre)

The Keepers
Also one of my favourite posters of last year...

Shining a new light for alternate theatre [by James Wenley]

The Keepers
The Keepers

Thread Theatre promise a breath of fresh sea air in their debut production of ‘The Keepers’.

It is an ethereal, enigmatic play of dreams and feelings, felt and unfelt, using physical theatre and music to tell much of the story, such as it is.

Devisors Julia Croft and Veronica Brady say the work is “about why people stay and why they leave”, and that it is inspired by the diaries and writings of Anais Nin, and Marguerite Duras, of whom I know nothing about. It’s not much to go on, and most of it is left up to one’s own interpretation… which is refreshing really.

Margaret (Veronica Brady) lives on a small lighthouse island by herself, until Nina (Julia Croft) washes up and challenges her solitary existence. Where does each of the characters come from? We don’t know. Margaret seems incredibly repressed, and Veronica does excellent work portraying her tics, worried physicality and mistrust of Nina. Julia moves beautifully as Nina, in touch with her sensual side, though when speaking I thought she was a little overwrought and ‘too big’ for the subtler mood and style of the piece.

A clever juxtaposition of character quirks is built up through a succession of scenes. Margaret has set routines and ways of doing things, Nina is inquisitive and experiments. Margaret carefully eats salt for breakfast, Nina hurries down raw egg (yes, raw egg). Margaret chops wood while Nina sensually applies lipstick.

The lure of the sensual hangs over Margaret, at night she seems to go outside and feel the sand in her fingers and lips, eating it, and then hating herself for it. Both are haunted by (false?) memories of the past and of men. Darkness is revealed when each character visits the other when asleep. Identity becomes fluid and they begin to morph into one another. There is a focus on the unsaid, the unexpressed.

They are watched over by the Ariel-like figure of Luna, played by musician and composer Claire Cowan in ghostly white makeup. At times she is the observer, playing a perfectly attuned and evocative live musical score on a variety of instruments – cello, violin, spoons – and often in unconventional ways (Cello as a drum). At other times she intervenes in the action, laying a rope around the action, or manipulating Margaret like a puppet. It all helps create a wonderfully ‘other world’ mist draped atmosphere.

Thread Theatre’s mission is to “devise innovative, exciting and stimulating visual theatre influenced by contemporary European theatre traditions but celebrating a uniquely New Zealand sense of humour and play.” It’s a very welcome addition to theatre, Red Leap Theatre company (of which both Julia and Veronica) have come through, being one of the few other companies to consistently pursue work of this alternative kind. The Keepers is a delightful mystery, and deserves to find a place in the New Zealand tour circuit.

It’s always interesting when you can find echoes of plays in one another. Playing at the same time as Silo’s The Brothers Size, Keepers is in some ways an estrogen-ised companion piece. Playing with breath, a live score and the physical as a way to heighten the senses of the theatrical occasion, Auckland has the rare treat of two productions that go far out of ‘the everyday theatre’.

The Keepers plays at The Basement Theatre until 4th June.

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