Theatre review: Where Are You My Only One?, Basement Theatre

By Janet McAllister

(From left) Elizabeth Hawthorne, Elena Stejko and David Aston. Photo / Supplied
(From left) Elizabeth Hawthorne, Elena Stejko and David Aston. Photo / Supplied

Mail-order brides, either as scheming minxes or as doormat housewives, are a stock joke, but our heroine in this engaging, gentle, small story - romantic in every sense - is not. Playwright Vanessa Rhodes asks: what if the immigrants turn out to be human? What if internet Russians turn out to have families, dilemmas and - gasp - jokes of their own?

And what if Godzone is not (just) seen as a green landscape - a place to escape physical hardship - but also a cultural wasteland? Yulia (Elena Stejko) loves the champagne and caviar served at the theatre; Waikato Bob (David Aston) has never been to the theatre. "Good," comments Yulia's mother Ludmilla (Elizabeth Hawthorne) emphatically, when she learns that her daughter has sent Bob a postcard of their local cathedral. "He can see how beautiful Russia was."

John Verryt's low-key set is placed between two banks of audience, and across the stage we see the courtship unfold in profile via letters and telephone calls (in some pre-Skype past).

Stejko shines brilliantly in the most fully-written role - her emotional authenticity is vital - and Aston and Hawthorne are excellent supports. Those with far-flung family might secretly identify with Ludmilla's laments that her grown daughter is a "selfish girl" for wanting to settle on the other side of the world.

The plot holds no particular surprises nor broader commentary; instead, the focus is the "how" not the "what". Cameron Rhodes' direction pulls the play up from straight conventionality by emphasising the piece's lyrical lines ("branches lift you higher than the concrete world, even higher than the concrete sky") and other poetic, dream-like elements, with poignant violins, dance, and sudden, intriguing mood shifts.

A fairytale - The Snow Child - is mentioned at one point; it could have been a framing device. The first contacts are believably awkward, but if anything can make a fairytale romance also seem possible, it is the portrayal of the couple as having will and bravery.

Theatre review

What: Where Are You My Only One?
Where: Basement Theatre, to December 8.

- NZ Herald

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