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Auckland Fringe 2013
Written by Samuel Christopher, Anoushka Klaus & Jess Sayer
Directed by Scott Wills
presented by Dark Horse Productions

at TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland
From 20 Feb 2013 to 24 Feb 2013
[1 hr]

Reviewed by Lexie Matheson, 21 Feb 2013

Zac has hanged himself from a tree in the garden of his home. He was young, had friends, was seemingly popular so it's all a bit of a mystery as to why he would do such a thing. 

It seems everyone has an investment in Zac's death and so the myth-making begins.

Bus Stop, sub titled Where Strangers Have the Best Secrets, is a new work by a new company. Dark Horse Productions describes itself as ‘a new theatre company established by The Actors' Program Graduates to create moving, heartfelt, witty, original New Zealand work' and with Bus Stop it has certainly leapt its first hurdle.

The script is a collaboration of the work of three writers – Samuel Christopher, Anoushka Klaus and Jess Sayer – with Klaus and Christopher also appearing in the work. It's zippy, fun, witty and character-driven but with smidgeons of moving and heartfelt as well.

That's not to suggest that the work lacks commitment – it has that in spades – but simply to observe that the subject matter is, from time to time, buried by some fine performances and the simple love of performing.

So, is that a bad thing?

Not at all – especially when the subject matter is the suicide of a young person or, as director Scott Wills observes in his programme notes, “on a more macro level, youth suicide.” He goes on to suggest that youth suicide statistics in Aotearoa New Zealand mean that this is a pretty valid discussion. He's certainly right about that but whether the rarefied world of the theatre is an effective means of addressing the issue is somewhat debatable. One thing is sure, for people who seriously want to make a difference: using whatever is at hand with integrity is invariably better than doing nothing at all, and Dark Horse Productions personnel certainly fall into that category.

Zac's narrative unfolds at a bus stop colonized by those who seemingly have had a role in his short life: his mother, sisters, friends, two hookers named Margaret, his estranged father and others. Each has a unique perspective on the deceased and, as Wills observes in his programme notes, some perceptions are funny, some dramatic, some insightful and all are entertaining which is no bad thing when the subject matter has such maudlin potential. Wills also says that the actors have been able to ‘flex their muscles' and fine young theatrical muscles they certainly are.

We learn a lot about Zac and his suicide but we learn even more about the quirky characters who populated his universe prior to his untimely demise, through the clearly stated attitudes and opinions of his peers and family members. But we're ultimately left to make up our own minds about what might have motivated such an extreme act because suicide is, if nothing else, imponderable.

The script is excellent, the performances of an equally high standard and the direction crisp and economical but the overall effect of the production is somewhat one of emotional disengagement with the content. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and there is no doubting the appreciative response from the almost full house on opening night, but I remained surprisingly detached from the world of Zac and his unsophisticated bus stop buddies. This may be a conscious attempt on the part of the writers to avoid ‘triggering', in which case it is an important decision and no doubt one supported by Lifeline and Youthline personnel who were happily in evidence on opening night (thanks for the chocolate fish!).

On the other hand it may simply have been emotional overload on the part of the reviewer who had, only the night before, lived every moment of the Multinesia Productions staging of the new Victor Rodger play Black Faggot, an incredibly brave, ‘in your face' pastiche of what it's like to be queer in Polynesian New Zealand and which also alludes to the suicide of our young people.  

Both productions have an important role to play in facing up to an issue that should disturb us all and each in its own way presents a valid take on the issue. Both use humour extensively and while only Bus Stop focuses centrally on suicide, each has vulnerable young people at risk lurking in frightening numbers in the shadows.

Each of the young actors in Bus Stop exhibits real theatrical potential but the stand outs for me are Holly Shervey as the enigmatic and sensuous Lilly, Anoushka Klaus as the straight up and down Sylvia, Simea Holland as the emotionally susceptible Maddie, and Mikassa Cornwall's worldly wise, and very funny, Lisa.

For a first effort, Dark Horse Productions can be well pleased with Bus Stop. It's a courageous look at a complex issue, is successful on many levels and well worth both its place on the Auckland Fringe Festival programme and your support. You'll certainly enjoy the performances and I look forward to Dark Horse Productions'next presentation along with the individual performances of each of these fine young actors.

A personal postscript:

Statistically, one of the most vulnerable collective demographics when it comes to suicide, attempted suicide and suicidal ideation is the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. While I accept that accusing someone of being gay and even using even the term ‘gay' as a derogatory expression is common among the demographic presented in Bus Stop, I was concerned at the use of these terms and of the negative use of ‘tranny' and its accompanying text without some acknowledgement of the powerlessness and vulnerability of this group of youngsters. Adding Outline to the list of suicide support groups and possibly even Rainbow Youth would eliminate this concern to some small degree. 
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See also reviews by:
 Matt Baker (Theatre Scenes - Auckland Theatre Blog);