Presented by Bare Hunt Collective
Directed by Kate McGill
Basement Theatre, Auckland | December 4-8
The Christchurch Earthquake will be remembered in New Zealand for decades to come; it will be studied in social studies, geography, and probably even history classes by future generations. Munted raises this point, and in doing so, reminds us that the events of February 2011 will eventually slip out of the news reports and into history books. Munted does a brilliant job of keeping the tragedy current and present in our minds, while also connecting an audience with the realities and people dealing with it everyday.
Bare Hunt Collective’s Munted is comprised entirely of interviews with Cantabrians, people from the media, and other New Zealanders, presented verbatim to us by the three performers, Victoria Abbott, Jackie Shaw, and Frith Horan. Each performer plays a variety of roles throughout the piece, from Abbott’s four-year-old Alex, to Horan’s grizzled but hopeful policeman, to Shaw’s disarmingly forthright reporter. This is verbatim theatre at its finest. As with The Laramie Project, it’s a style that not only presents a community as it is in the wake of events, but through structure, brings both emotional and thematic clarity to events.
The play is structured in a way that may seem haphazard at first, but each character and interview snippet moves easily to the next. Kate McGill’s direction really shines here; it would be easy for the throughline of the piece to be lost or muddled with so many characters and changes, however through some effective staging and lighting, it all flows together and it’s a joy when we return to each character. The structure is one of the primary strengths of the play. As well as revealing each character’s individual response to the tragedy—from the upright attitude an elderly relief teacher, to the struggle of a cameraman dealing with sending pictures back up to Auckland—it highlights how a community can come together and unite in their response to something that affects them all.
Abbott is a real star here, both as head writer, and a performer delivering some of the most affecting moments in the play, from the aforementioned relief teacher’s overwhelming positivity, to an out-of-town reporter dealing with the constant reportage of death and grief. She has a unique energy that is channeled through all of her characters, and she draws attention without ever grabbing onto it.
Horan and Shaw are no less impressive, and have their own moments of brilliance. Horan’s policewoman is perhaps my favourite character in the whole show: a woman who realises that this is an incredible event, but also knows she has to get on with it and do her job. While it’s an overfamiliar archetype, Horan brings fresh life to these words. Shaw plays the grocer’s life with a lightness and energy that fills the stage. Again, it’s a character that we know well—someone who can create a story out of anything—and yet Shaw plays it engagingly.
It would be damning Munted with faint praise to call it a powerful show. More than that, it’s a show rife with humour, pathos, and experience. It makes it clear that the Christchurch Earthquake is not an event that is to be merely remembered; it’s one that was experienced. These performers give a voice to a community that we might not have otherwise heard. The news only gave us the worst of what happened; it never gave us the community or their response to the tragedy. It’s an admirable show and one that desperately needs to be seen. Above all, it shows us that the earthquake didn’t just affect Christchurch as a city; it affected Christchurch as a people.