All those beautifully filmed shows from the West End had hardened my heart to local live theatre, then along came The Bookbinder, Gifted, Ache and Hudson & Halls Live to help me love again.
The Bookbinder – by Ralph McCubbin Howell, Circa 2.
First a bit about me. If you let me and Geoff yap about Hillary Clinton / Young Lover you’ll experience a whole different show to the one you see me perform. On stage, it’s basically fun-times stand-up comedy. Lots of laughs and a great night out at the talk-house. I love doing it, but get a couple of beers in us and let us rant about what’s ‘really going on’ in that show, then you’ll have the uncomfortable experience of hearing that Geoff and I feel that it’s actually so much more profound. We’ll talk about inter-generational politics, tuning into abandoned cultural frequencies, sacred taboo. Whatever helps us sleep. I think Ralph and Hannah are really talented and make great shows. Watching the Bookbinder, I feel a strain that they may not feel, that may have more to do with the me I’ve expressed above. But this is the strain: it’s like they want to talk to adults, about really serious adult issues, but somewhere in between funding, commerce, and their own artistic sense and sensibility they’ve found themselves working their magic in children’s theatre. Their publicity did everything it could to say ‘this is for adults too.’ But the ‘too’ is anything but silent. The daily 11am shows hinted at the whole truth. Adults can come, can enjoy. It’s a sophisticated myth, cleverly theatrical, and it’s a children’s show. A really, really good one. I wish I’d known and borrowed a kid to help open their minds to the magical possibilities of theatre. But sitting there, by myself, watching, reflecting, thinking I was empathising - I felt an artistic sensibility straining at a leash. When that leash snaps (and it might happen at the NZ International Festival with their new show) Trick of the Light are either going to jump the fence and take to the streets of adult theatre like boss dogs, or they’re going to take a peek, come to terms with their default sensibility and claim the full expanse of their current home turf.
Ache – by Pip Hall, Circa 2.
Pip’s play has earned that rare honour in New Zealand theatre – a second professional production. Geoff Pinfield and I went there on an inspiration date, and we both ended up feeling the same: if all kiwi theatre felt like this, we’d be in a sunrise industry. Pip’s got an ear for the kind of dialogue that makes people giggle and gasp with recognition – “that’s exactly what I say!” With her dad’s plays, clever actors quickly learn that the smart thing to do is say the lines as written. He actually knows best. Dumb actors add and subtract as they see fit to make it ‘better’. Pip’s scripts are different. She leaves space in her lines for actors to move breathe and express themselves – not by adding lines, but by adding life. I read an early draft and it’s not a great read – the best plays aren’t, cos they’re not literature. They’re architectural plans. You can’t feel what an actor playing drunk and trying to hold it together can do to lines in the spirit of “What? Huh? Nuh.” Renee Lyons was particularly great, overflowing with humanity. I can’t tell whether Richard Dey didn’t go as deep as Renee, or whether his part was thinner. My reaction at the time was that it was the gender reverse of traditional rom coms – where the intriguing male protagonist falls in love with a thinly drawn woman primarily because she’s cute and glum. In Pip’s play, it felt to me that the main guy was relatively uncomplicated, pleasant but not particularly interesting. The kind of guy you’re with until you meet the one. As a couple, they weren’t drawn together so much as happened to find themselves at the same spot at the same time. Repeatedly. She was too good for him, so I’m glad it never worked out. The only other minor gripe I’d have is that if the show had ended after any of the last three-four scenes I would have started clapping thinking it was the end. As much as I’m looking for things other than traditional narratives, after an hour the rest was gravy. And I like gravy.
Gifted – By Patrick Evans, Circa 1.
What I was on the look-out for here was simple reportage. Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame lived together for a time: that’s reportage. I expect drama to tell me what it all means. I think it was all there Patrick Evans’ play. I think he trusted me to look and think hard for it. Most explicitly, the plot is about an established writer who offers accom to an unestablished talent. He finds his creative garden barren while hers flourishes. But again, that’s reportage (I assume it’s true that she wrote lots while he didn’t). Below that was something never explicit, but I felt pulsing: Janet flourished because she was writing honestly about herself. Sargeson was blocked because he refused to write honestly about himself. Some of that may have been due to cowardice or confusion – he was gay; the fascinating other possibility I sensed is that Sargeson was never able to truly write as himself because he felt the need to play a role: the father of New Zealand letters. He felt a solemn duty to express the national psyche. No one else was doing it. Perhaps Sargeson’s selfless actions mean that his greatest writing was killed in the course of national service. Or maybe his literary potential was fulfilled the moment he decided to let Janet Frame take up residence in his garden. So at the time of watching, I felt there was something missing, but reflecting on it now, I feel like it was all there, just never to the fore. Just like Sargeson in his own writing.
Hudson & Halls Live - directed by Kip Chapman
If this show isn’t a revelation to Silo it should be. They’ve put the gay back in gay. My experience of Silo is that it’s the North & South magazine of New Zealand theatre. Grim tales of unfortunate things happening to white people: weird sex, intoxication, yelling, aids. Lots and lots of aids. They may be happy enough to present plays about the theme of identity, but Silo’s own identity has remained elusive. “Leading producer of contemporary theatre” seems to dodge the question. Based on form, I’d say “presenter of the rotten core of the human apple.” Sophie’s taken over from Shane and there’s been more of the similar - until now. Sophie trusted Kip. Kip trusted his instinct. They made a camp show. It does everything you could want out of theatre. It’s openly itself, it’s joyful and profound, it delves into our history to find seeds of our present. It’s new born of the old, it’s the exotic other, and it’s the familiar, all at the same time. We all get it. We can laugh, groan, be moved, wierded-out and thrilled and feel others simultaneously feeling the same. Kip’s been playing around in a territory that I couldn’t get a grip on – Apollo 13, Advance & Order about the Auckland City Council. He likes bright tourism materials about NZ. He likes old campaign posters for failed election campaigns. He likes the USA. I’ve been wracking my brain – what’s the link? Tales of sky-high optimism brought down to earth with a clunk? I think Kip sees the beauty in balls-out ambition. And he also sees the relatable humans attached to the balls. In Kip’s hands hubris becomes a stairway to beauty, rather than a slide to pity or fear. When you shoot for the moon, failure is inevitable, but it can be beautiful too. And best of all, it's totally worth it.
PROFIT & DELIGHT
What I'm thinking about what I'm doing. This blog aspires to a more profound definition of 'profit' and the bog-standard sense of 'delight'.