Tut; God-belly; Everything is Surrounded by Water

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

img_tutBy Alice May Connolly
Directed by Brigid Costello
BATS Theatre, Wellington | October 14-18

A revival of its Fringe Festival season, Tut brings the afterlife of King Tutankhamun and an idealistic possum together, exploring death and the afterlife. Now complete with an updated script and a new design, Tut is set to charm the pants off audiences.

Tut (Hillary Penwarden) is morose, sitting cosily in a wingback chair fishing for a fish puppet. Meanwhile, a cheery possum named Poss (Alice May Connolly[1]) lives in an OHP-projected forest where all the animals get along. Tut gets a phone call from his Dad (who is temporally embodied by the fish puppet) and Poss gets killed by some passing 1080 poison (small balls of rolled up green paper). Poss is thrust into Tut’s underworld and is forced to confront what has happened to her, and why an afterlife is different to an after party.

The work feels heavily influenced by children’s theatre conventions, casting itself as a wild whimsical allegory for adult issues. I feel like they wanted the world to be able to jump all around between a chirpy forest world and Egyptian tomb with real ease and flippancy, playing off Where The Wild Things Are or Duck, Death and the Tulip.

The programme notes insist this work is a chance to “give everything a go,” and the work does have some markers of a first go: its content doesn’t quite fill the full 50 minutes and its lo-fi aesthetic is, at times, clumsy. But this work has promise. Any young theatre makers willing to confront Egyptian metaphysics and kill a Possum with 1080 has the moxie to make great things.

Played out on a stage lined with tape and filled with Judo mats and cooked crumpets, Godbelly is a bold, strikingly original, and startling engaging work. The play clocks in at just under two hours and follows two parallel tales of a young woman’s encounters with spirituality and the sacred, becoming an epic exploration of doubt, compulsion, desires, and buttering crumpets.

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img_godbellyCreated and performed by Andrew Gunn and Rosie Tapsell
Co-directed by Simon Haren
BATS Theatre, Wellington | September 30-October 3

Played out on a stage lined with tape and filled with Judo mats and cooked crumpets, God-belly is a bold, strikingly original, and startling engaging work. The play clocks in at just under two hours and follows two parallel tales of a young woman’s encounters with spirituality and the sacred, becoming an epic exploration of doubt, compulsion, desires, and buttering crumpets.

We meet young couple, George (Andrew Gunn) and Jude (Rosie Tapsal) at the tail end of a cleansing diet. George, a loveable happy-go-lucky waster, spends his days listening to Gregorian chants and waxing whimsical about baptisms and spirituality. The uptight and driven Jude is into running and volunteering. We meet the couple as their already fractured relationship begins to crumble. Jude’s compulsion with dieting and calorie counting is taking its toll, and she begins blaming George for holding her back.

The second through line follows at Sister Catherine (Tapsal), a committed nun whose devotion manifests through aggressive fasting and self-flagellation. The Confessor Raymond (Gunn) works hard to help Catherine focus her devotion into less self-destructive areas to no avail. Interestingly, Catherine’s excess juxtaposes Jude’s restraint. A critique; unlike the flawed characters played by Tapsell, I notice Gunn’s George and Raymond are both reasonable and wise.

The work starts simply, there are six chapters (each with a title written on the underside of Judo mats) that jump between the present day George and Jude and the 14th Century Sister Catherine and Confessor Raymond. As the play continues it borrows from contemporary dance, rap, judo, drag, and a range of other performance languages that show off the performer’s virtuosity. This could be a recipe for a sprawling mess, but by and large Gunn and Tapsal (and their co-director, Simon Haren) let their various forms feed into the questions of the work. The work confronts spirituality and the sacred with boldness. A very promising first work.

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img_everythingissurroundedBy Hannah Banks and Uther Dean
Presented by My Accomplice
BATS Theatre, Wellington | September 30-October 3

For the times in life where anxiety, loneliness, or isolation flare up, where introspection and identity are necessary, the theatre seems like an odd place to take refuge. Yet Everything is Surrounded by Water, a piece about framing your existence in relation to others, attempts to join the dots between people.

The work is a first-person story, somewhere between a monologue by Mike Daisey and a David Sedaris reading. Framed as a partly true story, the story weaves through people’s lives, over a few years, around the city of Wellington. I’d like to think we’re being told the story by ‘Uther Dean’, a self-effacing, charming, erratic character who is telling us a ‘true’ story, rather than Uther Dean reading a cool story he wrote.

The story begins away from ‘Uther’; the first third of the piece follows a guy, the sort of guy who calls people ‘fag’, who meets a girl by chance at a party and, after a long relationship, is dealt due justice. The second third joins us back to ‘Uther’, amidst night-time wanderings, and sends him on a journey to the hospital where he realises he has been living without his soul. The final third sees ‘Uther’ attempting to find his soul again.

This work is really clever; borrowing central events from Faust (or The Simpsons), and using fragments of Murikami and Kafka, it nonetheless achieves an originality of style. This is a Wellington story through and through; much of the joy comes from recognising places and geography as Uther wanders around. The story is, in a strong way, defined by a sense of place, using Wellington like Paris, je t’aime uses Paris. And Wellington, recently described by Vogue as a locavore’s dream, loves hearing stories about itself.

The Fringe Festival season saw Dean offer the show for koha in your own lounge. I first saw the piece in my flat, feeling quietly chuffed at the amount of effort he went to, and the piece had an intimacy and a uniqueness that’s pretty hard to recreate in a theatre. A performer who sits in your lounge drinking your tea gave the Fringe experience a really thrilling sheen. This ‘production’ suggests a lounge setting—there’s a rug, a standing lamp, and a wingback chair—but we’re definitely in a theatre. A simple and effective lighting design supports the words and adds a little theatricality throughout.

While peppered with a lot of jokes, it is essentially a very sad piece. The Uther-character telling us the story seems very much still caught up in the third act of the narrative, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of this ‘Uther’.


[1] Alice May Connolly is a regular contributor to The Lumière Reader.

Filed under: ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

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Samuel Phillips is the Wellington theatre editor for The Lumière Reader. When he isn’t reviewing theatre he can be found making theatre with Wellington-based company, Bright Orange Walls, or studying at Victoria University of Wellington.