Arts Festival Review: Havoc in the Garden

By Paul Simei-Barton

Nicole Thomson (left) and Miriama McDowell in  Havoc in the Garden . Photo / Supplied
Nicole Thomson (left) and Miriama McDowell in Havoc in the Garden . Photo / Supplied

The latest piece of youth-oriented theatre from Massive Company adopts the admirably egalitarian but dramatically unsatisfying strategy of giving what amounts to a lead role to each member of the 14 person cast.

The result is likely to test audience attentiveness as no less than five parallel narratives, each with its own back-story, stretch out over a show time that comes close to three hours with interval included.

The drama unfolds in separate houses which are locked down due to an armed hostage taking incident. In one house a crew of Samoan painters unravel complex paternity issues while dealing with the spirit of a dead relative.

Elsewhere three sisters are struggling to lift a curse that stems from a history of child abuse and a distraught sister is coming to terms with memories of her pop star brother

In a cyclical rhythm the drama switches between the competing story-lines as the actors slowly tease out traumatic incidents from their family histories.

Uncovering the past sets off all kinds of personal conflict and the rises in emotionally intensity can be charted by increasingly frequent use of the f-word.

Most of the dramatic action comes to us as reported speech and the serial conversations have a rather static quality as each story is locked into a segmented compartment of Sean Coyle's naturalistic set design.

However British based writer Lennie James creates some arresting dialogue that neatly slips from street level vernacular to powerful poetic metaphor and the production is certainly not without its moments of magic.

There is refreshingly light touch in the treatment of cultural identity issues with Fasitua Amosa's amusing explanation of why he hates eating taro and some wickedly sharp comic timing from Joe Folau.

Bree Peters displays a sweet singing voice with a memorable version of Bob Dylan's Make You Feel My Love and Scott Cotter provides a pivot for the swirling drama with his wonderfully deranged webcam blogs on the state of the world and his fractured psyche.

The most compelling dramatic moment comes from Loretta Aukuso in the role of a school girl who has forgotten how to pray but somehow manages to blurt out a hauntingly intense plea that her mother might be delivered from the hands of her abusive husband.

*Havoc in the Garden runs until March 6 at the Herald Theatre. It then runs at Mangere Arts Centre from 9-12 March, and The Pumphouse, Takapuna, 16-26 March.

- NZ Herald

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