Circa Theatre
March 3-21 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

Hatch is a multilayered production – it is a period piece, a philosophical debate, an imaginative biographical portrait, masquerading as a town hall slide presentation to garner sympathy for the aggrieved Joseph Hatch. Hatch has been stripped of his license to produce oil on Macquarie Island – from penguins. According to Wikipedia (somewhat unreliable, I know) J Hatch & Co dispatched about two million penguins over nearly 30 years. It also notes what a persuasive and entertaining speaker he was – and this is definitely presented in this production. Roundly condemned by popular history, Hatch shows there are two sides to the story (as the title would seem to indicate).

Hatch sets out to make a forceful case for the restoration of his business. Even if you are wholly against his enterprise (as I was) it is difficult to dispute his logic regarding the ethics of slaughter (that we have few qualms sacrificing some species, but are bleeding hearts over others) – I’ve always thought New Zealanders are particularly prone to hypocrisy in this department. There is a nice theatrical double meaning to his repeated references to ‘production values’ (which are driving forces behind the man and this production). I’m not personally inclined to his line of political philosophy – the highly market driven state – but there is no doubting Hatch’s conviction, even if it comes at a huge personal cost.

Facts emerge slowly as Hatch gives his presentation – writer Geoff Chapple does not race to fill in the background of the man, nor entirely refute the myths. Solo performer Stuart Devenie charts an emotional rollercoaster – he lambasts against backstabbing politicians, he is stricken with grief and guilt about the death of his only son (this may be a theatrical device, as my ‘reliable’ source states that Hatch had four sons), he is humorous and sly. The ‘lantern’ slides, designed by Tony Rabbit and Geoff Chapple, and the obvious result of extensive archival research are his aides, along with props pulled out of his large bag. Other than that, director Colin McColl and designer Tony Rabbit give Hatch the stage – a wise choice as it allows Devenie to pace and rave at will.

Hatch is an unsympathetic character – so our ‘distance’ from him has to be carefully controlled – we have to be let into his mind to a certain extent and ‘see’ his emotions. This is generally better done in a book, but it is achieved it as much as possible in a theatre. However, when he appeals for our applause as a sign of support I found myself unwilling to give it (hardy surprising given I am a lefty vegetarian who believes in the welfare state…) But as I considered my applause was also recognition of Devenie’s excellent performance and a well produced show I gave in.