I am not afraid of sadness - Joey Sheppard
As I enter The Dome, I'm excited to see a massive swirl of newsprint covering the stage, and flowing back out the stage door. My assumption is that our first performer, Toi student Sheppard, is going to leap out of it to surprise me. I am wrong. After being introduced by Katene, Sheppard enters from the stage door, and begins pulling the newsprint in with her, before diving into the paper and swimming around. The monologue is structured in vignettes, each separated by a little dive and swim.
I am not afraid of sadness is raw and real. It’s a poetic rumination on young loss. Our protagonist, also called Jo, has lost someone close to them. The real magic of the piece is how Sheppard captures very specific childlike flavours of massive emotions. Anger, sadness, resentment, and, thankfully, joy, are all conveyed expressionistically. The sheer scale of feeling is funny, at least at first, but we quickly realise that there’s nothing satirical about it. It’s honest. It feels perceptive, sincere, heartfelt. The piece builds out well, feeling like a puzzle that comes together at the end, but never at the expense of the emotions being channelled. Sheppard does well to scatter it with fun, visceral, theatrical surprises that feel like they’re almost deliberately distracting us from the piece's darker truth.
I’m left feeling like I’ve just glimpsed the surface of something much bigger, and I really love that. Of all the pieces in HATCH, this is the one I most want to watch again, in the hope that I’ll get more answers from it. I’m sure I wouldn’t, but I think that’s probably the point.
Think, Before You Overthink - Bo Jarratt
After Katene and her team pack up all the newsprint, it’s time for our second performance. Those who have feedback sheets fill those out in between, while the rest of us happily wait. Te Auaha student Jarratt has created an anxiety-comedy. It presents a variety of different ways an employee named Darcy, imagines their meeting with their boss going. Each envisioned reality gets crazier and crazier, pulling some great laughs from the audience, and giving Jarratt a real comedic showcase. She’s particularly skilled at transitioning between her two characters, the stern, Matt Berry-esque boss, and the panicked pulse-racing, ever empathetic, Darcy.
With Think, Before You Overthink what you see is what you get. The piece goes exactly where you expect but it’s well crafted and succeeds at doing what it sets out to. I get the impression it could be tightened further, to keep pace and energy up, but nonetheless it’s a good palate cleanser after the more emotional opening piece. At its best, Think’s portrayal of anxious overthinking is deeply relatable and wonderfully human.
The Last Farewell - Amy Dredge
Our third performance of the night, our second Te Auaha student’s drama of a woman longing for the return of her husband from World War 1, doesn’t land for me. Still, there’s evidence of great craft here. Sound and lighting have clearly been thought about extensively and are well integrated. The world seems heavily researched and fleshed out. Alongside this, Dredge’s protagonist is constantly attempting to convince herself that her husband is somehow alive and well, against all odds, which is a compelling action to see someone play. There’s a couple of moments where the facade breaks and the doubt leaks through that I find emotionally resonant.
However, overall the piece feels quite dry. There’s extensive voice over, which while an effective way to show the character's internal thoughts, I find drains a lot of emotion from the piece which is more present when Dredge speaks live. While I understand that people became parents at a younger age then, the character feels a lot older then Dredge is, and she’s fighting an uphill battle to inhabit her in a way that feels weighty and convincing. Structurally, the piece feels quite repetitive, and blurs together for me a little. It’s a serious and heartbreaking premise, and ultimately I want to feel a lot more emotional about it.
This World of Yours - Ngahaki Gardiner
Our one performance from Te Herenga Waka’s theatre department is perhaps the most striking of the night. Gardiner simply stands, cane in hand, and talks to us. He doesn’t move, he doesn’t inhabit multiple characters, he doesn’t mess around with light or set. He sits briefly in a chair. In ten minutes, he delivers a confronting, unapologetic, and extremely direct evaluation of the history of Aotearoa, and what it means to be Māori in a colonial and neo-colonial world.
His speech moves from intimately personal feeling anecdotes, to vivid metaphor (I’m paraphrasing but he describes Māori living under the Crown as “A tall man trapped in a very small house, growing and contorting…”), through history, and to politics. Powerful is an overused word, but This World of Yours deserves it. It’s full of power. It takes no prisoners and spares no Pākeha feelings, there is nothing safe here. Politicians with green and red ties are as culpable as those with blue, it’s all part of the same problem. I am in awe of Gardiner’s efficiency of language. He is able to communicate massive ideas in very few words, while simultaneously layering his speech with allusions to 183 years of history, to Hōne Heke, and buckets of things I’m sure went over my head.
Proof of how much you can fit into ten minutes, This World of Yours is not going to leave my head anytime soon. It will sit and gnaw away at me, as great art should.
The Ghost of Tongan Language Week - Nova Moala-Knox
Our second Toi Student gives my favourite performance of the night. The Ghost of Tongan Language Week is as riotously funny as it is brilliantly specific. It’s underplayed, expertly deployed ending, moves me to no end, and re-contextualises the piece for me in an instant. Moala-Knox is a captivating and magnetic performer, who somehow never looks like she’s trying, and yet has us hanging on her every word. It’s a swiss watch of a script, setting up recurring jokes that only get funnier every time, only to pivot into emotional gut punches. I never thought I would have this much feeling provoked by “Justa Juice.”
Earlier this year, I saw Moala-Knox perform in Toi’s season of and what remains… While the show as a whole got lost in the conversation due to the sheer scale and spectacle of The Birthday Girl, which it shared a double bill with, Moala-Knox’s performance has stuck with me. Heavy and dramatic, It could not be more different to the understated comedic tones of Ghost of Tongan Language Week, and when I realise that she was responsible for both performances, I am pretty blown away.
I would not be surprised if this becomes a full length show, and I’ll be there opening night to see it if so. But as it stands now, Ghost of Tongan Language Week is fucking awesome. Go see it.
The Heart of the Bush - Tom Hayward
Closing out the show, we’ve got our final Te Auaha student, and some wonderfully goofy comedy to leave us on a high. Hayward’s The Heart of the Bush, is a pisstake of that wonderfully fraudulent genre of paranormal-investigative-television. Specifically, cryptid hunting. Hayward’s protagonist, Forrest, is as a Bear Grylls-esque, hyper enthusiastic, comically masculine, self-absorbed goofball, who is vehemently determined to get footage of a sasquatch.
While at first we question his motives as we see him tamper with his camera crew’s process, and stage the situation, we quickly realise that he is completely sincere in his quest, and has been consumed by his desire to catch a bigfoot. In the process, his relationship with his co-host Floyd has fallen apart, causing him to replace Floyd with a balloon with a face crudely drawn on it.
As you can see, there’s a lot of backstory here, and Hayward pulls us into it quickly and effortlessly. The narrative he takes us on, I’ll admit I find a lot less compelling than the set up. There’s a run in with a kooky old man in the woods, which makes for some great humour between him, Forrest, and Balloon-Floyd. However, ultimately I find it less interesting than Forrest himself. I think Hayward has brought a very specific and out of left field character to life, who’s wearing some real shame on his sleeve. I would love to see the character further explored. The man so determined to find Bigfoot, so afraid of being seen to have been wrong that he’s willing to turn his back on everything and everyone else? The ultimate case of sunk cost fallacy? There’s a lot in that. I hope I get to see more of it.
Wrapping things up
HATCH as a program? 10/10, amazing. It’s just the kind of support emerging artists in our theatre scene need. The artists this year were on great form and brought some very exciting work to the table. Here’s to another five years.