The show starts with an undeniably comic offstage sob, met with shrugs and placation attempts from our first performer (Maggie Leigh White). Within mere moments White plummets us into her own strange story of lost love, in the way we do when we want to make our friend feel better. With the ease of a professional storyteller and help from Sam Tippet’s sharp lighting design, we are transported into a surreal narrative that starts in a local flat and ends with two people falling out of love and throwing their sandwiches off the edge of the world. This sets a tone for the rest of the hour and ten minutes that follow. The actors know that we trust them to take us somewhere unexpected and to get us back again, safely and with care.
‘Relationships are bets placed in the dark,’ White tells us as she breaks the fourth wall to include us in her tale. This metaphor underscores the rest of the production as we roll the dice on a smorgasbord of strange characters who are all, in their own small ways, gambling their way through their relationships in the hope of finding the light. Some of them are successful in this quest, such as Liz 1 (or Queen Elizabeth I to you) who, through a sublime performance from Hannah Kelly, is introduced to a modern definition (or undermining) of the concept of ‘virginity’. With echoes of Miranda Richardson’s ‘Queenie’, we are treated to some Blackadder-esque hilarity as Kelly holds a full conversation between herself and her own self-aware performance of the character, blurring together the self, the centuries and the silly walks of the royal ‘one’.
Under the deft direction of Isobel Mackinnon we tour the psyches of nine people battling with a variety of power structures in wild and ridiculous ways. We are treated to a gorgeously idiosyncratic performance from Isadora Lao, giving us one side of the deeply relatable death trap of being ‘on hold’. We learn about the dangers of ‘intercoursing’ from the prim and rather improper Stevie Hancox-Monk. The instantly likeable Harriet Prebble narrates a date with toxic masculinity, during which she writhes on the floor, tomato flesh exploding and unapologetically dribbling down her velvet dress. And a true stand out is Lucy Mccarthy’s deeply tragic portrayal of a woman in a relationship with the corpse of her partner Phil, which is both disturbing and somehow empowering in equal measure. This show is not afraid to ‘go there’. It is dark and grotesque while drawing us coyly into its fold; invoking discomfort, rage and raucous laughter from this woke Wellington crowd.
A common thread through all the pieces is a playful use of hyperbole taking even the most everyday interactions and stretching them to their absolute extremes. In Freya Daly Sadgrove’s anxiously sentimental closing duologue with an invisible new lover, which touches on a collective paranoia around consent, we cannot help but recognise how much we all self-sabotage. I feel less alone when I leave the theatre, knowing it isn’t just me who questions my every move. I also leave, thanks to Trae Te Wiki’s mic-drop pitch for a Bodecea movie and the chorus of Hannah Banks’ stirring half-time ditty “Fuck the patriarchy”, with a little more fight in the feminist tank.
While each performer is uniquely mesmerising, the real star of the show is the writing. I have to check the programme multiple times to make sure it is really just one writer behind these witty, rye and thought-provoking studies of the human condition. Uther Dean must be commended for his attention to detail, depth and daring in this accomplished compilation. Each character remains unmistakably real despite the absurdity of the script. This show tightrope walks between the existential and the intimate with such dexterity and precision that I find it hard to find fault. I did briefly question the politics of a man writing about female struggles but was impressed by the respect and sensitivity here. This is what a great ally looks like. Perhaps, to complete the picture, a future version of this show might include a female identifying co-writer?
Each snippet is brave, bizarre and boldly political, tackling everything from gender-based violence, to victim blaming, to representation in the media. But while the potential for violence that hides behind the lived experience of most womxn is explored throughout, the undercurrent of this show is the fire simmering in the bellies of ordinary people and its power to burn everything down. Massive Crushes is a darkly comic masterpiece and I urge you all to go and support this important and uplifting piece of work.
Massive Crushes runs at BATS until 13th December. The show is on at 8pm daily and tickets are available here.