Fringe 2008, Happy Bar
February 26-27 | Reviewed by Melody Nixon

‘BOW CHICKA WOW WOW’ has polished up a fluid and extremely vibrant production of Alan Brunton’s Zarathustra Said for this year’s Fringe Festival. First performed as a graduate piece at WPAC, director Lilicherie McGregor and cast have moved the production to the moody space of Happy for two nights only, this week. Together with the revelling accompaniments of ‘Fertility Festival’ – musicians Gerard Crewdson, Warwick Donald and the fabulous Jeff Henderson – the show provides a wild melange of morality, hedonism, Christianity and poetry, all with a suitably avant-garde twist.

The script, a jazz cabaret/rock ‘n roll/operetta style account of the journey of Nietzsche’s character Zarathustra into the ‘underworld’ of human life, is based on the German philosopher’s seminal ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ and includes experimental poems and songs written by Nietzsche himself. The play explores the tension that exists between the mouthpiece and the ears – in the case of Nietzsche between the moral figure of Zarathustra, the mouthpiece, and the writer’s own immorality, the ears. The poet’s descent into the human world is warped with confusion, and he tries to reach out and aid the toiling people he sees there, believing he might lead them to happiness through ‘Truthfulness’. But spurned, Zarathustra eventually recoils to the hills. There the creator of morality must be the first to realise the ‘calamitous error’ of morality.

As Zarathustra, Debs Rea plays the longyi-clad sage with great intensity. She rolls her eyes and limbs and imparts the deep sorrow and ambiguous wisdom Nietzsche’s character is remembered for with a commanding voice. It is shame here that the small space of Happy distorts the words of some of Rea’s speeches, and sound effects make it difficult to follow her narrations.

In the role of The Butcher, among others, Tamati Pere excels, and is charismatic and compelling to watch from beginning to end. Cast with a difficult role for some, Jessica Aaltonen is The Lover, and the seductress, who explores the quest for happiness through sex, and voyeurism. The nimble Aaltonen approaches the role’s many highly sexualised positions with confidence, and while her voice could do with greater strength at times, her heart – both figuratively and literally as it happens – is on full display.

Finally Emmy Walker is powerful and resonant as the MC, Ring Madam and various other, masked creatures, encouraging the audience to participate in the colourful, side-show like spectacle with gusto.

With this work Brunton has tapped into a long tradition of operatic works with a focus on Zarathustra – or Zoroastre, as the poet is known in English – which includes composers such as Jean-Phillipe Rameau, Mozart and Strauss. More than happy to provide the pace and rhythm for the evening, musicians ‘Fertility Festival’ bring Zarathustra Said completely to life, and grace us with the most exciting opening and closing of any show in this year’s Fringe.