By Gary Henderson; Directed by Sam Scott
Composed by Chris O’Connor; Music by NZTrio
Presented by Massive Company
Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall | April 2-5
Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland | April 9-12
You know what you’re getting with a Massive show: an earnest, heartfelt production with some gorgeous imagery and movement. Massive Company has a strong enough brand that you can use the phrase “Massive show” and people, even those outside the usual suspects of the theatre community, will know what you mean.
For their latest show, My Bed My Universe, Massive Company have collaborated with NZTrio, whose work I am unfamiliar with, and Gary Henderson, whose work I am very familiar with. It’s an interesting collaboration, and a step in the right direction for the company. The Brave, a tremendous show, represents the ethos and heart of Massive in its most distilled course, so merging their own way of working with other creatives seems like a logical evolution.
In practice, the collaboration is more uneven. There are many moments of beauty scattered through My Bed, My Universe, and excitingly for this company, moments where difficult emotions come through and are articulated in surprisingly poetic ways. There are moments where I can see the beauty of the NZ Trio’s music and the craft of Henderson’s writing fusing together perfectly underneath the Massive umbrella. The music, in fact, is universally beautiful and lends the play a depth and a level that I feel other Massive shows haven’t yet reached.
Unfortunately, there are moments, and long stretches, which are less successful. This is less due to any flaws in performance or content, and more due to a lack of focus. While watching the show, it was unclear what the show was about—at times it appeared to be about Auckland, while at others it appeared to be about the concept of ‘home’ in a more general sense—but even more crucially, I was never sure what it was trying to tell me. The show gets within grasp of articulating prescient points about feeling at home in a city, in a life, and in an identity that is extremely relevant and universal, but these points are far and few between.
This lack of focus is reflected in the structure of the show, which is a mix of monologues and scenes that focus on movement. The movement is beautiful, and the use of percussion from the cast is genuinely emotive, but there’s never a clear end point. My Bed My Universe is making a bid for universality, yet at times forgets what makes any piece of art truly universal: specificity. For every monologue we get—and these are by far and away the best parts of the show—there are group scenes with lots of ‘I’ statements that manage to be incredibly earnest but in a way that seems like grasping at any audience for their support.
There are also moments where the show feels dated. There is a musical interlude about a third of the way into the piece, which I can only imagine is titled ‘Sure Thing’, and is tremendously catchy. However, it rattles off stereotypes that weren’t current when I was at high school in the middle of last decade, and seems to be a stab at appealing to a youth audience, one that simply wasn’t there on opening night. It’s a highlight of the show, thanks to NZTrio’s music, but it also showcases where the show unfortunately stumbles, which happens again with a scene listing stereotypes of people who live in certain suburbs of Auckland, with some further digs at ‘indie kids’ (a phrase I haven’t heard in years) and ‘wiggas’ that feel at best disingenuous and at worst, snide.
On a brighter note, the ensemble is a cohesive and immensely charismatic unit. Every actor is allowed their own standout moment while never really stepping out of the ensemble or appearing to steal the spotlight. The NZTrio performers are also included in this ensemble, and it’s a genius flourish that helps to blend the music in with what’s going onstage. The music is alive and living as the actors, and even when the show falters, it is always an alive piece of art, and that is a rare thing to see.
I can see this show being a great thing in the future. The elements, and the pedigree, are there. The cast are committed and the moments where it is beautiful are truly transcendent. Despite the lack of focus, structure, and thematic clarity, it has a heart and is alive. That’s more than I can say for a lot of theatre in this town, and if this show gets a long life, it is that heart that will carry it across the finish line.