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March 15, 2010 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

The International Festival at Circa


It’s so easy to get swept up in the glamour of the international festival. With all these highly skilled and wonderfully entertaining shows coming from overseas, it’s so easy to drown in that soup of the talented different and lose sight of the omnipresent present talent that we already have in this gifted wee country of ours.

It is very telling that a lot of the most exciting work in this year’s festival is, if not directly rooted in ol’ Aotearoa, then has at least a deep connection. The two festival shows, being performed in a sort of tandem at Circa, both sit somewhat uncomfortably within an err of New Zealand work. Both raise interesting questions of the nature of the nation, of both the idea of a place as a home and of the inherent absurdity of the abstract nature of borders. All these points are made doubly interesting by their sly shying away from any inherent Kiwiness.

The Letter Writer had the easier job of this. Being, as it was, largely from France. Juliet O’Brien, who wrote and directed it, is born Kiwi but has been living and working in France (where The Letter Writer premiered) for more than a few years. The cast is a distinct mix of French and local. It is credited as being a French production but there is more than a whiff of the local about it.

A story of refugees and language, of how the absence of information is just as importance as its presence. While distinctly gallic in its occasionaly overly blunt storytelling, The Letter Writer is a treat of direct storytelling. The cast is exceptional.

Peter Hambleton is the eponymous Letter Writer and he gives a tour de force, expressing so much with so little. Benoit Blanc is the refugee Lansko, finding the exact right pitch to someone having trouble traversing the language barrier without ever seeming dull or ignorable. Anne Barbot played Lansko’s weird Leila, trapped in their home country, with a precision and fierce energy that was magnetic. Tim Gordon and Helen Moulder filled out the cast in a multitude of well-defined supporting roles.

The Letter Writer was an ingrossing and markedly well-inflected 100 minutes that were a joy to partake in. It dealt with some dense and rather in-depth material with a delicacy and detail that is so often missed in similar works.

One cannot be as glowing about Circa’s other offering Mary Stuart. Produced by the core crew of Circa standards, it is renowed playwright David Harrower’s (Blackbird) reworking of the eighteeth century German playwright Friedrich Schiller’s look at the conflict between Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots) and Elizabeth the First. It is dense, worthy and I’m sad to say, life-threateningly boring.

Director Ross Jolly has assembled a very talented team, but under the weary weight of such a profoundly self-involved script only a few shine, and some positively dull (as in not-shine). Nathan Meister as Mortimer and Aaron Alexander as Robert Dudley both stood out, giving wonderfully open performances. The moments they shared were the highlight of the show.

The plot plods along at too leisurely a pace and the whole thing is just far too drawn out in general. A little pace would not have gone awry. The actors do not so much speak as MIGHTILY DENOUNCE. A disappointment.

The Letter Writer
Written and directed by Juliet O’Brien
With Anne Bardot, Benoit Blanc, Tim Gordon, Peter Hambleton and Helen Moulder

7, 8, 11 – 15 and 18 – 21 March 2010

Mary Stuart
Written by Friedrich Schiller
In a New Version by David Harrower
Directed by Ross Jolly
With Darien Takle, Nick Blake, Tina Regtien, Nathan Meister, Jeff Kingsford-Brown, Nick Dunbar, Gavin Rutherford, Carmel McGlone, Gerald Bryan, Eddie Campbell and Aaron Alexander

27, 28 Feb, 2 – 7, 9 – 14 and 16 – 21 March 2010

Both are part of the 2010 International Festival.

Tickets are available through Ticketek.


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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