A spine-tingling thriller from award-winning Maori playwright Albert Belz is not for the feint-hearted. The immediacy of live theatre always adds intensity to evocations of the spiritual dimension and the production deploys every trick in the book to conjure up the gut-wrenching horror of a protracted encounter with malevolent supernatural forces.
The effect is amplified as the venue for the opening season, with the Going West Writers' Festival, is an historic, deconsecrated church in the sprawling grounds of the Corban Estate Arts Centre.
Those who enjoy the adrenalin rush of a good fright will not be disappointed. The play deftly handles the classic arc of a supernatural thriller with ordinary, sympathetic characters blithely ignoring the warning signs as they are drawn ever deeper into an inescapable encounter with a hostile antagonist.
But among the shudders and screams it becomes clear the thriller is a vehicle for some sensitive reflections on recent revelations about the abuses suffered by un-married mothers and their children who endured nightmarish conditions in institutions run by the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Albert Belz avoids sensationalising this history and rather than blaming the tragedy on irredeemable villains, the play offers a sense of catharsis and atonement. Director Tainui Tukiwaho expertly choreographs the efforts of an impressive special effects team and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as reassuringly normal episodes of down-to-earth banter are disrupted by explosive intrusions from the other side.
Briar Collard and Ariaana Osborne establish an amiable rapport as a boisterous pair of Antipodean back-packers while Nicol Munroe adds an appealing touch of the Irish blarney. Amanda Rees and Donogh Rees add depth to story as they convincingly portray the inner of turmoil of two nuns who are torn between their allegiance to the church and the promptings of their conscience.
What: Cradle Song
Where & When: The Church, Corban Estate Art Centre, until Saturday, September 8; Loft at Q Theatre, September 18 - 22
Reviewed by: Paul Simei-Barton