St Andrews Church / 16 November 2019 / By Jess Soutar Barron
I was emailed a simple invitation. To a rehearsed reading in a church midway through a Saturday. The Festival has just wrapped. Those involved are creeping slowly out from under their post-fest coma. But this is the first step towards the next Festival. A collaborative workshopping of a verbatim theatre piece that will go from here on a journey to become a Show. I look forward already to seeing it, sometime in the year-away-from-now miasma. But this is more precious because it’s a delicate first unfurling of something not yet certain.
This is a treasure: the cast of exquisite talent and the talent that’s brought the piece to life. It’s reductive to describe this as ‘local’ talent though the cast all live locally: Peter McCauley, Catherine Wilkin, Kristyl Neho; Teresa Woodham and Puti Lancaster wrote the work together. The stunning musical talents of John Gibson round out the performance and lend so much to the devising. He plays piano, organ, drum stick, tea cup.
Woodham and Lancaster collected, transcribed, reformed six stories from kaumatua in Hawke’s Bay. They composed a score of voices. They shared that back to us. But in that exchange of story for willing ear, then telling for concentrated listening, they created something new in the cracks between. As The Day Draws In is a place-based piece that shows us our Heretaunga, the things that link us, it centres in an organic past somewhere between post-war and yesterday. It’s wrapped in nostalgia but isn’t old. It’s comfortable in its familiarity but has barbs like all good family stories, those knots of warmth that have secrets hidden within, those long lives that contain inevitable sadness and shadows.
We meet a nana and are reminded of our own. We hear those inner truths from Mum that she shares only once in a blue moon and we think of our own mothers. We listen to the mellifluous musings of a retired choral master and remember a favourite teacher, an uncle. In its specificity it is universal.
Familiar threads hold families together through generations but link people too across familial lines who are strangers to each other. The things we have in common, despite culture or class, are far greater than our various differences. It’s these interconnections that multiple out and become our cultural fabric and our sense of place and collective identity: Sea, the coast, the beach.
“We’ve always been beach people” says someone’s kuia. “These were our blankets, these rocks”. “That’s the long and short of it,” that’s something my Nana used to say. Tears spark when I hear it again. Music, a familiar refrain. Photograph collections, our tipuna in frames. Our notion of home, love, children. There are just six stories told in As The Day Draws In but they cut across so many touchpoints in so many families to feel familiar to all.
It brings ponderings of how we keep these stories, and the people who told them, alive, when those people leave us; the way to honour our collective history beyond nostalgic yearning. Put stories in boxes, file away photographs, archive conversations. This piece is oxygenating instead of stifling, though. It gives new breath to stories that would otherwise have been neatly folded away into cupboards.
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