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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

Fluid, intense, gentle, threatening, transformative

The Wellingtonista | 19 January 2017

The Wellingtonista reviews repertory theatre epic, The Undertow.


Rows of actors face the crowd, giving fierce pukana
The Undertow, on at Soundings Theatre to Sunday 29 January 2017 | Aneta Pond 2017

The Undertow is a massive theatrical epic presented by 35 performers from Te Rākau Theatre.

Written by Helen Pearse-Otene and directed by Jim Moriarty it follows the story of seven generations of Wellingtonians – Māori and Pākehā – as they carve out a life in Ōwhiro. Each of the four plays explores the experience of the individual while setting it against our wider history.

They are being performed two at a time in the weekday evenings, while on Saturdays you can see them all in a theatrical marathon.

I’ll add some content warnings (after the jump because spoilers) but for now let me tell you that this extravaganza is bloody grand.

This project to perform all four plays as a quartet has been six years in development. I’ve seen the first two plays performed individually but they make so much more sense when presented as part of a continuum.

Playwright Helen Pearse-Otene’s writing becomes more sophisticated in style and structure with each play while maintaining a balance between conveying information and emotional tone.

Director Jim Moriarty suits the presentation style of each play to the script and there are lovely moments in each play that had to be facilitated by a director.

Present in each play is a chorus. They are on stage for a lot of the time. Occasionally an individual will come to the fore then disappear back into the mass.

They have been well drilled by the choreographic team of Reuben Butler, Jeremy Davis, Kimberly Skipper, Manuel Solomon (with elements in The Ragged choreographed by Feet with Heat and Tanemahuta Gray), and it shows.

The chorus are crisp when they need to be, fluid, intense, gentle, threatening, transformative. It is a genuine treat to watch them work.

Production Designer Tony De Goldi has designed a modestly elegant set with common elements throughout the series.

Credit also to Stage Managers Zosia Lis and Ian Lesa with James Shires assisting, Production Co-ordinator Sean Ashton-Peach, Technical Assistant Glenn Ashworth, and Producer Aneta Pond, as this production is a huge undertaking.

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