Having seen A Stage of One’s Own and Scene hit the very same stage within the last month of so, it is an incredibly exciting time to be attending BATS Theatre and witnessing hungry, passionate works exploring mental health, gender, sexuality and representation. The cast held a passion and focus which was quite beautiful, and it is always a gift to the audience to share personal and difficult narratives from life. The cast at large made themselves vulnerable, and we meet them there in that soft place, and it is where we find collective strength.
Particularly harrowing to me was the ‘black dog’ sequence, held by Matt Sole. His focus and hold on the audience was quite incredible, and his manner invites us in as his skilled movement harrows. Similarly, Tommy Berridge’s sequence was joyfully tender, and again his manner is what drew us into that personal space with him, to explore his narrative un-judgmentally and with great generosity, because he radiates compassion on stage and it is happily contagious. Although the cast was strong as a whole, other stand out performers were Mark Atkin, Lucy Barclay and Justine Bouchard.
Alongside the incredibly important subject areas, another admirable aspect of this show was the use of French language and NZ sign language. As someone who had a negative living experience in France, and understands spoken French, it felt like a secret and special gift to hear Justine relate her pain, and vow never to return to France, and I was with her entirely in that personal, vulnerable moment. It is always a joy to see sign language in a show, and a credit to Melissa Tara-Sutton, credited as translator and guide. This being said, there is an interesting ethical conversation around extrapolating sign language into more symbolic dance. I personally enjoyed the bleed between the physical language and movement, but I would be interested to hear a sign language speakers thoughts on their language being manipulated and distorted in this manner.
Overall, this work was engaging, personal, and discussed topics that are incredibly important and still so hush hush in our day to day lives that is an utter liberation to see sensitive and vulnerable work around these topics. The cast was strong and the messages mostly clear, although some convoluted symbolism hurt the clarity of the conversation. I would recommend this work to be stripped to those strongest moments and re-developed for another season; as I said the heart is strong and the beat powerful, and there is definite potential within the cast and process.
The lighting design by Tony Black was stark and austere which I found less joyful that some of Tony’s other recent work, however it supported the feel that the Company seemed to drive for. The sound design by James Dunlop used a lot of atmospheric soundscapes which gave the show a real-world tilt that was effective but occasionally distracting. I would challenge the company to re-imagine these design aspects with more daring, energised focus, and channel some of the wonderful imagination that bought them to use such charming coloured chairs!