This being said, the most striking moment of the piece is as we watch Liam Kelly gasp and sputter his panic and grief, which was quite upsetting really, and had the whole audience holding their breath. There is horror in this dedicated embodiment of panic.
The ensemble - Bella Austin, Alex Tunui, Keegan Bragg, Liam Whitney and Kirsten Jongsma - had crafted movement and dealt well with some awkward technical challenges around their bound mouths. It was a striking image and these difficulties were likely born out of it being preview night, but it made the magic of their place in the world slip a little which was a shame.
The choreography of their routines, (movement directed by Lily della Porta, who also Assistant Directed), was constructed largely of recognisable patriotic stances and poses which was effective and provocative, as well as being crisp.
At times the split focus between the primary action and moving statue ensemble was distracting, although at other moments it created a rich and interesting worldscape. Also contributing to this fluid and strong world was the ambitious and striking set, designed by Christiane Nowak and constructed by Alex Grief and Kiwa Conroy. The levels gifted by the set were visually effective in terms of power and status, and in the versatile suggestion of spaces.
An effective theme of the piece was around Media and Communication. A particularly striking line for me was ‘Questions are good…. be careful what you say’. This was an excellent embodiment of the contradictory stance between asking children and young people to be curious and challenging, but not when it is inconvenient; get some respect. This thematic exploration as well as the use of our youthful language such as hashtags and slang was inclusive and exciting in terms of a movement away from traditional War narratives.
This also provokes discussion around media crucifixion and the incredible pressure on any publicly visible figure to conform for fear of being harassed and threatened. Similarly, the play drove a conversation around gender and respect, embodied hilariously and scarily eloquently in the male administrator character, played by Andrew Eddey, who pretended that every idea of his female counterpart’s was in fact his own. On theme with this discussion was the also poignant topic of women and other ‘support’ people being left out of history, beautifully captured in the modern day context of the female characters being left out of a published interview.
As a feminist, the message that spoke to me, and debatably the crux of the play, is whether it is more important to speak out, or to feel safe; whether it is worth the fight to do what your self-respect calls for, or to be happy, comfortable. There is only one answer to this in my mind, but what a conversation. People every day in New Zealand are faced with decisions - whether to call out a homophobic slur, whether to challenge casual sexism from their boss - that can put them at physical, emotional, even employment risk. This is a topic worth discussion and one I was glad to see dramatically explored so eloquently.
The stage imagery of the set and the use of ‘letters’ was charming and poignant. The lighting, designed by Niklas Pajanti and operated by Michael Foley, was effective and clean. The imagery of Lori catching the last letter is a wonderful image in terms of her continuing the legacy of women fighting, even if through quiet strength, medical aid, camaraderie.
The play itself in terms of writing is classic to Ralph McCubbin Howell’s writing - there is a magic and an other-worldness, a reality where we can’t quite tell what is literal and what is dream, metaphor or lesson. The poetic and heightened language danced with internet jargon and modern slang in an elegant and crafted waltz across the tongues of the young and highly capable cast. The narratives were engaging, and the non-linear form exciting. This being said, I found the piece to be lacking the perspective of the everyman which could have possibly been explored in the character of the recorder, played by Nathalie Morris. The two apparent sides of whether war should be venerated or deconstructed were played quite hard which is provocative and engaging and as an audience member I revel in being morally torn, but many people sit somewhere in the middle, and we missed the expression of them. Also, I felt that we needed one more beat to carry some catharsis from the piece. At present the ending is powerful and visually beautiful but we are so with our lead Lori earlier in the piece, that we with to stand with her at the close, and we want to know that regardless of a media storm or external pressure, that she will triumph.
Overall, this is a strong expression of the conversation many young people find themselves engaged with as pacifists and as the children and grandchildren of veterans. May the conversation roll on, and may we never find a neat answer.