Article Title:Stage: Penumbra at the Auckland Festival
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkin
Published on:14th March 2007 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1632
Text:Penumbra Sky City Theatre, Auckland, 11th March 2007. Before I get stuck into “Penumbra” I'd like your permission to have a moan. Oh, all right, I'm going to have it anyway, just being polite. This 21st century idea that EVERYTHING must be miked is really getting up my nose. Call me old hat, but an actor whose voice can't be heard without a microphone is a loser and should find another vocation. Sky City Theatre is not that large. There is nothing more ridiculous than being at a play trying to ignore the fact that in real life we do not all walk around with head mikes sticking out like robot controls around one side of our faces. And in the case of this and several other productions I've attended lately, when the sound engineer has gone to sleep and a character speaking from offstage suddenly sounds louder than anyone on the set, it's bleedin' ludicrous. So, I was already in high dudgeon by the time “Penumbra” had run only a few of its 180-something minutes. What's it about? Well, I'm thinking it's supposed to be about three generations of a family in New Zealand, spanning the years that included the 1953 Tangiwai Disaster, the occupation of Bastion Point, Black Friday of 1987, and the 1999 Solar Eclipse and using these historical events to move the story along. In this self indulgent, bloated conception, though, all that was kinda lost; the democratic process took over and wrecked the whole structure so that what we had at the opening performance was a sprawling umbrella tent, like the one onstage in the second act that a character (unintentionally symbolically) dismantles, which collapses when the supporting ribs are removed. Quite why these things happen in New Zealand theatre is a mystery. I don't know many other places in the world where a student production would be subjected to the scrutiny that being part of an international arts festival brings with it. Perhaps none of the creators or collaborators were dominant dogs. Maybe they're all too nice and maybe the pearl lost its lustre along the way and they just kept on adding more to the strand, but someone should've taken the reins. In the end, what might have been moving was maudlin, what could've been amusing and original was made to misfire (the idea of the Queen appearing fully gowned, gloved and tiara-ed and having tea with Grace van Dooren, beautifully portrayed by veteran lesbian theatre actress and producer Madeline McNamara, was highly evocative of a generation; and had she - Abby Marment as Elizabeth II - been allowed to simply be a figment of the imagination, it would've been touching, but no, they had her honk like a goose so that it became comical – totally wrong!) It was as if everyone involved was afraid this show might appear –horrors! – theatrical! “Penumbra” was conceived and created by, and I quote from the programme, ‘Christian Penny, Jade Eriksen, Penny Fitt and The Company.' And therein lies the problem, too many cooks. That said, there were moments of great beauty and performances of merit: Ms McNamara's, Mark Ruka as DJ Plastic, Sam Selliman as both Trish and Margaret Chan, and as a teenage Sophie Swanson, Abby Marment (QEII) is so overenthusiastic you begin to like her. A few good performances, however, are not enough to keep one interested for the extraordinary amount of time audiences are expected to give to this production. Full marks to Vanda Karolczak for the lighting. Penny Fitt's design, costume-wise, was admirable but the confusing Act One set didn't work. One bit of scenery cannot be an airport lounge, an aeroplane and a Buddhist temple even when cleverly backlit. Larry Jenkin - 14th March 2007    
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