Unitec’s 2015 grad show is an ambitious and provocative work collaboratively created by its final year students with director Pedro Ilgenfritz.
Watching it on Saturday night as the world reels from the attacks on Beirut and Paris and millions mourn the deaths of family and loved ones, 2063 becomes a work that resonates with the impact of those crimes against humanity. The events clearly ripple across the cast and creatives and produce a moving and deeply sensitive performance that is, I believe, particularly unique to the season.
Its 2015 and a young man, Sebastian (Blaise Clotworthy) is caught in a familiar conundrum. Should he stay or should he go? Stay in the big smoke of Auckland or head elsewhere? It’s never really clear what demons are haunting him (is it just skyrocketing house prices?) but they are sufficient to prompt a reading by a local psychic who takes him forward to the year 2063.
New Zealand in this futuristic world is a very different place. Global warming and rising sea levels have forced mass migration from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe and Eastern Russia (strangely the Middle East is not mentioned) to our shores. Initially welcoming to the numerous refugees, the attitudes have quickly changed and a chasm has developed between The City (Auckland) and the rest of the nation known as the Southern Lands: a newly established group of territories stretching from just south of Papakura into the Waikato.
Inevitably, a divide is created between the corporate world of The City who cling to nostalgic notions of New Zealand as it was before the population swell; and the burgeoning success of the Southern lands whose idyllic lifestyle and people-orientated politics are seen as a potential threat.
As a devised work it’s excellent to see how this production is a good temperature gauge for the politics in which our world is currently steeped, and also how much social media and popular mediums influence new work. The scene, Les Sans-Papier from Notre Dame – “we are the strangers here, refugees, men and women” – is beautifully evoked in the ensemble opening scene. Against two large stark red walls the people line up holding clothes hangers before them. Nameless others too once wore these garments; they are gone but not invisible, silent but powerful.
Similarly, the Southern Lands are given a utopian ambience, not dissimilar to the world of Avatar. Its leader Luna (Brianna Smith), a blind leader, is not unlike an elfin queen from our very own Lord of the Rings. They speak a language called Souli, whose origins can be found in the languages of Asia, South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Pacific (but not Africa this time it seems) and have a remarkably good handle on this pan-refugee language.
Connecting the present and the future is Sebastian’s relationship to his grand-daughter Lou (Sadia Gordon), caught in the middle of tensions on either side of the divide. She is a loyal member of the Southern Lands yet she and her best friend Frankie (Rhian Firmin) work for the Man (literally, the Prime Minister) as cleaners. However, growing suspicion between the two nations forces the leaders to meet and an undercurrent of rising fear initiates a sequence of events that throws Lou and her friend into jeopardy.
As a collective, the cast are strong and provide solid performances. The stand outs of the evening are Sam Goodger as John Jebsen, the conflicted private secretary of the Prime Minister whose true loyalties lie with the Southern Land; Blaise Cotworthy whose initial uptight façade slowly disintegrates to reveal a compassionate and upright young man; and Shannon Hawkeye as General Carlotta whose drive and unabashed commitment to the war comes across as eerily recognisable.
Michael Jamieson and Tyler Brailey also give noteworthy performances as do Sadia Gordon and Rhian Firmin. Ava Diakhaby and Sarah Nessia as the psychic and her assistant do well with the characters they play but they continue to inhabit the periphery of the drama.
The issue is largely still with the script. The underlying motive as to why Lou and Frankie are in fact cleaners in The City is vague, as are Sebastian’s deep uneasiness and unresolved issues with his mother. The characters of the psychic and her assistant who provide the futuristic reading are also more caricatures than anything else, tipping the work towards 80s sci-fi rather than the potentially recognisable future of New Zealand. In addition, structurally the opening scenes could also have been placed in the middle or even close to the end: the linearity of the plot structure makes it almost too predictable.
Sarah Nessia is also responsible for the music that spans a range of genres and for the most part it is well-suited to the different worlds that it creates. Marshall Bull’s lighting design works well with Mary Poor and Anna Tarr’s simple costume designs, though occasionally the binaries set up between the two worlds come across as a tad forced.
The show as a whole is far too long and the pacing, while exquisite in its moments of poignant silence and stillness, definitely needs to speed up in other areas.
A solid work developed by a talented group of creatives, both on stage and off. Pedro Ilgenfritz, director and dramaturg, deserves to be very proud of all the students who made this show.