Devised by Massive Company
Directed by Sam Scott and Carla Martell
Mangere Arts Centre, Auckland | August 6-10
It was pretty magical to be sitting in the Mangere Arts Centre for opening night on The Brave and seeing faces that I don’t usually see at the theatre: young people, old people, and people from all kinds of backgrounds and social strata. This, first and foremost, is what The Brave needs to be commended for. It’s a show that aims to reach an audience who doesn’t go to the theatre and holds a mirror up to this audience. It’s something we don’t see a lot of in mainstream theatre in New Zealand and it’s very sorely needed, so thumbs up to Massive Company for doing this.
The Brave is also a show that interrogates the New Zealand male from a variety of perspectives; straight, gay, Maori, Samoan, and Tongan, in a way that I haven’t seen before. It embraces the New Zealand male and his many flaws and strengths, but also his differing experiences. The show also has a lot of humour, with a hilarious lip-sync towards the end that is too uplifting and fun to spoil, and this keeps it from being a dark expression of the New Zealand male. We see his joys as much as we see his hardships, and we get a kaleidoscope of the different struggles and expectations that the male faces.
Through confessional scenes and letters delivered by the cast of eight actors, we get pictures of men who are so specific that we feel like we know them from the outset, and we can relate these pictures to men in our life. There are physical pieces, which I understand are a trademark of Massive Company (confession: this is my first Massive show), intertwined throughout that translate the roles, struggles, and expectations of the New Zealand male to the audience in a way that is visceral and immediate.
Different confessions, letters, and stories will trigger reactions in different people, but for me Todd Emerson’s scenes about being a gay man and his letter to his younger gay self were what resonated with me. Even if it doesn’t represent my experience directly, it represents an experience parallel to my own and one that really spoke to me. There was a directness to his scenes that made it felt like I was reading a diary entry, and maybe one that could have been my own in another life.
It’s this quality that makes The Brave unique. You get the feeling that these are diary entries from the actors’ lives—not in a self-indulgent way, but in a way that seeks to illuminate the various groups that they belong to. Andy Sani’s piece to his mirror was as beautiful and naked a confession as I’ve seen in a along time, while Koale’s piece was a self-immolation that was bracing, heartbreaking, and engaging to watch. The entire cast is strong and there’s a cohesion that you don’t see often in theatre; nobody is cast aside even during the solo scenes, and it feels like each confession is a safe experience because they’re supported by each other.
Directors Sam Scott and Carla Martell have woven together a show with the company of actors that feels viscerally real and true to a New Zealand audience. I’m very happy that it is going on tour and feel that it’s going to play very well around the Central North Island; these are stories that I saw myself in, and stories that the rest of the country will see themselves in. This is a show that needs to be seen, and judging from the rapturous response last night, it will be seen.