Written by Dean Parker
Directed by Jane Waddell
Circa Theatre | November 3-December 1
The Tigers of Wrath is a big, bold piece of work. Spanning two countries and three decades, and telling the story of a love triangle, the evolution of the international relations between New Zealand and China, and a social history of New Zealand, Dean Parker bites off slightly more than his audience can chew over in this two hour epic.
The first act is in a dormitory in 1970s Maoist Peking. A lesbian couple fights over whether they should be supporting the revolution or visiting the Great Wall. Pauline (Heather O’Carroll) wields her loudhailer with youthful exuberance, expressing that naïve belief that your voice can make a difference, while Trish (Kate Prior) meekly wishes their relationship was based on passion, not aggression. We meet Oliver (Nathan Meister), the long-haired, sandal wearing hippy who uses the book Middlemarch and seduction-by-ideology to worm his way into Trish’s life.
The second act sees the love triangle and Mike Moore’s Labour government shaken up. During an extremely long phone-call monologue, Trish, now an MP, plans the political machinations for the Labour Party for the next few years. At the same time, she investigates her husband’s suspected infidelity and the suitability of his new job. The third act jumps ahead again to 2009 as Oliver stops in at the Managri Bridge Tavern and runs into his past again.
First and foremost, The Tigers of Wrath is fiercely and unashamedly about politics. Whether it’s Maoism, Labour, unionism or capitalism, Parker’s play is fundamentally concerned with ideologies and how life can muddy the integrity we imbue our beliefs with. But it’s also about writing. In Oliver, we witness a character who uses and abuses writers and language for his own aims. He uses long quotes, flowery prose (“your eyes are like the lamp outside a brothel”), and legal jargon to manipulate, cajole or woo those around him. Like Oliver, Dean Parker uses writing and words a lot. Parker’s writing is full to the brim with emotional outbursts, some very good jokes, and social commentary. The Tigers of Wrath could pack a powerful punch but Parker’s reliance on exposition and explanation weakens the impact.
Parker’s writing is well-supported in this production, directed by Jane Waddle and designed by Dan Williams. The direction is swift and punchy, and played out on a clever stage. The design, three panels that rotate to reveal different locations, earns applause on opening night. The lighting (Ulli Briese) and sound (John McKay) work together to add a real sheen to the play.
In each of the three acts, we witness characters ‘waiting for a revolution’, and as they wait for their ideologies to succeed, their lives crumble. Despite needing a bit of a trim, The Tigers of Wrath is a funny and entertaining reminder of the political ideologies that have defined us.