Oct 17, 2013 Theatre
The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl, Le Petit Workshop
Halfatasi, Refiner’s Fire Collective
The Clown That Ran Away From the Circus, Nikki Bennett & Company
October 16, 2013
Reviewed by Frances Morton
Red Leap Theatre stamped its mark on local theatre with the dreamy, enigmatic hit The Arrival, commissioned in 2009 for the Auckland Festival. Now they are generously sharing their tricks with emerging theatre makers. And good on them. These three short works fostered through Red Leap’s incubator programme display the hallmarks of the company’s magical theatre craft but are each unique and make for a varied palate of treats in one evening.
First up is the dark Grimms-y fairy tale The Soldier’s Heart and the Feathered Girl introduced by a hunched narrator, who does an impression rather than embodies the role of wizened raconteur. The tale – of course – involves a beautiful, wronged maiden and a noble soldier. Despite the clichés it gets off to a confusing start, however the puppetry and shadow play on the layered cardboard set is enough to maintain attention until the story sets in. Fairy tales tend to be silly yet take themselves so seriously. Obsessive, irrational love. Check. A curse. Check. A quest. Check. My favourite moments in this piece were when the work wandered off script and the actors, secure enough in their characters, enjoyed a little improv. (Try getting a monstrous puppet past the low-hanging lights in The Basement without bump and a little chuckle.) With a little more clarity in the story, and some more loosening up from the actors, this would make an enchantingly-presented fable. It’s worth coming for the impressive masks alone.
Play two takes a much more stripped back approach while being grounded a deeper moral quandary. Halfatasi contemplates identity – grappling with being from both Samoan and New Zealand European cultures. Four young women interact on a bare stage, flinging themselves around to two drummers pounding out the rhythm of their dilemma. They dance and climb on each other, cry out and pummel the floor. While there is no linear narrative to follow Halfatasi generates emotion and a fierce sense of character culminating with a strong conclusion.
The evening closes on a sweetly impish note with The Clown That Ran Away From the Circus. Nikki Bennett, as said clown, with her expressive blue eyes and coy shoulder shrugs immediately has the audience playing along. Backed up by her droll two clowns-in-arms, they embark on a rollicking sequence of clown games. These repeat, almost to the point of exhaustion, but there’s poignancy too as the dark side of clown life emerges.
The three works are a showcase of very different styles bound together by Red Leap’s canny take on physical theatre. On Friday night the shows are interspersed with a three-course meal presented by Pop-Up Dining. What a perfect way to indulge this line-up which is as entertaining and satisfying as a dinner party with friends, and a few surprise guests.
Until October 19.