Review: Punked-out suffrage story a rockin' riot

By Paul Simei-Barton

That Bloody Woman. Photo / Michael Smith
That Bloody Woman. Photo / Michael Smith

If Alexander Hamilton and America's Founding Fathers can conquer Broadway as gangsta rappers, there is no reason why Kate Sheppard shouldn't kick out the jams in a homegrown punk rock extravaganza.

ATC's reboot of a show that premiered at last year's Christchurch Arts Festival brings a blast of anarchic energy to the remarkable story of how New Zealand beat the world in granting women the right to vote.

There is some historical dissonance as Sheppard's roots in the Christian Temperance Movement runs up against punk's nihilistic enthusiasm for sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, but such jarring contradictions are easily digested by contemporary audiences.

Co-writers Luke Di Somma and Gregory Cooper connect the historical story of New Zealand's suffrage movement with the more radical style of modern-day feminism as male supporters of the struggle are ridiculed and opponents dispatched with crass derision.

The contemporary vibe struck a chord with the audience but the show's most compelling moment came with Phoebe Hurst's moving lament for the victims of domestic violence focusing on the 19th century idea that prohibition of alcohol was the best way to prevent the abuse of women.

Sheppard is presented as a saintly visionary though Esther Stephens adds some emotional complexity with heartfelt songs about her failed marriage.

Geoffrey Dolan has great fun as King Dick Seddon who struts the stage as a misogynist pantomime villain.

The 80-minute run-time is kicked along with power chords from Andy Manning's live band and director Kip Chapman captures the DIY zest of the punk era that is neatly reflected in the cut-and-paste aesthetic of Rachael Walker's set design.

What: That Bloody Woman

Where: SkyCity Theatre, to June 26

- NZ Herald

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