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Review: Out of their depth at The Cape

Wed 13 Feb 2008 In: Performance View at Wayback View at NDHA

The Cape: Four teenage friends confront ugly facts about themselves on a road trip... The Cape, by Vivienne Plumb Dir: Celia Nicholson Featuring Dane Dawson, Damien Harrison, James Kara and Michael Whalley. Herald Theatre/The Edge Until Sat 1 March, in conjunction with the Hero Festival It's 1994 and four male teens, one gay, fueled by drugs, sugar and booze, travel from Wellington to Cape Reinga. Along the way they, to the disappointment of any audience expecting to come away having learned something about life, the universe or anything, learn next to nothing and become nothing more than they were when they set out. Mostly this is the fault of the author, but the director should have picked up and better remedied this flaw right from the start. Perhaps the best indication of the underlying problem in this production of The Cape comes in the programme, where the author and director receive star billing with lengthy and glowing bios, whilst the poor actors get just a pic and a name. And a hefty part of the programme is dedicated to exhorting us to see aspects of the production on YouTube and Facebook, as well as pics from the road trip used to create the internet and stage projection content. Very 2007, very multimedia, what with internet complementarity and on stage use of moving camera footage filmed along SH1. But if the story goes nowhere, if the characters are patchy and the stage direction is unfocused then no amount of new millennium bells and whistles and specially filmed YouTube clips are going to save it. The characters and performances are a worry. Dane Dawson, playing Eb in a not quite bravura performance, needed to be reigned in occasionally, to give the audience a rest and a chance to see inside his character and therefore maybe get to like him. At the very least he needed to be slowed down below a babble when there were important character points being expressed. But at least Eb, insecure and hyperactive, gave Dawson something solid to work with. The other performers were not so lucky. James Kara as Arthur, the Maori kid who knows where to get all the drugs, fights against a character so underdrawn as to be insipid. Even when he is savagely attacked offstage in a deal gone wrong we don't feel much for him. A more experienced actor might have built something moving and deep from this background part, probably by letting us see his face a little more at critical moments as a starting point. There are moments of excellence in the remaining two roles but once again they generally fall short of the mark, badly written and delivered into the hands of actors who need more skills and way better direction. The kid with the beanie hiding a painful secret from his mates (though how he has managed to hide it so long is a mystery of Conan Doyle proportions) is little more than wet. And (memo to author) making a kid sensitive, mothering and giving him a few hackneyed references to the Devotion Parade, elaborate makeup and Mardi Gras do not make for a convincing gay character. Exhibitionistic characterisations, a Shortland Street plotline and presentation values from the Telecom Xtra "dancing cow equals entertainment" school of dramatic art, along with jarring anachronisms, do not an evening of good theatre make either, especially when presented on a stark white set which works better as projection surfaces than an environment for the actors. Sainted drama teacher George Webby once exhorted actors not to go to the very edge of emotion due to the danger of tipping over that edge and revealing the join between actor and character. Too often The Cape's actors, dwarfed by the huge video projection screen behind them, were allowed to tip over that edge, sending the production all too often lurching in and out of something resembling a Jackass episode. A sure sign that everyone, from writer up to performers, are out of their depth on this one. The friends and associates of the production, once Firth, Judge, Caitlin, and the rest had finally switched off their bright-screen cellphones, seemed happily entertained watching their mates' more extreme moments, but the timing of their laughs and occasional whoops indicated they were laughing with the actors, not the characters. The rest of us just sat bemused through The Cape, waiting in vain for the promised "interesting results upon arrival." A video clip from The Cape can be viewed below (contains strong language).     Jay Bennie - 13th February 2008    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Wednesday, 13th February 2008 - 11:52pm

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