Bringing back the cultural cringe [by James Wenley]
Like many kiwis, I joined the yearly summer exodus from the cities, and went camping over New Years. The miserable rain-drenched ‘summer’ of 2012 had little to write home about of course, but it did provide me with one memorable experience: the family holiday train-wreck. Not my own, thank goodness. Evidently, the family at a camp site across from me had been asked to leave thanks to the bad behavior of one of the young men the night before. As the mother tried to keep it together, stoically and systematically packing up, the younger sister went all-out psycho at her brother with many a ‘how could you?’ and ‘I’m never speaking to you again’. As I sat in my fold out chair, only a few metres away from the scene, and watched this fascinating family implosion, I thought; this sure is good material for a play.
Dave Armstrong for one was able to recognise the dramatic potential of the camping holiday – take a family out of their normal environment, and watch all hell break lose. Working off a story by Danny Mulheron, his play The Motor Camp, presented by Auckland Theatre Company, is a clever dissection of our yearly ritual and our confused kiwi identities.
The proximity of camp sites provokes good drama between two archetypal families who have to share the space – Armstrong sees camping grounds as “great levellers”. The Redmonds - upper middle class Auckland intellectuals, and the working class Hyslop/Tairoas. The Motor Camp is run by a “Dutch Fascist” who repeatedly makes announcements over a booming intercom (a great running gag, voiced by Director Roy Ward). Andrew Foster’s set, coupled with Brad Gledhill’s summer lighting makes for an attractive, bright and green environment, consisting of two working motor home trailers (purchased of Trade Me) and an elegant cyclorama of native bush. What we don’t see (or smell) are the meat works the campers have to pass to get to the beach. Naturally, the stress comes early on arrival at the motor camp, as the Redmond’s struggle to get the awning up, and Jude is unhappy to see Frank bringing out the laptop so early.
Milk and Honey Dreams [by James Wenley]
The End of the Golden Weather has got to be one of the great New Zealand stories. As a play, it’s endured far beyond its intended lifespan. Playwright Bruce Mason wrote it partly as a platform for himself, performing the work solo across NZ in the decades for a staggering 986 performances, until his death in 1982.
But the Golden Weather was to continue. The play not only continued its solo tradition with a select few actors being entrusted with the play, but has been adapted for many actors – Raymond Hawthorne did a company version in the 80s, and Ian Mune directed the film in 1991.
Auckland Theatre Company’s production, part of the Real NZ Festival and just in time for the Rugby World Cup influx, is an ensemble version for 9 actors, which has its roots in similar productions Murray Lynch directed in 1987 and 1990. Interestingly, both Lynch and ATC’s artist director Colin McColl stage-managed the play for Bruce Mason himself early in their careers. This play looms large in our theatre history.
Not your classic ‘bathroom’ drama [by James Wenley]
In The Only Child, actor Stephen Lovatt spends most of his time in the bath.
If this sounds like taking it easy as an actor, it is anything but. From the bathtub Lovatt, naked - physically and emotionally, delivers an intense performance as a father dealing with profound loss, grief and, most harrowing of all, guilt.
It is a standout performance amongst an already impressive cast of Claire Chitham, Josephine Davison and Sam Snedden. Easily deserving of the ‘Best Actor in a bathtub’ award, I’d venture further to call it the performance of the year. He is one of many good reasons to see this production.
The Only Child was adapted by rising Australian auteur Simon Stone from Little Eyolf, one of Henrik Ibsen’s lesser performed works, written in 1894. Stone, 26, has created a name for himself with bold, sometimes controversial modern revisionist works of theatre classics and pushing theatrical boundaries. For his version of The Wildest Duck he placed his actors in a glass box, unable to see their audience. For its New Zealand debut, The Only Child is fittingly directed by Shane Bosher and presented by Silo Theatre who this year especially (excepting perhaps that Vodka show) have refreshed themselves and really delivered potent and exciting theatre in The Brothers Size and I love you Bro.