‘Verbatim’ by William Brandt
‘Portraits’ by Miranda Harcourt & Stuart McKenzie
Directed by Jeff Szusterman
Q Theatre, Auckland | July 27
Sometimes you see theatre that exists purely as spectacle: you go into the theatre for an hour or two and come out entirely stimulated but thoughtless. There’s also theatre that goes the other way entirely: you come out physically drained with your head full of thoughts. Both of these kinds of theatre get their impact from the energy and the content in the room, from the piece onstage. Verbatim is not this kind of theatre.
To its immense credit, Verbatim is a piece that gets its power and its impact from the discussion that happens outside the theatre. Comprised of two pieces, Verbatim (by William Brandt, devised by Miranda Harcourt and Brandt) and Portraits (by Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt); this is a double bill about the nature of crime. It is framed through a New Zealand perspective; these are a collation of stories from real people, but the perspectives are universal.
Verbatim is one of the shows I was gutted to miss when it was produced at The Basement last year. The discussion around the show was lively and passionate, and overshadowed a show that I heard was completely unmissable. Seeing it at a fundraiser performance in the much larger Rangatira space at Q before it tours all around the country was a chance I leapt at.
The first piece follows a man who has committed the murder, and those damaged by it. We see his sister, his mother, the mother of his children, the husband of the victim and in one fleeting, stirring scene, the victim before the fact. Cherie Moore plays all the roles and maintains an admirable steel throughout that lends the piece a weight; it takes a certain hardness for a human being to get through something like this, and the damage that spirals out from a murder is as galvanising as any.
The other piece, Portraits, has a similar focus; it is set in the aftermath of a teenage girl’s murder and we see the parents of the girl, the man who murdered her and that man’s ‘de-facto wife’. Fraser Brown plays the male roles while Jodie Rimmer plays the female roles. Both embody these characters fully, but Rimmer especially is stunning in her shifts from the grieving mother to the irretrievably damaged wife of the murderer. Like Moore’s, this is a performance that lends the text a weight; crime damages all those touched by it, far more than just the victim and those around the victim.
Both pieces are directed with subtlety and grace by Jeff Szusterman, and the minimal lighting design by Amber Molloy and Sam Mence lets the occasional stylistic flourishes hit the audience hard at exactly the right moments.
With a production like this, the quality of the individual pieces hardly matters, the most interesting and valuable things to come out of it are what people talk about afterwards, their own personal responses and the discussion around it. I find that both pieces answer more questions than I’d like them to, but these are pieces that are so personal that you could talk to three people about them and find six different opinions.
Verbatim is a success not because of the quality of the pieces, even though these are of a high quality with stunning performances, but because of what it provokes in an audience. It’s not necessarily saying something new for me, but it’s a prescient reminder that crime is not an easy thing to label and put away, but a thing that needs to be constantly re-evaluated and discussed, especially in terms of how we as a society deal with it.