Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
This show is the slice-of-life genre of our pandemic. It is surprisingly nostalgic for being set only two years ago. These days the pandemic is an exhaustive fact of life, but two years ago it was a stressful, uncertain time. Apartment does an incredible job of capturing what it was like at the start of the pandemic without us ever becoming fatigued with the plague. I was apprehensive of how much COVID content I could take before I became tired of it, but I never did.
Austin Harrison plays the bubbly, friendly, but after we spend some time with the character, understandably morose Hendric, a supermarket worker who must stay in the city and work for rent as his wife and child moved to the Wairarapa to be in a bubble with an elderly grandparent. Menandi Pieterse’s Cashel and Tim Gruar’s Ben are a father/daughter duo with her trying to complete her studies online and him struggling to make money Ubering. Together they edge ever-closer to opening up as a family while they are locked indoors. Dylan Hutton plays the controlling, abusive Floyd, the partner of Nikki (Beth Drapers). Hutton and Draper poignantly deliver the perspective of an abusive relationship. While the law keeps them from leaving their apartment, how is Nikki going to leave this relationship? Ensemble members Anya Kemp and Kaitlyn Burtenshaw do a great job together supplementing the cast in moments of phone calls and Jacinda announcements, and Roy (Leroy Paton-Goldsbury) does an excellent job of introducing and concluding the show as a busker outside of a supermarket. If you haven’t heard Strange Days or Human Contact by Jay McAllister, I would encourage you to do so now and see for yourself whose version is better! (My money is on Paton-Goldsbury, sorry Jay.)
Special mention must be given to Nancy Fulford for the portrayal of Adele, a senior Wellingtonian, struggling with shopping online and the paranoia of the pandemic. Fulford did this with grace, earnestness, and brought light-hearted comedy to moments where it most needed it. Finally, however, I want to really give love to Helen Jones who plays a nurse during the beginning days of the pandemic, who’s mother is in a London hospital, succumbing to illness. Jones brings an honesty to the performance that moved me to tears. I won’t spoil any of the magic moments Jones blesses the stage with because it is something that must be seen.
I attribute the strength of the performance to the writing, the directing and, of course, the performers because Apartment is set in April 2020 but it’s not about COVID, it’s about people. The enjoyment comes from the affirmation of our experience and (dare I say it) being proud of how we did get through the start of this thing together regardless of how stressed and scared we were.
My biggest piece of feedback is one that I often have for community theatre: it’s very white presenting. I can’t comment on the whakapapa of each individual performer but there is something to be said of broadcasting different ethnicities that aren’t white, which is different to how the performers personally identify. The messages of the performance are universal, and this is community theatre, but Wellington’s community isn’t just white. We live in a multicultural nation so my feedback for this project would be to incorporate people of differing cultures into the creative team in order to make its representation close to realistic. This is a lasting issue for community theatre though and I would implore the higher ups of Wellington Repertory Theatre to seriously consider the effort they would need to put in to change this disparity. I myself am a performer of community theatre and I have had more than one conversation with producers and presidents, me fighting for people of colour to portray the characters of colour, only to be met with “there aren’t any x, y, z performers in Wellington”. The reality is that it doesn’t matter how easy it is to get to the auditions or rehearsals, it doesn’t matter how cheap the membership is, what matters is that people who are white presenting have a vast array of other white presenting people who have performed in shows for Wellingtons community theatre groups to make them feel confident they have a place on the stage. This can not be said for Wellingtonians of colour (and don’t even get me started on queer representation). It is not enough to open the audition doors, you must go to the people. This has been said before and I can’t wait until it doesn’t need to be said again.
Apartment is on at the Gryphon until the 13th August, more info here.
Authors Note: Some of the cast and crew of this production are my friends, and Austin Harrison is a fellow Art Murmurs reviewer. I have endeavoured to provide an honest review, but if you have any feedback, or find bias in this review, please don’t hesitate to comment or email us at email@example.com.