Before the world turned upside down because of Covid-19, Massive Theatre, working with a cast of 20 from four South Auckland schools, spent months devising Babble which may, in these unsettled times, have an even more pertinent message than ever before.
Long-time Massive collaborators Scotty Cotter and Carla Martell asked the young performers to think about "the beeping and buzzing of technology, noisy traffic, the incessant shouting of social media – it never shuts up. Caught in this constant babble, how do we find stillness?"
The noise from the traffic may be waning but the "incessant shouting of social media" could get louder meaning it's worth thinking about the Massive message of finding stillness, but also a sense of acceptance and calm.
In Babble, the digital world is impressively brought to life as the talented high school students take on Massive's distinctive style of devised physical theatre. It's difficult to imagine a gen-z drama without phones and the usual warnings to turn them off are cast aside as the show opens with phone lights sporadically shining on the performers faces.
Micheal McCabe's set, featuring distorted mirrors with exposed lights, combines effectively with Jane Hakaraia's multi-coloured lighting to make you feel like you're inside a digital screen. Cotter and Martel do a great job of directing the young cast; slick, efficient ensemble work creates an arena in which the chaotic hustle of real life meets the virtual spaces that are opened up through the internet. Individuals surfing the web find themselves swept up in a wave of performers who seamlessly take us in and out of the digital world.
Massive's commitment to physical theatre crates a platform of non-verbal story-telling; the performers draw audiences into the emotion and essence of a story while the physicality of the ensemble is beautiful to watch. When vocalisation is used, we're taken deeper into their lives and the ensemble humorously expose the hidden world of tweets, status updates and the comments section of the internet.
The creativity of our rangatahi is amazing. Long may it continue.
What: Massive Theatre & Auckland Arts Festival, Babble
Where & When: Mangere Arts Centre, until Saturday, March 28
Reviewer: Kolopa Simei-Barton