Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival
20 - 23 Feb 2017
What: The Floating Theatre
When: Monday February 20, 2017
Where: Lakeside Stage, Hamilton Gardens
Reviewer: Sam Edwards, STUFF
I am not going to describe what took place during tonight's creatively memorable and uniquely absorbing theatrical performance except that it was in a purpose built tent alongside Hamilton's Turtle Lake.
For three quarters of a timeless hour, we were exposed to theatre like no other. Oh, it might have reminded one intellectually of comedy from Monty Python to the the Theatre of the Absurd, but that is irrelevant.
Tonight, 30 people in rows of five opened their minds, or had them opened for them, or just went 'What the hell was that about?' as they all heard and saw the same events, but were neatly divested of any of the normal cues which tell us when to laugh, or empathise, or employ the usual responses which display our reaction to the experience - like laughter.
OK. A critic is expected to tell readers what happened. Sometimes that is all they do, but not to give readers at least an inkling of what they will see and hear as a context for the critical commentary is really infra dig.
But tonight, all rules changed.
Tonight, the experience was all that mattered. Talking about a real experience evokes reminder laughs, retellings, and a sense of the accompanying drama.
When the experience is performance rather than reality, our natural reaction is to select and categorise what we saw and heard, analyse and judge how it was done, and mine the process for even deeper ideas than were immediately obvious.
Critics are even worse at this than their readers, and yet we still employ them to trigger discussion, and often, sadly, to tell us what to think.
Tonight, two consummate actors, supported by brilliant sound, painting in light, working with unique sets and props, and backing it all with an innovative and evocatively expressive score created such agreeable magic that describing the events would simply assassinate the experience.
Ageless theatre, and it turned up in Hamilton.
Whau River, Avondale, Auckland
1 - 4 March 2017
What: The Floating Theatre
When: Monday 1 March, 2017
Where: West End Rowing Club, Auckland
Reviewer: Heidi North-Bailey, Theatreview.org.nz
The Floating Theatre is aptly named – no adornments and no title, it's simply called after its space. A beautiful, intimate theatre on a barge. The marketing material says it's New Zealand’s first floating theatre. While I do doubt it is the first theatre piece to ever be performed while floating on water, there’s no question that the space is nifty: a purpose-built barge that seats just under 30 on small bench seats. The audience is zipped into the space and the whole thing is intimate, uncomfortable and hot.
Directed & designed by Stephen Bain, The Floating Theatre is a conceptual piece deconstructing the whole notion of theatre. Using puppets, wonderfully made by Sarah-Jane Blake, a soundscape by Jeff Henderson and performed with dedication and conviction by Jeremy Randerson and Jenny McArthur, The Floating Theatre is a swirling abstract ride.
Firmly meta-theatre, the play uses puppets and shadows and sound and human bodies almost interchangeably. Who's doing the looking, and what does it all mean anyway? These are the general questions being asked in The Floating Theatre.
I enjoy the visuals of the space itself. The 8pm show doesn’t get quite the same view, I imagine, as the 9.30pm show. At the 8pm showing we arrive while it is still light, so we don’t get to experience the beauty of being led into the lit up floating theatre. However, it is marvellous to come out of the dream-like piece into the still, beautiful night on the water.
What: The Floating Theatre
When: Monday 3 March, 2017
Where: West End Rowing Club, Whau River, Auckland
Reviewer: Janet McAllister, The NZ Herald
It was already some enchanted evening even before we were ushered onto the moored show boat. The calm Whau River contained multitudes of quicksilver sprats; the setting moon was a thin red crescent.
It seems the intent of director/designer Stephen Bain, one of our most whimsical theatre-makers, is that we drink in the joy of the outdoor setting before entering the barge's simple, glowing tent.
Water, lights and sky whet our senses to receive the incense, animation and puppet absurdities inside. In the tiny space we even see sensory organs - eyes and a nose - sensing us and performing (for) us.
But first, a prologue: A conscientious stage manager (Jeremy Randerson, initially in prosaic high-vis) lifts up multiple trap-doors in the stage floor and gives the ostensible pre-show four-minute warning to those underneath (actually, the only other performer is the equally hard-working Jenny McArthur; intricate performance design is by Sarah-Jane Blake).
Later on, Randerson stolidly checks that the theatre curtains are working and then presents a diagram of how the pulleys work. Thus, in an hour of revelations - pop-up entrances, masks and boxes - the stage manager also exposes what's usually kept hidden: The cogs behind the magic, the legs paddling furiously underneath, to keep the artifice afloat.
But it's not a reveal made in a killjoy, bubble-popping spoiling spirit. Instead, the character delights in the logistics, showing us that clever cogs are magic of their own kind.
Sean Curham's lighting changes from stage-manager white to pretty red and mysterious blue-purple, depending on the mood, while spotlighting is handled by an ordinary office light. But, in this series of non-narrative vignettes, the atmosphere is set most intensely by Jeff Henderson's vivid music. Sometimes edgy and urgent, the soundtrack includes piercing high-hats, free-form jazz, marching beats, comic-creepy arpeggios, psychedelic electric organ and a soupcon of carnival.
The last couple of segments could be tighter or offer more, but overall this is the Fringe Festival at its fringy best, for $20.
Viaduct Marina (Tāmaki Makaurau/ Auckland)
8 - 11 March, 2017
Auckland Fringe Festival 2017 Awards
Best Production Design Overall,
Auckland Arts Festival Award,
Best Musical Score
Tauranga Arts Festival, Tauranga
25 - 28 Oct 2017
What: The Floating Theatre
When: Monday Oct 27, 2017
Where: Baycourt Lawn, Tauranga
Reviewer: Gin Mabey, theatreview.org.nz
The Tauranga Arts Festival welcomes Winning Productions’ The Floating Theatre, written and directed by Stephen Bain, and performed by Jeremy Randerson and Jenny McArthur.
Due to Tauranga’s very strong and potentially dangerous Spring winds, the Floating Theatre is moored on the grass outside Baycourt Theatre, instead of on the water: a small, white cube with the silhouette of a small stage and tiered scaffold seating inside. I’ll say now, we don’t lose a thing by not truly 'floating' (not that I can compare, but I can’t imagine this experience being better, it’s that good). In fact, I like that we get to imagine!
From the second we line up to walk the ‘jetty’ this show invites us to make believe, play and have un-hushed fun. The boat’s captain (Jeremy Randerson) comes out in his life jacket and guides us all up onto the makeshift jetty, to hobble along carefully, avoiding falling into the (grassy) water. The audience is already giggling and playing, commenting how it reminds them of that game where you “dodge the lava”.
The captain ushers us in and gets things ready on deck. I sit on a bright cushion on the floor at the very front, gazing upward. Captain subtly lets us know that we are not alone with him... there are odd things lurking.
I have to mention, Randerson has the BEST laugh. His breathy giggle is so beautifully genuine that it gets the whole audience going. He does that contagious thing where someone tries to talk but can’t get the words out through their wheezing chuckle. I feel uplifted and wonderfully silly.
There’s so much to be commented on and praised in this show; everything, in fact. But there are so many different jewels to talk about each one. The sound design by the talented Jeff Henderson, props by magically-minded Sarah-Jane Blake, lighting, and of course, performance, are all brilliant. One of the audience members walking out to her car comments to her friend that it reminded her of Monty Python in the sense that there are a series of small yet complete pieces. No need to try to piece them together with a story, because the feeling that runs throughout and beneath the whole show ties it together wordlessly anyway.
I feel the same sense of awe and complete joy watching this show as I felt watching The Pianist by Thom Monckton during a previous Arts Festival. Sort of like an old-time, slightly menacing, slightly lonely display of bizarre behaviour that somehow makes total sense as it appeals to the bizarre creature we all have lurking under the surface. This show will join Monckton’s show in my vault of favourite theatre memories.
Not only do I laugh a lot during this show, but there are moments where I feel actually very terrified! The masks. Oh the masks. I thought I was pretty hardy when it comes to doll or dummy-related things. Turns out I’m not at all. It’s a fun sense of horror though, the thrill is energizing. That’s how I feel about these non-blinking faces who are barking, staring, grunting, and trembling right in front of me. I hear a few yelps of “No no no!” each time these faces peer over the trapdoors. I like how the moments with these masks communicate to me the essence of what it feels to be ‘watched’ but without knowing the intention or the plan of the ‘watcher’.
I also like how we get little interludes alone with our captain as he bustles about the stage (the deck), shy of us but wanting to keep us in the loop of what’s going on. He makes me think of a lonely, weather-beaten sea man with a life of unpredictability, danger and excitement as he wrangles with these bizarre inhabitants below the deck, who happen to be his friends too.
The use of scale is very effective. At one point, a tiny diorama of the audience pops up, reflecting where we sit, and haunting us with the threat of scary visitors. Another piece shows a downsized proscenium arch, with a rope-entangled ballerina towering over like a giant from a dark fairy tale.
Another moment (among all moments) when Jenny McArthur displays her talent which makes it hard to look away from her for a second. Such a small space with such large energy, encompassing sound, and looming characters works so well; sensory over-load in the best way.
A truly amazing example of mimicry and physical skill involves a large baby... I don’t want to give it all away but Jenny McArthur is completely awesome. She’s so good, in fact, that my initial horror at seeing a giant baby gives way to warmth, as the innocence and endearingly-determined movements of pre-walking babies is so spot on.
One of the things I love most about this show is that I can simply feel, react, and just be there, letting the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings (a slinky kraken from the deep gives me a grape and graces me with a peacock feather) come to me.
That’s not to say that this show doesn’t get the brain turning, it absolutely does, but in a wondrous, awe-inspiring, childlike way. The show feels very inclusive in this sense. It would be interesting to interview everyone in the audience to see how this show made them feel, and what it made them think, because the answers would be extremely varied I feel!
Leaving this show I feel really ... refreshed. No, that’s not quite the word ... Inspired? Yes, but there’s more. Let’s just say I feel a mixture of all kinds of wonderful, hopeful things. I can’t quite say why or how this show makes me feel like this, but perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that we all need to be reminded that playing, silliness, shock, awe and a big dose of unbridled imagination are just as crucial to the enrichment of life than anything else we might deem more ‘serious’. To me, this is as serious as it gets: seriously good, feel-provoking theatre.
I giggle, I gasp, I get scared, I wonder, I love it.
The Floating Theatre
Direction/ design – Stephen Bain
Performers – Jenny McArthur & Jeremy Randerson
Music Composed – Jeff Henderson
Lights – Sean Curham
Costumes - Sarah-Jane Blake
Performance design – Sarah-Jane Blake & Stephen Bain
Video design & operation – Stephen Bain
Publicity – Hermione Johnson
Permits – Olivia Taouma
Production – Winning Productions
Marine Advisor – Alistair Moore
Construction assistance – Luke Boyle
Design assistance – Ruby Read
Front of House – Liz Kirk & Lisa Greenfield
Musicians – Jeff Henderson, Tom Callwood, Nell Thomas,
Daniel Beban, Gerard Crewdson, Anthony Donaldson
Designer – Stephen Bain, Engineer – Nick Barnfield (Showquip), Steel Construction – Matthew Immanual-Burt (Metalmen), Fabric skin – Warwick Bell (Fabric Structure Systems), Detail drawings – Sills van Bohemen Architecture, Barge hire – Nick & Sally Lewis (Marine Services Auckland), Stage Doors – Jeremy Randerson.
Creative New Zealand, Chartwell Trust, Auckland Council, Whau Local Board, Winning Productions
Sarah-Jane Blake, Chris O’Connor, Nisha Madhan, Geoff Gilson, Anna Hewlett, John Downie, Kerryn Lynch.