Directed by Lily Della Porta and Bop Murdoch
Presented by Pat-a-Cake Productions
Bus-Bay outside the TSB Arena, Wellington | December 5-13
For many Wellingtonians, the usual daily bus journey contains an absolute minimum of social interaction with fellow travellers: mumbled “excuse me-s” are blocked out by headphones, shuffling awkwardly as we try to keep all physical contact with strangers to a minimum. We sit down, plug ourselves in, and shut ourselves off. We look the other way and retreat into our private worlds in the middle of what is really a very public space. Pat-A-Cake Productions’ latest show Bus Ticket: Moving On is a light-hearted, interactive, and playful piece of theatre that encourages its audience (or, rather, its passengers) to break down these strange social barriers by “indulging in the awkward, the ambiguous and the socially challenging aspects of the public/private divide, and asking what shape our collective journeys might take.”
Set (as the title suggests) on a bus, the play takes its audience on an hour long, round-trip excursion through Wellington, picking up different characters (and their stories) along the way. From Queens Wharf, through the CBD, to the shores of Island Bay and back again, we spend our journey listening in on multiple conversations between different characters (which occur simultaneously for most of the performance), or being chatted to by different cast members as they move around the bus interacting with the audience. The back seat of the bus is occupied by a beanie wearing banjo player who underscores the action at appropriate moments.
The characters we meet are kinds of people we might encounter on the average Wellington day; the well-dressed young couple planning their OE; the guy who plays his music so loudly that you can hear it through his head-phones; the girl who has so obviously had a hard night on the town that her bag spills open as she falls onto the bus, scrambling to recover its contents and her dignity. Some characters—like the young couple—have a simple storyline, while others are driven by games: one character trying to get a high-five from every passenger, another striving to brighten the day of passers-by by yelling compliments at them through the bus windows.
For the most part, each of the characters we meet is engaging enough, though because all of the characters are in play simultaneously throughout the journey, they come across as quite one-dimensional. This is not the result of any lack of talent where the actors are concerned (Lydia Buckley, Hannah Kelly, and others, give wonderful performances). Rather, it is due to the lack of precision in directing the audience’s focus: there were so many conversations and interactions unfolding that I never quite knew where I was meant to be centring my attention. Was I to focus on the person sitting next to me talking about the weather, or the lover’s spat occurring four rows behind me? Of course, the fact that I have to physically turn this way and that to watch the play’s action is part of what makes it so interactive and playful. You could even say that this is a vital element of the show’s quirkiness and positioning of the audience: we are eavesdroppers and onlookers.
Ultimately though, I felt that this hindered my engagement with the characters, and therefore prevented the show from fully achieving what it set out to do: to “…illustrate the unexpected moments of connection between people moving forward together” (media release). While I had thought that the enclosed nature of the bus as a performance space would cultivate intimacy, it was actually fragmented space. The rows of seats, hand-rails and the heads of my fellow passengers intercepted my connection with several important moments between characters, working to distance me from the action rather than bring me closer to it. The space thus prevented me from caring as much about their triumphs and failures as much as I might have done. The full title of the play is Bus Ticket: Moving On, though because my attention was spread too thinly over too many storylines simultaneously, and because of the fragmented nature of the space, I remain unclear as to who was moving on from what.
That said, I did really enjoy the performance. It was a fun, fresh, playful, and thoroughly entertaining show, fuelled by a childlike energy that reminded me of school fieldtrips (we even sang at one point!). It is a delightful little show that had me smiling to myself as I boarded my (real) bus home that night, as I looked around for someone to talk to.