PROVING WE LIVE IN A RESOURCE-RICH WORLD FOR PLAY-MAKING
IN SPITE OF HIMSELF
THE SEEyD SEASONS: SEEyD, inSalt, SAnD + THE REMEDY SYNDROME, THE BRILLIANT FASSAH, TURBINE + PAUA, THE DECEMBER BROTHER, THE SPY WHO WOULDN'T DIE AGAIN
by Tim Spite and members of the SEEyD Company
Directed by K C Kelly
at Various Schools and Community Venues, New Zealand wide
From 30 Apr 2012 to 30 Jun 2012
Reviewed by John Smythe, 30 Apr 2012
Once more and EnsembleImpact quartet of actors – Brad McCormick, Bianca Seinafo, Nancy Kniveton and Adam Tatana this year – directed K C Kelly, is out on the road to introduce Kiwi schoolkids and regional communities to a rich treasure trove of New Zealand play writing.
She'll Be Write (2009; to be revived in 2013) extracted scenes from 16 plays to dramatise a history of New Zealand and NZ Theatre. A Baker's Dozen (2010) sampled 13 plays to create a veritable ‘taste treat' of scenes from homegrown plays. Womanz Work! (2011) focussed on the perspectives of our women writers through a cross-section of 11 plays.
This year, In Spite of Himself dips into all nine plays that Tim Spite's multi-award-winning SEEyD Theatre Company* has devised and performed since the germinal SEEyD took root in the 2000 Fringe Festival. Usually issue-based – in 2002 they declared their aim was to “use theatre to creatively present complex scientific issues in an innovative and accessible manner” – most of the plays ingeniously dramatise the social, political and moral dilemmas that confront us in contemporary life, including as a result of past actions and in anticipation of our possible future.
The 'Bondacious' The Spy Who Wouldn't Die Again (2011), which opens the show, could be seen as an exception, although it does covertly confront energy and intelligence issues. A slo-mo combat sequence serves as a lively warm-up; the gadgets Agent 009 is given in his quest to track down 008, who has infiltrated New Zealand Intelligence will, I venture, hook the boys especially; the reference made to the Tall Poppy Syndrome also makes for a good starting point.
An excerpt from Act 3 of The December Brother finds a young man, Kane, in prison on a murder charge and offers two scenarios – the prosecution and defence cases – to explain the deaths of his family. The question of 'where truth lies' in the justice system is always worth confronting.
The SEEyD trilogy is visited according to its historical chronology. InSalt brings English settlers Sarah and Gabriel Plowright face-to-face with a Maori and Italian-speaking "savage" and a Latin-speaking Padre. The scene succinctly raises questions of land ownership, trespassing and what might be a fair price for its acquisition.
SEEyD (where it all started) is captured in a scene where the soil of an organic farm is found to be vulnerable to drift from a neighbouring GE crop, which also threatens natural pollination via the bees from local hives. The intense and riveting dramatic seriousness is alleviated by a satirical ad for 'Genes Filler' – a genetically engineered aphrodisiac – played out by two of the characters.
The sequence chosen from the futuristic SAnD refers back to the SEEyD couple who could not have children (until she found out she was fertile but he was 'shooting blanks') and focuses on an old man's choice to refuse medical intervention for dementia, even though nanotechnology is seeking a cure …
At this point, having revisited my reviews of the premiere seasons to remind myself of the context for each excerpt, I want to say loud and clear that the time has surely come for InSalt / SEEyD / SAnD to be performed as a whole. The trilogy was developed for sequential performance in one venue back in 2003/4, but was not picked up by the NZ International Arts Festival, to its everlasting shame (in my humble opinion). The concept certainly fits the values and objectives espoused by Downstage and I call on them to take it on.
But back to the EnsembleImpact excerpts:
Having become new parents, a lawyer and a builder come into conflict over whether their baby girl should be vaccinated, in The Remedy Syndrome. The question here is: are natural antibodies are sufficient, or have we 'cleaned up' our world so much that we are more vulnerable than ever without more medical intervention?
A dramatic sequence from The Brilliant Fassah sees Nathan, a mono-lingual maths teacher seeking a cure for narcolepsy, hypnotised and suddenly channelling an ancient multi-lingual spirit called Fassah, who knows a great deal more about the hypnotist than he (Nathan) does. He's not short on advice, either, on everything from relationships to the scar on his (the hypnotist's) hand. The unspoken question here (thoroughly explored in the full play) is what would you do if you discovered you had such 'powers'?
Paua (which exploited the full Downstage space in its premiere production) zeroes in on the murder of a paua poacher and a diver being caught with excess and undersized paua in his bag. Again this serves as a discussion-starter concerning conservation, sustainability and legal processes.
The vexed question of wind generation hits the fan in Turbine, when an environmentally conscientious rural family with an expletive-uttering autistic son is confronted with the prospect of huge wind turbines in their 'back yard'.
Despite the relative sophistication of the design and production values brought to the original productions (see the awards list below), this no-frill touring production, played in the traverse by a talented team with minimal props and costumes, proves content is 'king' when it comes to engaging our interest.
Quite apart from attracting the audience to the more substantive plays, there is enough material in this 50-minute show to inspire class activity in every subject for a year (that's my assessment, anyway) – and a study guide is available on the EnsembleImpact website for just that purpose. The welcome uptake in evening performances in community halls and regional theatres also means adults need not miss out.
What excites me most about the venture is that it proves to school children, who are constantly exposed to international entertainment products, that they are living in a world that is rich with resources for play-making and story-telling in whatever form they choose. On that level alone – apart from all the other values – these EnsembleImpact seasons are to be applauded and supported.
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*The SEEyD Theatre Company (originally the Claw Footed Tomatoes) has produced:
- SEEyD, The Nucleus Theatre (now known as the SEEyD Space), Te Whaea Basement (2000) – Most Original Production of the Year, Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards;
- InSalt, Studio 77, VUW (2001) – Most Original Production of the Year, CTTA;
- SAnD, Old Herd Street Post Office (2002) – Most Original Production of the Year, CTTA;
- the full trilogy: InSalt, SEEyD and SAnD, (SEEyD Space, Te Whaea Basement (2004); radio adaptation, winner Best Radio Drama, NZ Radio Awards 2005;
- The Remedy Syndrome, BATS Theatre then Circa Studio (2005); nom. outstanding New NZ Play, CTTA;
- The Brilliant Fassah, Circa Two (2006) – James Ashcroft, Most Promising Male Newcomer, CTTA;
- Turbine, Bats (2006); Downstage (2009); nom. Most Original Production of the Year, CTTA;
- Paua, Downstage (2008); Tim Spite, Director of the Year, nom. Production of the Year, CTTA;
- The December Brother, Downstage (2010); Jennifer Lal, Lighting Designer of the Year, CTTA;
- The Spy Who Wouldn't Die Again, Downstage (2011); Gillie Coxill, Costume Designer of the Year, CTTA.
Note: My National Business Review critiques of the earlier plays, 2000-2005, are no longer available online. If you would like a copy of any or all, email me at email@example.com
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