April is the cruelest month... [by James Wenley]
Last week I was fortunate enough to experience a profound theatrical event. It’s been a few days now – most productions wash off soon after viewing – but in this one I keep returning to its moment in my head.
I find experiences like these are all too rare, but it’s what keeps me coming back to theatre; the promise of being taken out of my body, to be transported to an undiscovered territory, to feel something new. And when that promise is realised, it’s a special thing indeed.
T.S Eliot’s 1922, 432-line poem The Waste Land is considered one of the most important works of literature of the 20th Century. I don’t claim to understand it. It’s a work that rewards the academic, full of allusions and depths to unravel. It flicks from image to image, voice to voice.
But as a poem, it contains its own sort of dark power. Certain words and phrases linger on the tongue. There’s an obsession with mortality and death. It’s a poem that means many different things to many different people, but within its words, you might just find the totality of existence.
The poem is given a startling voice and vitality in a theatrical interpretation by director Michael Hurst, the first production in Auckland Theatre Company’s Participate program. What immediately distinguishes the production is Hurst is working with a company of 34 actors, an immense number that professional stages costs hardly allow. What then makes the production exceptional is that this company of 34 are all aged 65 years old and over. Some were alive before The Waste Land had even been written. It’s an age group that is rarely given a voice and platform in the professional arts, and certainly never in these sorts of numbers.