The Sherpa and the Beekeeper – Summit on Everest, by Matt Kambic. At The Meteor theatre in Hamilton until May 29, Reviewed by Cate Prestidge
A good piece of theatre doesn't just entertain, it explores the human condition, provoking thought long after the applause ends.
The Sherpa and The Beekeeper, by Raglan author Matt Kambic, literally starts at the top, focused on the triumph at the Everest summit on May 29, 1953. The script, however, explores much more and invites new reflection on this iconic piece of history.
To set the scene, wind and cloud drift across the theatre creating an almost otherworldly feeling of space. As the stage awakens, a familiar scene is revealed as Ed Hillary (Cameron Smith) and Tenzing Norgay (Jericho Nicodemus) strike a now-familiar pose on top of the world.
It feels thrilling, and why shouldn't it? It's a cracker of a story which has been capably and creatively written for the stage by Kambic, an Everest enthusiast and published author on the subject.
Kambic's knowledge and research mean the play is full of information and insight. His dialogue and character arcs explore the relationship between the men, their personalities, and the impact of the summit on their lives, which were changed forever.
Smith and Nicodemus are both superb in their performances, bringing energy and authenticity to the characters of Hillary and Norgay. While New Zealanders may feel they know something of the humble and direct pragmatism of Hillary, the surprise is the effervescence of Norgay as he both revels in his achievement and challenges the social-political relationships and racism of the colonial mindset of the day.
Throughout the play the pair explore some of the controversy that surrounded the summit, the political posturing and the way Hillary sought to contribute to the society that gave him so much.
Smith is wonderful as Hillary, direct and purposeful, he inhabits the aura of the larger than life 'Sir Ed' with sensitivity and care. As Tenzing Norgay, Nicodemus is energetic and lively, moving between pride for his achievement whilst challenging some of the status quo for the Sherpa people.
The stage is dominated by a massive central structure, a stunning representation of the summit of Chomolungma – Mt Everest. Constructed by James Brunskill, it provides multiple spaces for the actors to explore and over the three acts, it represents the actual summit as well as base camp and other, more metaphorical spaces.
At times these changes in time and place weren't as clear and with a projection screen used to good effect at the start, it may have supported the audience to have dates projected up during act changes to accompany the other signifiers like costume.
I'm never a fan of a long scene change, and while the music and sound supported the transitions and allowed time for costume changes, I'd love to see the shift integrated more into the action to reduce the blackout time between acts.
Having said that, this play felt polished with excellent performances by the two leads and a stunning set.
With a full house on opening night, the subject matter will appeal to many. With its strong sense of history and universal themes of the impact of fame, nationalism, colonialism as well as Hillary's reflections on the effect of the summit on the locals of Nepal, the play would be a good candidate for touring.
The five-show season opened at the Meteor Theatre in Hamilton on May 25, and runs through to a Sunday matinee on May 29. Tickets are available through http://themeteor.co.nz/