Entering the BATS Theatre’s stage, a few at a time to keep in the haze, we walk into a giant pillow fort. The stage floor is covered in sheets sewn together, with a light frost-cloth tenting three walls and the ceiling right out over the front row of the audience. Rebekah de Roo’s production design (which includes set, lighting and projection) is all at once intimate and grand. It’s how pillow forts felt when we were kids, like sparse lands all of our own where we could do anything. I also love the immersion of the fact that we literally walk into the confines of the tent before finding a seat. The extension of the frost-cloth ceiling out into the crowd makes us feel very much in the world. Our four co-creators and performers (Mia Oudes, Abby Lyons, Alia Marshall and Anna Barker) are playfully planning a dance routine. They do not acknowledge us as we enter, but their insular focus rings true of concert-planning with my cousins many years ago. We aren’t meant to see this bit yet. They’re not ready.
The lights dim, the show begins, and they perform their routine. I won’t spoil any of it for you but it’s my favourite opening of a show all year! We immediately know that this is going to be a hella good time. From here the show follows a clear structure. We see a series of scenes, disconnected from each other but all inspired by the sleepover zeitgeist. These are broken up by four “confessions”, which are monologues presented by each cast member in turn. Heartbreaker Production’s earlier boosted campaign states that Caryl Churchill's Love and Information is a key inspiration for this piece, but Heartbreaker has pulled together a much tighter structure that holds the audience effectively and always feels fresh. The scenes, sketches and monologues cover a plethora of ideas and themes, each signalled by projection on the back wall of the tent, which give us scene titles, the age of the characters and the time of night. To give you a taste of what’s on offer, scenes and themes include: teenage fantasies, should I cut a fringe?, the adventures of “Sheet Girl” and much more. All four performers are outstanding, balancing innocence, comedic nous and a grounded humanity in their performances across the board. I will give special mention to Barker who I found to be especially authentic. She holds space with a truth and connectedness as well as any actor working in Wellington right now. Bravo!
One of the show’s highlights is the sense of ensemble. The cast seem to be completely in sync and thoroughly enjoying themselves – it’s charming and infectious. This is particularly impressive given the show is self-directed. I can say from personal experience that it is extremely difficult to direct your friends, and even harder to direct yourself. Heartbreaker has managed both and achieves a tight and dynamic staging. This is well supported by a beautiful, soft-edged lighting and set design (de Roo) and flourishes of music (composition by Cameron Fox and sound design by Marshall), which all feed into a thoroughly cohesive world.
About 40 minutes into the show, I note a drop in energy. Things appear to have slowed and I wonder if the performers are running out of steam. They’re not, but this is a preparation for the one scene that dives into some heavier, dramatic work. It should be noted that themes of eating disorder and body image are canvassed with some gusto, and the audience should be prepared for this going in. While this is important content and clearly a vulnerable section for the creators, I find the execution of this scene to be the least successful in the show. I suspect that this is largely because it is the one section where the characters are truly at odds. There is genuine spite on show, and as a result the fabric of the ensemble is broken. I get the sense that the audience feels the least held in the part of the show where they need it most. I applaud Heartbreaker Productions for taking on a difficult area of discussion, and encourage the team to find a way to maintain a sense of ensemble through this dramatic tension if they decide to further develop the work.
On the flip-side, the finale of the show is full of beautiful choreography and seamlessly intertwining dialogue as the quartet passes the focus between them with magical ease. We are left with a sense of celebration and warmth. Midnight Confessions is a reminder of more innocent times and an ode to friendship and play. It’s funny, heartwarming, cringey, nostalgic and challenging. It’s an emerging company giving us just the dose of cosy, theatrical warmth we need right now. It’s the Scopa hot chocolate of BATS shows.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge that Heartbeaker describes their mission as ‘to share stories and create opportunities for females and non-binary in a world outside of the male gaze’, and here I am male-gazing it up. It’s true too that Midnight Confessions is a celebration of girlhood as much as anything else and contains heaps of femme-focused content. Because of this, there are probably things I missed and stuff that wasn’t for me, and that is a wonderful thing. What I can say is that many of the show’s themes and its theatrical dynamism are universal and joyful. What a treat to end the winter with!
Midnight Confessions is playing at 6:30pm at BATS Theatre until August 27th. Tickets can be purchased from the BATS website.
Note from the reviewer: Kia ora! Many of the Midnight Confessions team are pals and collaborators of mine. I’ve done my best to give a fair review, and I truly believe the show is stellar. If you have any feedback about this review then please do get in touch, we love to get your feedback so we can keep getting better at serving our awesome community! Feel free to leave a comment or email us at email@example.com