Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nelson Wattie on Shakespeare and Tusitala

The 59th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the October 1996 issue. It is a theatre review by Nelson Wattie, who to our delight became our Wellington theatre reviewer when Vincent O’Sullivan suddenly became unavailable. It has taken me a while to realise that QUQ’s book and theatre reviews are as worth  preserving on the internet as are the interviews and articles. More to come. I am using a new OCR program so there may be errors in this post: as always, corrections are welcome.

Danish Ham
TUSITALA, Pacific Theatre
The production team at Circa tried hard, but failed, to render Hamlet boring. Andrew Moyes’ set was drearily conventional; Helen Morrish’s costumes almost comical and, worse, meaningless; Bruce Phillips directed the play as if we were in the 50s, the 30s, or even Victorian times. It was mainly Shakespeare himself that defeated them, but also some spirited acting.
Plays within plays — and not only in the players’ scene. Hamlet’s acted “madness” only partly convinces the court, and we, one audience, are held in tension by the uncer­tainties of the audience within the play. Tim Balme was physically exciting and spoke his lines “trippingly” and sometimes with a flash of illumination that made the familiar new, yet he was often dangerously close to ham, in keeping with the production values. Paradoxically, he was also a touch too nice, just as Jim Moriarty’s Claudius was too nice for a murderer playing a royal.
Ophelia, a nice girl, plays a role for Ham­let with Claudius and Polonius as audience; Hamlet, seeing through the mask, banishes her from his life. This was the most moving scene, Katie Wolfe’s performance being exquisitely judged. Her Ophelia was neither pathetic nor bold, a woman in feeling, a troubled child in understanding and a reluc­tant actor in the play her elders directed. Hamlet, as unwilling audience, was as moved by her performance as we, and Balme’s acting, never inconsiderable, here  rose above its (or the director’s) limitations.
For reasons of state, Hamlet’s friends act roles within roles as well, and Jacob Rajan as Rosencrantz was especially effective. He (who also shone as the player queen and as Osric) is a young actor worth watching closely. Only Polonius never seems to act a part in a part, which is why he can almost bore us.
Grant Tilly did not, partly because he spoke well and was thoroughly nice, more permissibly in his case, and partly because of support from Ophelia and Laertes (Jed Brophy): their loving tolerance of the de­cent old fool was well expressed. There was something too nice in this state of Denmark, yet never a dull moment.
In Paul Simei-Barton’s Tusitala and the House of Spirits, the play’s the thing wherein the Samoans catch the conscience of the German oppressor. Here again there is play within play, some of the internal ones more telling than their frame. The Samoan performers are true tellers of tales in word, dance and music: tales that are entertaining, hilarious, moving and politi­cally explosive, all at once. Terrifying masked spirits (called “brownies”) perform a Highland fling to Samoan drums, wearing partly Polynesian, partly colonial dresses that blend the genders as confusingly as the ethnicities. Martyn Sanderson’s Tusitala (looking more like a tortured van Gogh than a warm-hearted, diplomatic Stevenson) paled beside the brilliant performances of Joesefa Enari, Shimpal Lelisi, Cadada Alofa, Olivia Muliaumaseali’I and Tausili Mose. This and Arthur Miller’s are the best new plays seen in Wellington this year.

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