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February 21, 2005 | by  | in Theatre |
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The Bach

The Bach is a play which graciously and not so graciously explores the idea that Michael King labeled Being Pakeha Now. It is set in that most Pakeha of locales, the family bach in the Coromandel. The Bach brings two diametrically opposed brothers together, breaking an imposed separation marked by time, distance and lifestyle as they grapple with the loss of their father.

The Bach is perfectly cast. Peter Hambelton plays Simon with understated success befitting the homely and pragmatic but reasonably successful Auckland lawyer. Simon lives constantly in the shadow of his hyper-successful screen writer wife Sally, played by the glamorous and multi talented Miranda Harcourt. The onstage chemistry between the sexually dysfunctional couple is wonderful and highly believable as each moves from loving tenderness to bitter and snide within seconds. Paul McLaughlin plays Michael, Simon’s attractive but underachieving younger brother, a once-published writer recently returned from London. McLaughlin retains his mannish charms and air of arrogance and successfully blends a world-wise attitude with traditional pakeha anti-culture. To complicate matters further they are joined by Hana (played by the stunning Katye Ferguson), Sally’s personal assistant and budding Maori radical still struggling with her dual Maori and Pakeha identities.

The set consists of an open-plan bach that adequately and seamlessly merges interior and exterior scenes. The cluttered interior is suited as it portrays the upper-middle-class version of ‘roughing it’, with designer extra virgin olive oil and maldon sea salt, while the simplicity of the exterior makes the problem of the new arrival to the property, a recently commissioned public toilet which becomes a lightening rod for the brothers’ problems, ever present. The set is functional and attractive, but most of all believable as the oft-stereotyped Kiwi bach.

There is a significant lack of symmetry between the two acts of the play, separated by a fifteen minute interval, which I found a distraction. The first, at almost an hour and a half, is characterized by a quick-witted satire of modern Kiwi life, but as the characters plough through bottles of beer, wine and vodka the urbane, liberal left, artsy, Labour-voting exterior is broken down to reveal traditional (for want of a better word) Pakeha prejudices. The flaws and secrets that each character carries erupt simultaneously in a surprisingly physical dramatic fashion. The second act, at 25 minutes, which blindsided me to a degree, is an exercise in unconventional reconciliation and takes place in the hung-over wake of the previous night’s revelations. Although the interval was needed, it did draw my attention to the brevity of the final act.

Steven Sinclair’s script stole the performance; it is fresh, invigorating and vibrantly Kiwi. It proves McLaughlin’s character Michael very wrong when he states that the only successful Pakeha playwright is Roger Hall. It wouldn’t surprise me if The Bach became a Kiwi standard alongside scripts such as Tom Scott’s The Daylight Atheist. It is witty and highly entertaining but has universal appeal in its exploration of the relationships between unlikely brothers.

The Bach comes highly recommended and it must be noted that the current Circa season is finishing this Saturday.

The Bach
By Stephen Sinclair
Directed By Danny Mulheron
Circa Theatre January 29 until February 26

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About the Author ()

HAILING FROM the upper-middle- class hell of Havelock North, Jules is in the final semester of a bachelor’s degree in Trenchermanship (majoring in Gourmandry), is a self-professed Anarcho-Dandy and resides in the Aro Valley. He likes to spend his days pursuing whimsical follies of every sort and his evenings gallivanting through the bars and restaurants of Wellington in search of the perfect wine list. He has unfailingly dedicated his life to the excessive consumption of food and drink (despite having no discernable way of paying for it), and expects to die of simultaneous heart and kidney failure at thirty-nine. His only hope is that very soon people will start to pay him for his opinions (of which he is endowed with aplenty). Jules has a penchant for vintage Oloroso.

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