Quick Immersion

4-8 September, Studio Productions, 
Napier Repertory Players, Little Theatre, Napier
By Jamie Macphail

I’ve been binging on Netflix recently.  More than usual.  It’s been cold, I’ve been fluey … it’s addictive. So dragging myself out on a Wednesday night was a challenge.  I really went along to support a friend, suspecting a small audience.

The Little Theatre in MacGrath Street, Napier is a cool little space. I’ve seen a lot of theatre there and been in a few plays.  It feels like warm and familiar territory. Tonight it’s buzzing, if not a full house, it’s very close to.

Two One Act Plays.  First up “An Unseasonable Fall of Snow” written by Gary Henderson and Directed by Monique Cowern. Just two actors, Matt Kidd and Harrison Keefe. This one is in the round, the simple set is in the midst of the seating in the auditorium.

Matt Kidd has a powerful presence onstage, he’s imposing. A moment of stillness as he arrives on stage works to engage the audience; we’re there with him, literally and figuratively.

The storyline has twists, one big one and a few minor ones … telling you almost anything about the plot will take too much away from the experience.

The performance is a masterclass. Matt’s character is the key protagonist and has a phenomenal amount of lines. He only falters once or twice. His physical presence combined with his ability to dwell totally within his character keep the word heavy script light and moving. A lesser actor would have lost us within all those words. We were with him all the way, he elicited gasps when warranted and laughter when appropriate.

Harrison is the foil to Matt, and plays it cleanly and utterly believably. We share his bewilderment and confusion.

The play was directed succinctly, nothing seemed superfluous, it was economic and very effective. Simple use of lighting, and a very basic set were all that was needed.

My one criticism is of the play itself. I felt as if it could have been edited. We covered some ground more than once. There were extraneous leads that took us nowhere. Maybe I didn’t concentrate hard enough, but I ended up feeling that it could have done with an edit.

That aside, it was riveting theatre.

Next up, a totally local production. John Cocking is well known to many locals. “Brothers In Arms” was written by John, with him in a key role onstage as well. Directed by Sharyn Hildreth.

We’ve moved our seats in the auditorium and this play is back on the stage. Again, an arresting opening, with two old soldiers, one in a wheelchair, and a fresh faced young man (Connor Molloy) standing for The Last Post. It’s a nice moment, the faces are great, three distinct characters standing for us to absorb.

The play moves swiftly, with action moving between a bar in Derbyshire in the 1970’s and a World War One battlefield.

It’s a clever set; simple yet very effective.  Three chairs and a small table for the bar. Corrugated iron, barbed wire and sandbags for the battlefield.

A cast of five, three young men and two mature gentlemen. Accents and dialects are always a challenge in amateur theatre, but there were only a couple of moments where I wasn’t totally convinced by these delicious accents. David Brock, the second old soldier, played the concerned, world-weary, anxious friend with total credibility, but there were a few key words in his dialogue where the accent faltered.

Stephen Evans played they Young Norm, to John Cocking’s Senior Norm. One of the many very impressive aspects of this play was that both visually and vocally, the pairing of these two was remarkable. The moment he spoke I knew that Stephen was the Young Norm.

Young Norm and his comrade Billy, played by Isaac James, had action packed roles, under fire, under extreme stress, in conflict with the enemy and each other and they shone in their roles. Dynamic performances, expressing complex emotional depth and true antipathy.

John’s role is pivotal to this play, and he carries it magnificently. The range of emotions are all there; this is a cynical, broken man, at long last facing up to some truths. There was a moment where I anticipated seeing his total surrender to his past, the absolute release of all the pain and despair, but we never quite got there. This may have been a directorial decision, or even one made by the writer, but I wanted to see it. The words were all there, the anticipation built toward it, and … it passed.

This is a very minor criticism of a significant piece of local theatre.  This production is about to head to the National Theatrefest…and deservedly so. Full credit to all involved. A great story, well written, carefully directed, delivered with total conviction. Compliments to the full crew as well. Peter Hurley’s use of lighting and special effects was effective and perfectly timed.

These two plays run until Saturday.  Ditch Netflix and give yourself a treat, get along.

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