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April 2, 2007 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Kissing Bone

Written by Paul Rothwell
Directed by David Lawrence
BATS, March 22-31

I’ve decided that I like Paul Rothwell. I’ve seen his last two plays (Deliver Us, Hate Crimes), both of which I both enjoyed – but I loved Kissing Bone.

In a sparsely populated rural area in New Zealand (someone told me it’s Levin) lives Britney (Ginny Spackman). She prefers animals to people, and even though her cows keep dying, she remembers every one (presenced by the crosses at the back of the stage). Her neighbour Enid (Charlotte Simmonds), a bored and horny housewife, takes a liking to Britney’s brother Norris (Robin Kerr) who has recently returned to town – before she realises she used to babysit him. When elderly neighbour Mr Marrow (Alex Greig) falls over and breaks his hip Britney finds him and becomes his nurse. They all meet for the funeral of Britney’s cow, an event which ignites Britney’s quest to remember why and how her other cow died many years ago. Thus begins a darkly comic story that rips open the underbelly of rural New Zealand, backtracks into the past histories of these characters and changes all their lives.

Rothwell’s writing feels more mature and his comedy is dark and surprising. There are hints that Mr Marrow’s after a bit more from Britney than just pills and spoon-feeding. But when he finally reaches out his arms and asks her to “push up against his hands” (with her breasts), it was both utterly shocking and strangely comic. Especially startling is the fact that she’s apparently “liberated” and is likely to “forget about it soon enough”.

Fortunately all the actors handle the material with seriousness, investing in the characters a commitment which only serves to make the story more touching. Norris is dismissive of women – “I’m just texting this girl from down south, she’s so stupid”, but his intimacy and power issues are revealed in a powerful scene where he lies on the ground in a towel, shaking, sobbing and seemingly trying to rub the touch of another from his skin. Similarly, Charlotte Simmonds makes Enid equally comic – “I’m sorry I’m a slag but I don’t know any other way to go about it” she comments while trying to seduce Norris. But the scene when she offers herself, her soul and her life to Norris is played with quiet tenderness. This is contrasted with Norris’ vindictiveness as he rejects her: “I can see the moment I broke your heart, it was written across your face”, he scoffs. It is sad, powerful stuff from a section of New Zealand society normally dismissed as ignorant and unimportant.

The last part of the play moves into the past, unravelling the mysterious events. Each actor plays their childhood self with conviction and seriousness. I especially liked the staging where the other characters stood at the back of the stage, watching each childhood scene before taking part in another scene themselves. It seemed to symbolise the way these events were being remembered in each of their minds, and that the remembering was a collective, healing process. Strong acting, tight direction, and accompanied by subtle yet effective lighting and an obligatory cow / spooky soundtrack ensure that Rothwell’s powerful script is maximised to its full potential. There’s utter heart to this comedy and I loved every minute of it.


About the Author ()

Well hello there. Eleanor was the Theatre Editor in 2007, now she writes the Women's Column and just generally minces about the Salient office. Eleanor is currently an Honours student in Theatre (with a touch of gender). She also has a BCA in Marketing but she tries to keep that on the d-low (embarrassing, because she loves academic integrity and also perpetuating the myth that she's a tad bohemian). If you've got a gender agenda, woo her by taking her a BYO Malaysian. She lies, if you show any interest at all she'll probably tackle you in the street and force you to write a column.

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