Beth Kayes is a compelling performer and her one-woman show, Once There Was A Woman, is a tribute narrative from a daughter to a mother. Originally developed for a four-strong cast, the Masters of Performance student from the University of Auckland was given the opportunity to make the work into a solo piece.
With assistance from Dr Murray Edmond, Kayes presents a short, powerful biography of a dynamic non-conformist, an educator, a mother, a literature lover: a woman who refused to be defined by a terminal illness.
Kayes is every inch a versatile actor. The world she creates is clearly a result of strong training and discipline and is well punctuated with an array of recognisable theatrical devices.
This is the world of a daughter who is seeking professional help. During her discussion with her counsellor, she offers a number of insights into her parent: a vivacious woman whose interactions at home, and in her community, reflect a number of key changes that took place in New Zealand in the 1970s.
Ranging from experiences teaching in South Auckland to fostering children at her home in Mt Albert, witnessing protests as well as navigating her own way while battling with a brain tumour, Kayes creates a thoughtful, often funny and moving commentary.
The work is a finely wrought but, occasionally, still carries the hallmarks of a carefully constructed theatrical performance that just shies away from genuinely exposing some of the most vulnerable and brittle aspects of the relationship between mother and daughter.
Multiple threads also hinder a more comprehensive unpacking of the tragedy of watching a once powerfully articulate human slowly morph before her children’s eyes but the beginnings of this excavation are certainly present.
This is not just a touching coming-of-age story for the character of the daughter nor is it simply a final hurrah for the mother.
It has the real potential to make the audience genuinely care about our elderly and the palliative care they receive right here in Aotearoa. A tender and eloquent work that has been meticulously crafted, Once There Was A Woman, has much to offer its audiences.