PLEASURABLY LARGER-THAN-LIFE CHARACTERS
Dunedin Fringe 2012|
Hold Onto Your Horses
at Otago Farmers Market | King Edward St | The Octagon, Dunedin
24 Mar 2012
Reviewed by Terry MacTavish, 25 Mar 2012
Actually all Dunedin is outdoor theatre today (Saturday), as the students' infamous Hyde St keg party means there are literally thousands of young people wandering the city in every conceivable costume and stage of intoxication. Actors are brave even with the best of audiences, but the clinic wins my admiration by the sang-froid displayed in its skilful handling of the moron who clambers onto the stage set up in the Octagon, to do a drunken down-trou.
These actors are used to adversity, of course, for they are from earthquake-ravaged Christchurch. Their laudable aim is to use simple street theatre to help shocked people process their experience, and share it with others. The devised script began with the true stories of those who lost homes, friends, and pets, but what could have been straightforward playback theatre has developed into something more flamboyantly theatrical, through the creation of lively clown characters to tell the stories.
In white face and colourful wigs the actors appear as minstrels; travelling players who quickly set up a trailer stage with a striking blue backdrop of shattered buildings. Each character represents a particular response to the disaster: Lisa Tui is terrific as red-haired Margaret, the feisty fixer-upper (and skilled handler of drunks), Lucette Hindin is sweetly poignant in her blue wig as sad Deirdre, while Damien McGrath makes a stalwart and convincing Wade-the-worrier.
The actors bring great energy and commitment to the play, with clever percussion and lively songs that ensure the audience stays happy. There are some sad moments, but ultimately everything, from earnest trauma counselling to high-visibility vests to the frustrating intricacies of red and green zones, is matter for gentle comedy. Finally the onlookers are encouraged to make some choices for the characters, and the outcome of the play depends on their decisions.
It must be wonderful for Christchurch audiences, children included, to recognise themselves in these pleasurably larger-than-life characters, and it helps the rest of us relate to the city's misfortune, through a charming performance style that provides both safe distance and curious intimacy. It is reassuring to learn that for most, neighbourliness saves the day. And you have to laugh over the way in a crisis life comes down to how and where you poo: the great leveller!
Which brings us back to the drunk dropping his pants. Fortunately Hold Onto Your Horses is a most worthwhile experience even under adverse conditions. I leave with a happy memory of one ecstatic little boy giggling helplessly when he is ‘mistaken' for a stray cat and carried off, to be regaled with chocolate when the ‘mistake' is discovered. As I have always suspected, even in an earthquake chocolate is true comfort.
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