BATS Theatre
July 31-August 9 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

AT ONE POINT in this duologue (I hesitate to call it a play) one of the characters says to the other, ‘Let’s be nothing together’. If this is the theme for the night, they certainly succeed, as this is a stunning example of the parts being greater than the sum.

The set, designed by Sally Richards, is good. The bach location is symbolised by crates for furniture, old armchairs, driftwood, a floor made of wooden crates, and piles of books in towers by the door. The lighting (David Philips) is odd – fading and brightening sharply and for no apparent reason. There is a curious 1950’s sit com effect when the two characters sit side by side facing the audience to discourse upon the word ‘cheers’ with brittle false smiles, again for no discernible reason. It was probably a good idea at the time of the workshop.

It is a stylised piece in which She (Melissa Billington – her name is Crystal apparently, but it is never used in the play) talks about everything and points out in tedious detail all the differences between America and New Zealand. Most of these are based around semantics (‘Why do you say bloody? Where does it come from?’), coffee (‘Coffee culture is a global conspiracy. I just want a coffee.’), and cars (‘What is it with Kiwis and their cars?’). He, (Nigel Edgecombe – similarly his name is Horse, but this is only something you would know if you read the programme) meanwhile, reads books, makes cups of tea and chops wood for the fire. It is cold.

The dialogue is awkward and stilted; it doesn’t flow and even the pauses and interruptions are unnatural. She goes out for walks along the beach – it is set in Pukerua Bay up the Kapiti Coast – and when she returns he asks her how her walk went. She makes up tales, usually involving sex, about the people she has encountered or sounds like an Orb record describing the beautiful scenery and the little fluffy clouds. She writes poetry (of course) and when she lists the books she takes out from the library – Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield, Joyce Carol Oates and Sylvia Plath – I would have left then if I could have snuck out unobserved. The tone is clearly established.

He interprets Maori legends about the region and they have intense debates about Jung, the subconscious and the manifestation of the self, as you do in student imaginations. Apparently they met in New York many years ago and they loved each other then, but not now. People change, situations alter and now they have moved on. It is as though they are in the winter stage if the relationship – any affection has long-since died and it doesn’t look as though there is any hope of rejuvenation. As He says, ‘you can’t stop nature’.

The group of friends in New York has split up and many have died now. She left everything behind, including a daughter, to come here. She says because it’s a nuclear free zone, but that isn’t a reason enough. She is removed from all she knows and is occasionally shocked by a sense of dislocation; ‘The radio plays American music but it’s a gazillion miles away.’ She claims jetlag – after three months – and you could almost feel sorry for her sense of isolation if she stopped whining for a second. She is obsessed with sex but the whole thing is tortuous, cold and decidedly asexual – like John Osborne without the anger or Pinter without the menace, which means we’re left with the pauses and the repetitions.

She whines about everything. She dreams about being in New York and when she wakes up and finds herself in New Zealand she is disappointed. She hates the fact that everyone hates Americans and sometimes pretends she is Canadian. She complains about the metric system, the fact that cars drive on the other side of the street, grown men in courier trucks making deliveries in shorts, people walking barefoot in the street and the sudden changes in weather. He tells her ‘It takes time to adjust’. She moans that he didn’t tell her about the fault line. He suggests that if he had told everything she wouldn’t have come. I bet he regrets that now.

And then there are the unanswered questions – ‘What’s that on your hands?’, ‘Why were you in a hotel?’ She returns from her walks carrying dog leads and talks about a dog that swam out to sea – ‘dogs don’t commit suicide’. She talks of a man in red swimming trunks, which may or may not be in a plastic bag, She delivers a stone which may or may not be covered in blood, She talks of meeting a monk and turns up wearing sandals. There may or may not be clues for the audience to decipher. I gave up and started reading the titles on the spines of the books which I found more interesting.

This could make a good radio play or a short story, as there are a lot of potentially intriguing elements, that but it’s simply not dramatic or visual enough to retain interest on stage. He dances at one point (later we discover he choreographs and sculpts) which breaks up the monotony, but although this hints at something interesting, it peters out to nothing. Winter is an anti-tourism broadcast for the Kapiti Coast. It’s always cold and there’s no work apparently, full of drop outs and hippies. Billington and Edgecombe do the best they can with the material they have, but it left me uncomfortably numb.