The mandate of The Massive Theatre Company is clear: to create bold, authentic and heartfelt theatre. It’s not always easy and it certainly isn’t always possible, but last night’s Auckland City preview of The Wholehearted gave its audience exactly that.
It’s a charming production. A group of young folk explore what it means to take courage, step forward and be exposed. What does it mean to take risks? Talking to a stranger? Not texting him back? Reminding yourself that it’s okay to remember your loved one in the faces of strangers? All that and more do the young cast share with the audience – including the fact that sometimes, against all the best advice from your head and heart, sometimes there’s value in where you are and observing the world.
Over an hour we wander through memories, woven against the constant spinning of life’s banalities experiencing the poignancy of the moment through each character.
The conventions are familiar, all the performers carry cubical frames that they toss, swing, throw, stand upon and carry throughout the show. The structure too isn’t surprising but it works and it works well. This could have easily dissolved into drama class activities but the skill, technique and commitment of the cast easily hold our attention as they share their stories.
All the performers have golden moments, not just one but many, and it’s a credit to the directors, Sam Scott and Scotty Cotter, that overall the show is taut, well-paced and moves with agility as well as agency.
All performers play multiple characters but there are some exceptional moments: Pat Tafa’s old Samoan father-figure requires no words as he sways with the rhythm of the bus; Theo David’s Captain America is unforgettable as he rubs his shield for courage; Villa Lemanu’s heartbreak over a text and lack of bro support … All are perfect portraits, all without lapsing into caricatures.
Fortunately, the energy isn’t always on high alert. Thomas Eason has an earnest and quiet air that pervades all his characters and is well juxtaposed with the tumultuous energy of Kura Forrester; Denyce Su’a brings a poised but reflective narratives that to her characters; Bree Peters’ tween youngster is the incorrigible Dr Who fan who sets the stage for this world.
That said, the tween boy played by Peters is probably a character that could easily go. It’s a device that is clearly used to leverage the story and while it does bookend the production it comes across as a tad forced and jars with the other mini narratives. The show also verges on dissolving into a romp through teenage heartbreak and the tinderverse (nothing wrong there) but the premise of capturing what it means to be wholehearted occasionally gets over-shadowed.
Nevertheless, the show is powerful, sweet without being saccharine, and showcases some brilliant talent for New Zealand theatre.
A suitably delicate set design (Christine Urquhart) with three panels and broad beige brushstrokes is beautifully lit by Jane Hakaraia. The choreography is sound and the actors, their commitment emblazoned in the sweat pouring off their faces, give a compelling performance.
This is New Zealand theatre worth seeing – opens at Q tonight. Go along and check it out.