Kalopsia Sky, A Thousand Hills

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

By Catherine Croft
Frank Creation Theatre
Basement Theatre, Auckland | October 22-26

The Basement Theatre is a ridiculously versatile space. After a trip to other venues around Auckland, I always come back to the Basement, which, full disclosure, is a venue that I have put more than one show on in. I’m always fascinated to see how a company uses the space to create a brand new world for their show.

Frank Creation Theatre opened up another option for me entirely with this space: smell. Kalopsia Sky is set in a backyard where one woman is tye-dying sheets with flowers while another gently prods her to leave. The space is full of the scent of flowers, with many different colours and smells clashing together. Cementing this backyard world are sheets hung up on clotheslines and grass rolled out along the floor. It’s a great use of the space, and sets the scene for a fascinating play to unfold.

Kalopsia Sky, written by Catherine Croft, follows two friends over an afternoon as they sit in a backyard. There is not a plot so much as there is a beautiful development of the relationship between these friends Ella (Catherine Croft) and Sarah Claire (Hayley Brown). The premise is that Ella is recovering from a car crash and Sarah Claire is helping her out, but that is fast discarded to allow the real drama to play out: the dying friendship between these two that is still beating.

Croft’s script is very much in the register of Lena Dunham or Mike White. This is not a play about huge revelations or a mystery. It’s just two people, slowly pushing each other out of their relationship. Croft deftly captures this dynamic in her script and defines these two characters as people who have known each other for very long, and yet don’t like what the other person has become, and possibly not even themselves.

The performances are pitched at exactly the right level to capture this kind of style. There’s a loose easy dynamic between the actors that make them a joy to watch, but each also have a clear sense of their characters and where they’re going. Croft’s Ella is a character that I would probably run away from if I saw her on the street, and comes off very much that way in the opening stretches. However, she develops Ella into a character that is more the sum of her actions than the sum of the somewhat dim things that come out of her mouth. In the end, she’s not a character that I would want to hang out, but she’s one that I understand, and it makes the final moments of the play so much more potent.

Brown’s Sarah Claire, on the other hand, is a character who I’m very much like. At first glance, it’s a character we’ve seen before—the kind of wild hippie girl gone serious—but both the script and performer raise her to another level. We see the shades of her seriousness peel away, and Brown clearly relishes having fun when the character really breaks loose. Brown also nails the quieter moments delicately, like when she tosses off some fairly major revelations with nary a gesture, speaking volumes about Sarah and her approach to life.

While all this is going on, projections in the background, provided by artist Rebecca Phillips, move around. Not only are they flat-out gorgeous, but they lend a sense of melancholy to the play; these are the titular kalopsia (which is the delusion of things being more beautiful than they are). It also keeps the play from potentially being two talking heads for a little under an hour. These images give the play another level entirely and set the scene as effectively as the impressive set does.

Kalopsia Sky is a rare little gem that I fear is going to disappear all too quickly. Visually impressive—no small feat in the space—it also creeps up on you in a way that is not only pleasant, but oddly touching. Go see it.

*   *   *

By Mike Hudson
Directed by Margaret-Mary Hollins
TAPAC, Auckland | October 15-November 2

There are great plays about important issues that take you by the shoulders and shake you until you pay attention. There are also bad plays about important issues that are happy to stand on stage and pontificate until you start hating something that you thought you were totally in the bag for. And then there are plays like A Thousand Hills, which sink into you and grab you from within after seeing them.

A Thousand Hills centres on Francois Byaman, a survivor of the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide, while also telling the story of New Zealand Red Cross volunteer Bob Askew, who helped him escape from a refugee camp in Zaire. It’s an effective choice to focus the story on both these leads. While Francois’s story is the one that we are most interested in, Bob’s story is our window into this world; he comes from our perspective and world view, and makes it easier for an audience to see the story.

But the story is really Francois’s, who also plays himself. As I went into this show as blind as I could, I didn’t realise that this was the case until afterwards. His performance is solid and in sync with the rest of the cast. While this is not only his story, but his life, there’s a refreshing lack of ownership over the story, and he’s as much a part of it as the rest of the cast.

This speaks volumes of the rest of the cast, who all do a great job as an ensemble. If there are no standouts, it’s because all are equally excellent, and Mike Hudson’s script allows them that chance. There are no villains and very few characters are short changed. It’s a rare feat to have a play that not only acknowledges some of the futility of relief efforts, but also the human emotions and drive that goes into keeping those relief efforts going.

Hudson’s script also asks a lot from a director. There is shifting between times and styles that should be impossible to achieve, but Margaret Mary-Hollins keeps the play as one cohesive piece through dips into spirituality, flashback, and some effective fight choreography. The craft on display is similarly excellent, with John Verryt’s set giving one key moment that is absolutely breathtaking.

It seems weak and easy to say that A Thousand Hills is an important play, which it is. It’s bringing a story to these shores that is all too easy to not know about, or even worse, to forget. It’s not a perfect play—some of the dialogue could use a polish and it’s a tad on the long side—but it is very much its own creature and it deserves to be applauded for this. Go see this play, and share its story with friends. It needs to be heard.