ENORMOUS POTENTIAL AND UNIQUENESS
NZ Fringe Festival 2013|
Ella and Will
Choreography by Anita Hutchins
Original musical score composed and performed by Mostyn Cole.
at Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington
From 15 Feb 2013 to 19 Feb 2013
Reviewed by Lyne Pringle, 21 Feb 2013
Anita Hutchins has mounted an ambitious production that is the result of a considerable period of research and development. Based on the book Moonchild by British occultist Aleister Crowley, this is intriguing subject matter for a theatre work - the quest for the ‘knowledge of the hidden' that informs occult practices. As the programme states, the director/producer/set designer/choreographer has indeed gathered together a talented crew to manifest her vision.
Will Barling, Anna Flaherty, Sandra Norman Shaw, Aleasha Seaward, Jillian Davey, Andrew Millar, Lara Strong and Hutchins herself, all perform from their hearts with a quiet, gentle focus to a rich score (recorded and live) from Mostyn Cole. Their almost tentative performance mode, however, means that even though the Oncunscious Corp give their all, the full dramatic potential is not yet realized, and that weakens the thrust of their narrative.
“From extensive dissertations on magic and spiritualism, we are suddenly switched into humour that is sometimes normal, sometimes sardonic. From a glimpse into the blackest mysteries of Hecate, we are transferred to a wonderful white vision of the poets” - a review of the book that equally could be applied to Ella and Will. The work is also steeped in allegory, and at times satire, as it ambles in shambolic fashion for 2 hours; only lifting beyond an amble in terms of theatrical pace on a couple of occasions.
This problem of pace, dynamic, rhythm, energy, drama, drive, surprise, pervades the work and is its greatest flaw. This show needed the robust outside eye of a good dramaturg.
I mention the length of the work, not in terms of my attention span, but rather as a viewer challenging the asumption that it will sustain our interest. Are we kept guessing? Are we are invested enough in the characters to continue to engage with the action onstage? At 1 hr 16 mins I looked at my watch – the piece had lost me at this point, and for the next 44 minutes I became aware that my seat was uncomfortable and that I was having to ‘work' really hard to stay in the ‘play' waiting for a ‘pay off' from this effort that never really arrived.
There is a delicious filmic quality to the production - the set is manipulated around the players as if they are moving through shifting time and landscapes. The ‘choreography' of these objects is quite wonderful, and all the performers deserve congratulations for realising this intricacy with ease. Once again however, endless repetitions mean this device loses its impact.
A lovely tinge of subtle humour springs up occasionally. This is revealed when genres mash up against each other in naive and unexpected ways; bold and original it often almost works, though further interrogation of these moments could lead to a clearer sense of tone and language of the, entire work.
Whilst I am a fan of mixing genres, this work becomes swamped in objects and props and a mish mash of performance modalities that in the end lack a core muscular investigation They erquire a definitive movement language that is imaginative, compelling, visceral and intricate enough to support the intense, over-complicated intentions of the director, and choreography which effectively knits the work together.
There is a strong moment when Anita Hutchins joins the group to perform a movement pattern with a repeated chant about Love, delivered to the four directions of the compass. Starting West with their backs to u,s I am intrigued as the earthy movement conjures a deeper realm of ancient ritual where ‘things are not as they seem'. Their long black cloaks become more powerful, and I stop thinking of “eyes wide shut, Potteresque” connotations and become immersed in a story that is essentially about love and wise choices.
This would have been a great beginning for the work, a pattern that could be used as a segue, dispensing with some of the other tedious repetitions, cutting out surplus action and video footage, not ‘showing' us everything but tantalising instead with a brief image or moment. Audiences are clever once the intention of a piece is clarified and ideas are distilled to their essence.
There is enormous potential and uniqueness in this artist's voice, as there is in the community she has gathered around her to manifest Ella and Will. A separation of her creativity from her ego (hard I know), and a dialogue with somebody who really knows about shaping a work will yield rich results.
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See also reviews by:
Ann Hunt (Dominion Post);