The play looks at the different ways we experience heartache. It presents us with two very different models of suffering, that of the young women, and that of the ghosts.The grief of the young women is earnest, melodramatic and honest. It’s the sort of grief you felt when you were a teenager, slamming your bedroom door and rage crying on your bed. It’s not subtle, it’s full heart-on-the-sleeve, ‘I can’t go on like this’ pain.
One by one, the young woman tell their stories, followed by a dance sequence which represents them visually. For example, Benny (Beth Jones) describes her parents fighting, and the fight is acted out around her. At times I found this technique a little too on the nose. Often the sequences seemed to reinstate the story, rather than adding depth to it. However, this type of overemphasis and melodrama is exactly how it feels to be young and suffering, and I saw truth in it.
By contrast, the ghosts are grieving through melancholy. They are trapped in the theatre, bored, lonely. Their pain comes from the ‘nothingness’ that they experience everyday. They talk about dying as a way to escape from grief, but it’s clear that they are actually talking about a way to escape from feeling anything. It’s a haunting (ha ha) portrayal of suffering.
Although the play deals with these heavy themes, I found its message to be uplifting. The young women in Why Are We Still Here? are suffering, but although their pain is excruciating, but it’s better than feeling nothing. The play comes down firmly on the side of choosing life and feeling, in all its messiness, over coldness and lack of emotion. To be in pain is what it means to be human, and that’s ok.
The play could have benefitted from a bit more variety in its structure. Essentially, each of the girls takes it in turn to wake up, see a ghost, tell their story, and go back to sleep. Although each story was unique, the repetitiveness of the structure became a little mundane. By the fourth story I wasn’t as engaged as I might have been if this pattern had been broken.
The actors really brought this piece to life. There were a few small technical issues, but they were ultimately overshadowed by the casts’ enthusiasm. Occasionally I struggled to hear the lines, especially when they were accompanied by music. At times it seemed like actors were waiting for their cue, rather than being fully present in the scene. However, I applaud the cast for taking the big emotions that the show deals with and jumping in with two feet.
Why Are We Still Here? was cohesive and enjoyable. It made me remember my teenage agony, which was both deeply uncomfortable, and strangely heartwarming. It was a unique exploration into grief, and an enjoyable night at the theatre.
Why Are We Still Here? is currently showing at BATS Theatre until Saturday 9 February. It is a part of the 6 Degrees Festival, the final projects of MFA theatre students at Victoria University of Wellington. To book tickets, visit the BATS Theatre website. To find out more about the 6 Degrees Festival, visit their website.