My friends and I arrive and are greeted by ‘the aunties’ – fun characters in tracksuits and wigs who give us our safety briefings and activate us for what lies ahead in ‘The Beyond’. We are prepared for change and taught about resilience and self-improvement, and these themes are given such emphasis that I expect them to be a core part of the experience. Spoiler alert: they’re not. But the characters are fantastic, and we are well warmed up for whatever comes next.
Out in the field, we are met with a carnival set-up, complete with mediocre ‘games’ like ‘Spin the wheel that will never stop spinning to get an affirmation’ and ‘Write down something you know and put it inside a ball of mud’. One game is already out of order. We are hustled straight out into The Beyond and told to come back and play the games later because apparently something interesting is about to happen.
The Beyond spans the golf course and, as I wish I had known at the beginning, contains only three things to see: Mission HQ, Karaoke and It (AKA The Creature). We are told first to go to Mission HQ, where we receive another briefing, this time for It, which is designed to be the climax of the show. Mission HQ looks primed for a game, but it’s not, and we’re just sent on our way again. There’s a sign on the hill that points to the ‘hard way’ and the ‘easy way’. We opt for the hard way, thinking it might reward us with new and exciting things to discover, but it is literally just a harder walking route, and so we take a ten-minute diversion around the top of the golf course before connecting back up.
The promotional material for U R Here is clear: ‘There is no set path to follow’, but my friends and I are given little to no agency or sense of exploration, and are instead directed by the performers where to go in every instance. We try our luck at approaching a group of performers in red jackets to find out what their deal is and are promptly told to ‘Go to Karaoke’. They don’t engage with us further, and one later proves to be condescending, fostering self-consciousness in the audience by judging us for the quality of the sounds we’ve been instructed to make.
Karaoke is probably the highlight of the show, with a band in the woods performing tunes by request for audience members to watch or sing along to, but it’s not connected to the rest of the narrative and feels more like bonus content. In fact, to a lesser degree everything feels like bonus content that should exist alongside a greater narrative, but that greater narrative doesn’t present itself, and the storyline we’re left with feels like it has as much consequence as a side quest (minus the quest part, because we are more there to observe than to engage). There’s no sense of play or autonomy, and despite everything Barbarian has at its disposal, I’m left feeling like there isn’t much here. The segments are so few and far between (and I mean far – this is a whole golf course) that we spend more time exercising than actually seeing show.
I take issue, too, with how the show’s accessibility was advertised. Pulled straight from the Fringe website, Barbarian claims that you’ll only ‘need to do a bit of walking, mostly on grass and some gentle hills’. Sounds picturesque. I’m not anticipating having to clamber up and down a steep, slippery goat track covered in gorse and blackberry. I actually trip and fall into some blackberry, and aside from my spinal condition and general lack of coordination, I am pretty mobile – I hate to think how this is for people with actual mobility issues. Some of the performers do have carts available to transport people on request, but you need to ask because no one is on hand to check on people’s health and safety. Surprising, considering how many of the performers are standing around with not much to do.
I’ll say now: the design work is great. The performers wandering around have incredible costumes and headpieces – but they really are wandering around. One person’s whole job is to stamp cards. And this is a powerful cast of local artists – I spot Trae Te Wiki, Hannah Kelly, Sepelini Mua‘au and Stevie Hancox-Monk, just to name a few. It feels like a gross waste of talent and resources. U R Here is a great concept, but it falls short in its execution. What’s there is enjoyable enough, and it’s a nice excuse to get outside, but I leave feeling pretty unfulfilled and wondering if there’s something I missed.
U R Here showed at Martin Luckie Park as part of NZ Fringe 2023 and is now closed. Visit the Barbarian website for info about future productions.
Author’s note: I know several of the performers in this show, and Stevie Hancox-Monk is a good friend of mine. I have endeavoured to provide honest critique, but if you have any feedback or find bias in this review, please don’t hesitate to comment or email us at email@example.com.