Rather tame [by Matt Baker]
Wild Beasts starts off with great promise. The Basement Studio has been dressed as a tent with expansive sheets and a spattering of fairy lights. Immediately, we recognise there is a magical element to this play. Written by Lucinda Bennett, the script has an abundance of simple philosophical truths, like the Tao of Pooh. However, the overall ethos of the piece seems lost in performance.
At first I thought this was due to Bennett’s dual role as writer and director, but it seems that Luke Wilson, who plays Boy (with the nasal-resonance of nails on a chalkboard) stepped in as assistant director. Finding a creative partner with whom you get along is great. Finding a creative partner who challenges you in a way that makes your ideas more succinct is even better. The former often suffers through a lack of justification, which in a show that encompasses other-worldly elements, as exampled by Wild Beasts, gives off a ‘we-don’t-have-to-justify-ourselves-because-it’s-magic’ attitude.
The dynamic between Katrina Wesseling’s Sam (nicely underplayed) and Sez Niederer’s Jelly is enough to keep us listening, but the relationship itself becomes stale due to a lack of conflict. Sam and Jelly continually express their role as each other’s best friend, but we need to see it in action as opposed to be simply being told. How far would either of these two go for each other? Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme murdered the former’s mother. Regardless of the result, that is a relationship built on absolute love and trust. I’m not suggesting Sam and Jelly need to be predisposed to lesbianism, but they need something more than just words on a page.
The best opportunity for conflict arises with the arrival of Kelly Gilbrides as Lady Beast, but there is a need for greater variation in the playing of the character. How many actions can you use to reach your objective? Likewise, Andrew Parker’s The Doctor also has an opportunity to introduce a new dynamic to the piece, but finds little variety is his performance. Overall, the dialogue is far too rushed, resulting in non-existent thought processes.
Sian van Asbeck is gratingly annoying as Sucker Beast. While this may have been the intention, this can be achieved in a way that also endears one to the audience. Gilbride and Parker as Vulture and Wolf respectively come and go without having any great affect on the story. They need to be either cut, or expanded. The latter please.
It feels as if there is a mirroring of the plot that exists subconsciously within the script that hasn’t been fully realised. We start in a magical world, and, consequently, have nowhere else to go. The characters feel as if they are reflections of real-life people, the Vulture-Wolf/Mother-Father dynamic, seen as hedonistic through the Freudian eyes of a child; the Lady Beast/authoritive figure with the intention of deindividuation; are these reflection of people in the real world from whence these children came?
Costumes by Bennett, Wilson, Natalia Drecki and Laura McMillan are varied in their style. A stronger choice as opposed to a varying degree from symbolic to literal would have helped to focus the world of the play a bit more. Lighting design and operation are uncredited. There are some fades that work to induce differing states of safety, but the snaps are far too jarring.
I had high hopes for Wild Beasts, and, with the right cast and direction, I still do.
Wild Beasts plays at The Basement Studio as part of Auckland Fringe until 1 March. Details see Auckland Fringe.