Article Title:Review: Mates and Lovers - history speaking to us
Author or Credit:Jay Bennie
Published on:17th November 2010 - 11:00 pm
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Story ID:9598
Text:Mates and Lovers Starring Paora Taurima and Simon K Leary Written and directed by Ronald Trifero Nelson Auckland's Basement Theatre November 17 - 27. Simon K Leary and Paora Taurima Slowly the history of men loving men in New Zealand is emerging. We are appreciating that, despite the narrow moralities and dour facades which prevail in the imagery of our country's past, there have always been men quietly lusting after, romancing and even living with men, on maraes and in towns and especially in our cities. Mates and Lovers takes as its starting point the remarkable book of the same name by Chris Brickell. The book was serious hit, so that's half the work done. But to take that richly populated and detailed book and distill its essence into a 90 minute stage show was always going to be a hard act to pull off. Despite the lack of a clear narrative thread this production mostly pulls it off rather well. Our gay male history comes alive, real people and events and social climates are given life and vitality. Essentially a series of historical vignettes, or perhaps more appropriately snapshots, drawn straight from the book and given humanity, Mates and Lovers almost achieves a sense of continuity due to the charisma and passion of the two actors who portray the poofs and straights, the homophobic and the louche who populate our homo history. We find ourselves watching Paora Taurima and Simon K Leary and thinking 'yeah, that's surely what it would have been like for us if we had lived and loved back in the day.' With passion and flair, aided by Ronald Trifero Nelson's script - simple and straightforward but studded with sparkling little gems - they illuminate the sly innocence of Maori boys giving the Reverend Williams a bit of nookie in exchange for tobacco, rural naivety and big city gaucheness, the horrors of medical intervention and eventually the modern era of legality and HIV. Taurima and Leary are a damned good paring, with Taurima's athletic physical grace counterpointing Leary's ability to powerfully raise or lower the emotional pitch at will. The staging is simple, the costuming minimal but versatile. Who knew you could do so many things with a sweaty shirt! As Mates and Lovers progresses a slight barrier between the audience and performers largely disappears. That initial barrier is created by the lack of a 'set up' at the start, leaving us without a sense of how to read the emerging performance. But a little way in the intimate staging and performances draw us close - to the point that several audience members tonight were perched on the edge of their seats, deeply immersed and anticipating treats to yet unfold. The barrier disappears because as each event and era is played out we begin to see ourselves in our forebears. With much help from writer/director Nelson, choreographer Tai Royal and subtly evocative music composed by Sam Holloway, our brothers in earlier times come alive. Through Taurima and Leary they reach out to us in their moments of triumph, despair and subversion. Along the way we meet lonely country boys, the kiwi concert party, ship 'girls' ("Mmmmm... seafood!"), Carmen's tits and experience a nastily droll playing out of the sordid Sarjeant Gallery affair. And heaps more. A knowledge of Brickell's book will help a little - but it's not essential to the experiences which play out on stage. Mates and Lovers on stage is a brave work well realised. It speaks to us. It entertains us and even manages to educate us a little too. Because it is us. - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 17th November 2010    
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