FUN WITH STRANGE CHARACTERS
NZ Fringe Festival 2013|
FOLLOW, FOLLOW, FOLLOW
by Angie Farrow
directed by Nigel Edgecombe
at BATS, Wellington
From 23 Feb 2013 to 27 Feb 2013
Reviewed by John Smythe, 25 Feb 2013
The premise of Angie Farrow's Follow, Follow, Follow (written eight years ago) is that six children at the age of four were removed from their parents and placed in a secure environment where they have grown and developed in isolation for the last twelve years. The only ‘outside input' is a daily delivery of a box of food by some mysterious means, and a DVD of The Wizard of Oz on continuous reply.
These young people are now sixteen. Presumably clothes that fit them (as they are now almost fully grown) have also been delivered. And their language skills have developed via the one and only DVD they have.
Biddy* (Elli Neal) is blowing up like a balloon to the fearful fascination of the others. Hairs are appearing on the chin of Rowley (Cole Edgecombe). He is also given to violent outbursts and running obsessively in a circle. Things – that is they – are changing, which only increases their perennial sense of uncertainty.
Despite having little confidence and no charisma, but presumably because he is the tallest male and has recorded how long they have been there (4,392 days), the ironically-named Libertine (Mats Olsthoorn) is the leader. He gives the orders, reminds them of the house rules and insists on the rituals they have developed.
For example the arrival of food precipitates a routine that gets a table cloth laid while he randomly selects someone to utter a quote from The Wizard of Oz, to which the group responds with the next part of the screenplay.
Apple (Pasquale Orchard) is an idiosyncratically hyper-expressive Munchkin while Arthur (Callum Garnock-Jones), who wears a lion's head scarf, is hyper-timid and mute.
The most intelligent, aware and inquisitive of the sextet is Serena (Lauren McNeil), who is given to disappearing behind a blanket curtain and telling Rowley not to follow (“Not this time”). We never do find out what that's about.
Toileting, other ablutions, laundry needs and rubbish disposal are never attended to or mentioned. Neither are periods, erections or nocturnal emissions despite the mysteries of maturation being central to the play. Obviously sex has been discovered but it plays no part in the action. There are soft toys that look remarkably new and bright. A skylight is mentioned and it projects a trapezoid shape on different parts of the wall at different times of the day.
Most of the play is given to establishing, challenging and reinforcing their daily routine while Apple predicts the advent of “a glorious light and all doubt will disappear.” Biddy's dreams provoke vague memories of the time before ...
Meanwhile the unknown factor of Biddy's pregnancy takes its course – and this is the major issue I have with the production (directed by Nigel Edgecombe): the bump is too high and utterly unconvincing. It looks like another childish game and it needs to be totally realistic for the play to work.
The food gets away with not being real because every time the box is opened there is a time shift to later in the day. The sudden cessation of food delivery over a number of days tests whether faith in imagination can be sufficient and makes someone caution the boys not to fight in order to conserve their energy – which seems like a very knowledgeable insight from someone with no education or senior role models other than characters in The Wizard of Oz.
When a parcel is opened, despite being forbidden, and a telephone is revealed, the way they work out what to do is credible and quite dramatic. But the recorded message they get is of no help. And that, along with no food, leads us (in the audience) to wonder whether civilisation, as we know it, has ended.
The birth of Biddy's baby, behind the curtain, heralds a brave new world and somehow fills them all with fresh energy despite their starving status. Suddenly they are aware that they are the new mothers and fathers. And it is Serena who, despite being told by Libertine it is forbidden, climbs to the skylight to report on green fields and trees … [ends]
I suppose it is up to us to decide if this is a happy ending or a false dawn, depending on what we imagine has happened in the outside world and why these six were incarcerated in the first place. But there is no satisfaction in inventing answers to such questions because the play and this production offer insufficient clues to convince us there is a credible conundrum in there to solve.
What we are left with, then, is the spectacle of watching young actors (and their director) having fun playing with the premise and performing strange characters in the process. So if that floats your boat …
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*Apologies if I have some names wrong but they are not mentioned in the programme, some are infrequently mentioned and the one I've called Biddy is invariably mumbled.
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