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TOTALLY ENTRANCING ENTERTAINMENT, ENLIGHTENMENT AND ECSTASY

Print Version

One By One
Director/Producer: Pedro Ilgenfritz

at Musgrove Studio, Maidment Theatre, Auckland
From 1 Aug 2011 to 6 Aug 2011
[1hr 10mins]

Reviewed by Lexie Matheson, 3 Aug 2011


Every now and again something comes along that's just that little bit special. One by One is one of those things. These ‘special things' often put other special things – and sometimes frighteningly mundane things – into perspective and One by One also does that. Well, it did for me.

It made me think more laterally than I have in recent times about the art of making theatre, the curious interface between actor and audience and how this association evolves and adapts, the universality of ‘language' and, of course, the role of the reviewer in this gruesomely fantastical jumble. [See further discussion on this below.]

Seriously though, it is worth thinking about just who the whole theatre package is designed for. In the case of One by One the answer is clearly and exclusively the audience as both recipient and participant. None of that ‘we're just doing it for ourselves and you can watch if you like' rubbish here. No sense of the fourth wall.

One by One is work totally without ego, work that engages with its audience and with itself, work that titillates and plays, that clowns around, sits on laps, dances with strangers, toots, tweats, crashes and tinkles – and thoroughly entertains. More to the point, perhaps, it knows exactly what it's doing on every step of the journey.

The great Guardian critic Michael Billington said, “
Why do we go to the theatre? What are we seeking? Everyone, obviously, has his or her private answer. Many people are simply looking for what playwright John McGrath once called ‘A Good Night Out'. Others are devotees who approach theatre with the fervent enthusiasm of a stamp collector. In the end, I suspect, we are all looking for a combination of the three E's: Entertainment, Enlightenment and Ecstasy.”

One by One provides, quite beautifully, all three. It exists on its own, doesn't need explanation, doesn't explain itself, it just unravels with delicacy and tenderness like a good yarn should. Like all such simplicity it is sustained by integrity, talent, knowledge, education, training and love.

One by One tells the story of Bonnie and Marty who meet, fall in love, experience laughter and tragedy and take us along for this most human of rides. The programme tells us that they “embark on an adventure through self-knowledge, denial, desire, deception, trust, love and understanding of the meaning of life through its ultimate reality.” To add that it takes 70 minutes and that there is never a dull moment will suffice for plot – no spoilers here.

Director Pedro Ilgenfritz (Alfonsina) has fulfilled a dream “to create a theatre spectacle where words do not yet exist. Where the gesture, the intention, the rhythm, the sustaining, the economy of physical means are all combined giving birth to a rich text. Yes,” he says, “we do have a text – and it is all in the action.”

He's right as this is a narrative without words, without conventional language, and as such he places it wherever you might want it to be. For me it was Paris or maybe Dublin because these were the places I had seen works not dissimilar before. For others it could have been somewhere else and this constructivist approach locks the work into each audience member's own experience thereby personalising it and allowing for a subtle and unique ownership of the piece.

Ilgenfritz lists his influences as
Copeau, Meyerhold, Stanislavski, Artaud, Brecht and “the poetic work of clowns” and, being Brazilian, it's probably fair to suggest there's a smattering of Boal and even L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in there as well, as the clown work in One by One is rich in tradition and superbly stylish. 

Ilgenfritz has chosen to inform his narrative with music, a dimension provided most effectively by Mark Ingram on guitar (with lots of lovely vibrato) and a few percussion things and John Ellis on a variety of keyboards, saxophones, percussion and flute. They provide more than just a backing track and are integral to the success of the work interacting freely with the actors and the audience with a modish ease. This facet of the show further expanded the universality of the narrative with the players sounding at times like Gerry Mulligan in the 1950's or Ry Cooder with a touch of Tex Mex. Each actor has a series of thematic riffs that identify them and the musicians track through these in a seemingly effortless, and often witty, manner.

Bonnie is played by award winning actor Katie Burson. Burson has worked with Ilgenfritz before, has trained in a range of performance styles and has star quality written all over her. While the play is about both characters it's fair to say that the principle driver of the narrative is Bonnie. All the tag points are to do with her. Burson has a delightful colt-like physicality that fills the stage and, like all good clowns, she can turn her emotions from laughter to pain in a nanosecond. 

Marty is played by Greg Padoa who, like Burson, trained at UNITEC and has worked with Ilgenfritz before. I suspect this has been an advantage for both actors as they have also worked together in everything from Shakespeare, Gorky and Thornton Wilder to improvised student works and the easy rapport and trust that has built between them is evident throughout. Each already has a respectable track record which bodes well for them for the future and for our continued pleasure as audience.

Individually they ooze style and confidence. Together they totally entrance.

Without the burden of the ‘verbals', each actor draws on an expansive and expressive physicality and assortment of story-telling skills that simply delight, and never better than during the chases through and over the audience or when engaging with individual audience members. This can be a cheap tool in less skilled hands but in the hands of these two it was a simple delight.

One by One is, on the surface, a simple tale of love and loss but beneath that facade is a deep understanding of the traditions that underlie the style and a respect for them that is complete. The result is an enthralling, laugh-filled evening interspersed with moments of deep sadness and rip-roaring, knockabout physical fun performed by two fantastic young actors, directed by a master of his art and supported by two highly skilled professional musicians. There are moments that are truly funny and the overall impression left is one of delicacy and tenderness.

A fabulous, and somewhat unexpected, pearl performed at the Musgrove Studio which itself is to be found in the oyster that is The University of Auckland. Long may it remain so.
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[Further thoughts on the role of context, the critic and review:]

It is after all, as some anonymous nautical creature said recently, “all about [me].” It's not, of course, it's all about ‘it'.

So what role does the person have who takes pleasure in this engaging work like everyone else, then goes away and writes about it? What is a review and what is the reviewer's function – and who does this person write for? This may seem a strange
cul-de-sac to have roamed down while watching an excellent piece of theatre but this particular piece engages on so many levels that it doesn't really seem like a surprise at all. A play performed for everyman (and woman) by everyman (and woman) would, of course, be written about in a review designed for – you guessed it – everyman (and woman).

That [was] by way of preamble – or maybe pre-ramble if you don't like context or talk about cause and effect. Some don't, despite the prime function of any theatre work being to take those participating on a journey, a journey designed to change the lives of those who partake of the magic theatre potion (or are shot by the magic theatre bullet). Some people, bless them, just like to be pragmatic.

There's a serious comment in there, though, and that is that reviews are written for everyone who might want to read them, now and in the future. They have a shelf life of centuries and a half life of eons whether we like it or not. They‘re not just written for the participants and their friends or even the industry. Reviews, like this wonderful performance work, are there for everyone. For this, if for no other reason, context can, and should, inform understanding.

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 Nik Smythe
 Matt Baker