The Bicycle and the Butcher's Daughter
By Helen Moulder and Sue Rider
Directed by Sue Rider
The Dark Room (and touring New Zealand)
Wednesday, May 5
I'm casting a play in my head on the drive home from The Bicycle and the Butcher's Daughter and I'm making sure there is at least one part for Helen Moulder.
I've just seen her play five very different roles and now it's hard to imagine a play without her in it. I search for a word bigger than phenomenal to describe her performance tonight and find myself wanting. I find myself wanting more.
This fourth collaboration with writer / director Sue Rider is the first time I have seen Moulder on stage. I've interviewed her, feel I know her well from many conversations, but nothing actually prepared me for the performance I witness in this 75-minute, one-woman show.
Not only does Moulder take on five characters, she dims the lights and plays the music – specially recorded renditions of Beethoven's Kreutzer and Spring Sonatas by Richard Mapp and Juliet Ayre.
We open on a coat rail with five perfectly delivered costumes, a dismantled folding bike, and an office chair. We first meet Olivia Patterson, CEO of Patterson's Meats.
"On ya feet with Patterson's meats" is the proud motto of the family company. Olivia thinks big and has a plan to feed the world.
Moulder then morphs into Sir Harry, the first of her very deliberate, very choreographed costume changes. Harry is represented by a brown woollen cardigan and a flat cap, and it's like another actor has stepped on stage. There's fake news swirling about pukeko pies and we witness things begin to cleverly unravel.
Could it have been slightly tipsy sister Jennifer who's cooked Olivia's goose, another costume change and there she is as large as life.
Perhaps the most delightful of Moulder's characters is Olivia's vegan daughter Lexi. We watch her consume an entire banana without uttering a word, it's such terrific theatre we wish she'd bought the entire fruit bowl.
Having already mastered two of an actor's most difficult tasks - the phone call with nobody on the other end and playing drunk, Moulder adds comic timing to her arsenal as her Lexi delivers a pitch perfect stand-up routine, before returning triumphantly to Olivia, via a mysterious little girl called Grace.
It sounds full on but it's the unthreatened, almost pedestrian pace of Moulder's changes that makes the play special. Moulder is completely in control of every aspect, every gesture, every expression. Everything is considered and the audience can do nothing else but watch in awe.
This is theatre at its most intimate. In places it is confronting, often hilarious, audacious, always clever. Helen Moulder's bicycle journey through the ups and downs of family is an absolute tour de force. This play deserves to sell out.
The Bicycle and the Butcher's Daughter continues at The Dark Room until May 16. Book at Centrepoint. It then travels to Auckland, Paekakariki and Christchurch.