Courtney Rose Brown
The seating arrangement of having the audience on three sides in a thrust configuration is not justified, particularly where all the stage pictures and choreographed synchronised movements are performed end on. Having chosen to sit on a side of the performance, often we miss facial expressions and feel excluded. Mimed movements of young and present Joan are missed from sitting on the sides, which is the only indicator that they are in the future and that actor Harriet Prebble is also Joan, but older. At times I feel like we are on display, as no one else is in our seating block and the ushers the only ones across from us.
James Cain has a lovely naturalness and charm as Todd that instantly makes him likeable. He is the most natural performer which makes his awkward interactions with Joan (Prebble) endearing to watch.
Routines that are set up for departures from the hat factory, could have easily been simplified as they drag and often aren’t in unison. These are also later dropped and so seem redundant.
The hat parade is the height of emotional intensity and the only benefit of the thrust staging. Keagan Carr Fransch (part of chorus) is the only one to hold eye contact with the audience and with her hands clutching her belly, it is absolutely heartbreaking to see the despair in her eyes. This sequence could have also been shortened as the length of the march, takes away the emotional intensity as it drags on.
Rachel Hilliar’s brilliant set and prop design is an outstanding detailed spectacle, painting a strong image of the dystopian world that we enter. The programme lists speciality costume construction by Harriet Denby, Jane Denby and Lou Paterson, to which I am not surprised and applaud their labour in what would have clearly been time consuming construction of works of art. However, I would question the functionality of the set design as the rearrangements of the stage made transitions between scenes, locations and time frames clunky and slow, not to mention often unnecessary. There needed to be more trust in costuming and other tech elements such as the light and music design to set the scene. An example of this is spinning the table around to show the factory in contrast to the home, which could have done keeping in the same position. These transitions slowed down the pacing and without could have reduced the length of the show. Arthur attempted to incorporate some fluidity in having stagehands in costume to alter the set, but it was still time consuming. To resolve this, the pile of clothing against the back wall could have had hidden compartments that open up and key props removed for each scene and two different types of chairs were unnecessary. Cain’s interactions with Prebble in the final scene are loving and genuine, communicating growth in a relationship without the need of words and any signals from changes in the set.
The costumes strike a lovely contrast to the set and prop design, where Harriet Denby has chosen a lighter palate, using faded denim and browns in her design. It is hard to identify a particular era in costuming, however this does present a dystopian presence with the absence of clearly contemporary clothing.
The lighting design by Joe Newman is simple and effective. The hanging light bulbs are beautiful and create several lovely moments as different ones are illuminated. The sound design composed by Ryan Smith is atmospheric and grounds location, in particular the use of the ‘Morepork’ and machinery to set up two different spaces.
The storyline is hard to follow, because the play jumps chronologically through Joan’s life, the jumps are sudden and it feels instead like three different worlds that don’t connect. The direction of the show did not help smooth the journey. Despite my confusion, I found great joy in trying to figure out the events before me. There are great moments of tension and build throughout; it is in the joining of these that the production falls short.
To see the rest of the season on till the 4th of June, Tuesdays-Saturdays at 6.30pm in the Propellor Stage at Bats Theatre.
For more information and to book online click here: http://bats.co.nz/whats-on/far-away/
To make a night out of it, check out the other show in the Carol Churchill season Love and Information, which also runs to the 4th of June, Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8pm also in the Propellor Stage at Bats Theatre.