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May 26, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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The Last Five Years

Before you reach deep into your pockets and shell out for a ticket to The Last Five Years you must look deep into your heart and ask yourself one very important question, “Do I really, truly, actually, like Musical Theatre?” And I’m not asking here if you like raindrops on roses, choric dance routines or razzamatazz; I’m asking if you like Musical Theatre, pure and simple, a story told through song.

Because that is what this is. No fancy sets, no amazing dance sequences, just one man and one woman (Nigel Edgecombe and Sarah Lineman), six white boxes and a six piece band. Together they tell the story of their relationship from humble beginning to horrible end. In a neat little twist on this familiar formula he starts his story at the beginning, she at the end. They then work their way from one side – of the relationship and the stage (an inspired bit of blocking there) – to the other. Now don’t get me wrong, they are good – both Edgecombe and Lineman sing beautifully, and they act their little hearts out – but the storyline seems dreadfully familiar and, due to its peculiar structure, it has had the climax surgically removed. When Edgecombe belts out his opening tune “Shiksa Goddess” (hilarious) in which he falls in love across cultural boundaries we already know it ain’t gonna end well. Cathy just told us in her opening lament ‘Still Hurting’. It was over before it even began.

So. I seem disenchanted, and frankly, I was – but not because this was a bad show. The performers sang beautifully, Lisa Maule contributed some very pretty lights, transforming the mood of the minimal set, particularly during the wedding scene. And the six piece band (under the musical direction of Tom McLeod) was fabulous, even if on occasion they did drown out the singing. It is just that when I hear ‘musical’ I am expecting more ‘spectacle’ and ‘theatrical’ than this production delivered.

On opening night, when I went, the performance drew hearty applause from the house of middle-aged plus bespectacled couples in the audience – but no one hung around for a drink afterward. And I think that says it all.

The Last Five Years
Written by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Nigel Edgecombe
At Bats
May 15 – 24

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  1. Nigel Edgecombe says:

    Before we provide a complementary ticket to another show we must look deep into our heart and ask ourselves one very important question, “Do we really, truly, need this review?”
    For, having read all the reviews for ‘The Last Five Years” the following seems apparent:

    When our show followed the scripting we invoked smarmy comments about the blocking.
    When our show didn’t there were complaints we didn’t show what the script said should be there.

    A minimalist set receives complaints about a lack of production values from some Wellington critics …
    While the top directors in the world are regularly utilising minimalist sets (e.g. Brook, Wilson, Lepage, etc).
    And no one in Wellington mentions the $100,00 worth of production values tied up on stage with the musician’s instruments.

    A musical with no explosions or chorus line seems to be considered by some reviewers only half a show …
    Because it appears some reviewers in Wellington can’t quite cope with dramatic theatre to music.
    Obviously some Wellington critics know so much more than the New York critics reviewing Broadway shows.
    Not to mention the five professional NZ groups that sent representatives to the production and thought it was excellent.

    A 75 minute show with professional lighting design receives jibes about the lighting …
    Because it appears that 140 lighting changes are a little too subtle for anyone with less than basic sensitivities.
    As obviously a poor storyline with lots of explosions is what musical theatre is all about.

    And while our company brought to this production a combined practical performance experience of over 200 years …
    It appears someone who has minimal practical experience but occasionally writes about shows thinks they know more about theatre.
    As they forget this is their personal point of view, but far from the general audience consensus.

    The fact that this is a regular down time for BATS yet we achieved 80% houses – goes unmentioned.
    The fact that this show was designed to appeal to a wider audience than the standard BATS show – goes unmentioned.
    The fact that a large proportion of the audience had never been in BATS before but will now return – goes unmentioned.

    What is however suggested, at least by this reviewer, is that people over 40 shouldn’t go to BATS Theatre.
    Especially if they wear glasses, or chose not to drink before driving home.
    I do hope this reviewer abstains from going to shows when they are over 40.

    Perhaps they should abstain now, and save us all the unobservant and vaguely sophomoric insight into:
    Someone who gains pleasure from unnecessary discrimination, while grandiosely commenting with nominal authority.

    Nigel Edgecombe 4/6/08

  2. Brunswick says:

    Someone who gains pleasure from unnecessary discrimination, while grandiosely commenting with nominal authority
    I see you’ve read our job description.

    Those prickly critics didn’t seem to have any problems with Fitz Bunny: Lust For Glory at BATS last year. Mind you, that was a comedy.

  3. Nigel obviously hasn’t read many Salient reviews… I’d put this one in the ‘positive’ category. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth Nigel.

  4. Gibbon says:

    “Before we provide a complementary ticket to another show we must look deep into our heart and ask ourselves one very important question, “Do we really, truly, need this review?””
    No, of course not. If you are unwilling to have your work criticised, praised, condemned or celebrated in print, then certainly don’t give comps. If you don’t have faith in your production, then, no, you shouldn’t give comps.

    “When our show followed the scripting we invoked smarmy comments about the blocking.
    When our show didn’t there were complaints we didn’t show what the script said should be there.”

    If there are flaws with the script, then don’t blame the reviewers who point out these flaws – if you don’t have the perception or courage to avoid such pitfalls, that’s your problem. Similarly, if you change things, do so for a damn good reason.

    “A minimalist set receives complaints about a lack of production values from some Wellington critics …
    While the top directors in the world are regularly utilising minimalist sets (e.g. Brook, Wilson, Lepage, etc).
    And no one in Wellington mentions the $100,00 worth of production values tied up on stage with the musician’s instruments.”

    There is a difference between a minimalist set and one that appears to be simply thrown together, Nigel. The top directors in the world do use minimalist sets, but they tend to do so for a dramaturgical reason – as in Brook’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. This just smacked of a lack of effort. The instruments are largely irrelevant, unless you paid for them yourselves – I have a sneaking suspicion this is not the case.

    “A musical with no explosions or chorus line seems to be considered by some reviewers only half a show …”

    Conventions of musicials still apply – people paying the outrageous sum of $20 do expect some conventional entertainment.

    “Because it appears some reviewers in Wellington can’t quite cope with dramatic theatre to music.”

    It also appears that some performers/directors can’t quite cope with criticism…

    “Obviously some Wellington critics know so much more than the New York critics reviewing Broadway shows.
    Not to mention the five professional NZ groups that sent representatives to the production and thought it was excellent.”

    Do the New York critics review your shows? I haven’t seen this play on Broadway, but I doubt they weren’t exactly the same, or are you saying you copied exactly from a recent Broadway production? Also, who are these five groups… do you have documentation regarding this “excellent” appraisal?

    “A 75 minute show with professional lighting design receives jibes about the lighting …
    Because it appears that 140 lighting changes are a little too subtle for anyone with less than basic sensitivities.”

    Lisa Maule is an excellent lighting designer. But less is more. 140 lighting changes in a 75 minute show is overkill. One third of that would still be overkill.

    “As obviously a poor storyline with lots of explosions is what musical theatre is all about.”

    Who mentioned good storyline?

    “And while our company brought to this production a combined practical performance experience of over 200 years …
    It appears someone who has minimal practical experience but occasionally writes about shows thinks they know more about theatre.
    As they forget this is their personal point of view, but far from the general audience consensus.”

    Ad hominem attacks, now? Weak. What is the general audience consensus? Are these people friends or relatives of yours?

    “The fact that this is a regular down time for BATS yet we achieved 80% houses – goes unmentioned.”

    Not relevant.

    “The fact that this show was designed to appeal to a wider audience than the standard BATS show – goes unmentioned.”

    Not relevant.

    “The fact that a large proportion of the audience had never been in BATS before but will now return – goes unmentioned.”

    Not relevant, and not a fact.

    “What is however suggested, at least by this reviewer, is that people over 40 shouldn’t go to BATS Theatre.
    Especially if they wear glasses, or chose not to drink before driving home.
    I do hope this reviewer abstains from going to shows when they are over 40.”

    That is neither implied nor suggested. What a strange conclusion to draw. And, this being a University magazine, it is natural that the review will focus less on the middle-aged demographic, isn’t it?

    “Perhaps they should abstain now, and save us all the unobservant and vaguely sophomoric insight into:
    Someone who gains pleasure from unnecessary discrimination, while grandiosely commenting with nominal authority.”

    Perhaps you shouldn’t get so upset about an honest, frank and less-than-fawning review… or two… or three…

    Ryan Proctor 5/6/08

  5. What a glorious fisking.

  6. Nigel Edgecombe says:

    Well gosh, I obviously upset Mr Proctor.

    Actually I don’t have any issues with a well written, a well considered, or even a vaguely sensible review. This is the reason I didn’t respond to any of the other reviews, for they at least made some pertinent points.

    In all the productions I have worked in, all have been reviewed, and never before have I felt inclined to respond. After all it is not by being perfect that we improve in our art, it is by being criticised and exploring our failures.

    The problem here is simply one of quality criticism and analysis, as this is what a review is supposed to be, a critical analysis. This review unfortunately is far from that, and would rate as a poor piece of writing for even a first year theatre student.

    As for my comments being ‘Not relevant’ or factual, sorry but here you are sorely mistaken, for I have the BATS documentation …while you do not. As for ticket sales … Firstly, my friends and family received complimentary tickets and therefore do not count towards the box office. Secondly, if you really think $20 is outrageous it simply shows how seldom you have been to the theatre lately, suggesting your comments mean even less.

  7. For no other reason other than my own personal amusement, I’m going to go through this review and pull apart its points and critiques and see if they are indeed unjustified:

    “…but the storyline seems dreadfully familiar and, due to its peculiar structure, it has had the climax surgically removed. When Edgecombe belts out his opening tune “Shiksa Goddess” (hilarious) in which he falls in love across cultural boundaries we already know it ain’t gonna end well. Cathy just told us in her opening lament ‘Still Hurting’. It was over before it even began.”

    A perfectly legitimate interpretation and critique of a fundamental plot device. No problem here.

    “The performers sang beautifully, Lisa Maule contributed some very pretty lights, transforming the mood of the minimal set, particularly during the wedding scene. And the six piece band (under the musical direction of Tom McLeod) was fabulous, even if on occasion they did drown out the singing. It is just that when I hear ‘musical’ I am expecting more ‘spectacle’ and ‘theatrical’ than this production delivered.”

    I interpret this as the production’s minimalism encroaching upon the ‘spectacle’ and ‘theatrical’ impulse the performances and their accompaniments were presenting; like there was an ungainly clash of elements that meant the production was neither one thing or the other. A tough criticism perhaps, but otherwise perfectly fine.

    “On opening night, when I went, the performance drew hearty applause from the house of middle-aged plus bespectacled couples in the audience – but no one hung around for a drink afterward. And I think that says it all.”

    A confusing conclusion, perhaps. I’m not sure how the audience make up or their indifference towards after-production drinks says much of anything about the production, but it’s an interestingly candid quip all the same. It’s probably nothing more than a polite way of saying, “Eh, it was okay.”

    So, on the whole, it seemed to this unwashed, uninformed theatre novice that this review adoring the pages of that hot piece of journalistic fanfare that is Salient was perfectly fair and perfectly reasonable, and that the performer of the production in question who took it upon himself to vent his broken heart to a universally indifferent university population would probably do himself a tremendous favour by shutting the fuck up lest he be seen as an overly-sensitive fucking douchebag. Thank you.

  8. Gibbon says:

    I’m not upset at all. I’m just awaiting a response to any of my points, should you choose to give one. If being criticised and exploring your failures is a problem for you, as I said, don’t give out comps.

    I don’t know Hannah Smith, but I really feel your attacks against her are unwarranted. If she is a first year Theatre student (possibly not the case) and a poor writer (almost certainly not the case), then how are these facts pertinent to her review? I challenge you to find me a definition of the word ‘review’ which does not involve the word ‘opinion’. Go on. If you can, I’ll concede the point.

    Audience numbers is not relevant to this review. Why would it be? The dramaturgy of the play is what is being covered, not facts and figures which are clearly stated in generate interest in your work. I’d be MUCH more likely to go and see a show with a good review than a (however impressive) arbitrary list of figures.

    Clearly Nigel, you are not attuned with the Wellington Theatre scene if you think that audience numbers are what attracts people to BATS. No, Circa and Downstage are theatres where a good crowd means a good show. BATS is the home of the downtrodden, the underdogs – and people go there to be entertained. How many fantastic recent shows have had tiny audiences at BATS? The fact is, if you are simply trying to chase money or fame, audience figures might be important. Otherwise, they are of no significance, ESPECIALLY if you cannot muster one positive review.

    I would however be interested in seeing this BATS documentation. Including the bits where it says that you’ve attracted new audience members to the theatre. That’d be excellent, if such documentation does exist.

    Yes, Nigel, $20 is outrageous for a few boxes on a stage. I’ve seen better shows for less than half that – see the recent Studio 77 productions of The Alchemist and Northward Ho.

    I don’t believe that one’s theatrical opinions can mean less by a lack of knowledge or by watching fewer plays than someone else. Further, I think you are confining yourself to the pretentiousness that becomes the downfall of all amateur performers and directors.

    Don’t take yourself so seriously.

  9. Moral of the story: artists who feel the need to respond to critical reviews of their own work should spend less time bitching in front of their computers, and more time actually working on their art.

  10. Karl Bronstein says:

    Moral of the story: Nigel Edgecombe takes himself to seriously and probably wears a beret.

    PB – “Oh, Africa, brave Africa. It was… a laugh riot.”

  11. Nigel Edgecombe says:

    This is amazing, more and more people seem to desire a ventilation of their own personalities towards my response to the Salient review, and yet still they seem to miss the hypocrisy of their own opinions. And even more wonderful is the inability to be creative and in most cases revert to childish personal insults, or foul language.

    Stabs are made at my amateur/professional abilities, personal insults fly. Rude comments are thrown about…and why?

    Let me get this straight. I direct a show that is in the public arena. I invite a response from a reviewer by giving them a ticket. They respond with a critic – which is allowed.

    Their critic is placed in a public arena. They invite a response by placing a comment box next to the critic. I respond – but it seems that is not allowed.

    My comment is placed in a public arena. It is responded to by a third or forth party – which is apparently allowed again.

    So are you suggesting no one should respond to things in the public arena, or just that ‘I’ shouldn’t respond to anything. Even though it actually pertains to me.

    Or are you simply suggesting that everyone is allowed a personal opinion, except me. Or perhaps that everyone else is allowed to criticise … just not me.

    From all the attacks on me as an artist, an actor, a director, and a person, the two comments that interests me most are: “to this unwashed, uninformed theatre novice” … and … “$20 is outrageous for a few boxes on a stage”.

    Both these comments in themselves suggesting that neither writer has any knowledge at all in relation to what they are talking about.

    Perhaps if you had discussed the dialectic within the production, the metaphor of the piece, the counterpointing of motives with the work, the underlying thematic tension that was explored, the licensing costs of the production, the theatre lighting and sound hire, rehearsal costs, or even the time required to develop the work … perhaps then I could have taken your words as being of value.

    Instead all you have proven is that you know little or nothing of what you are talking about. All I was attempting was the instigation of a debate with Hannah Smith … the following immature abuse fest is of no further interest to me.

  12. Dish says:

    nigel edgecombe is such a poir poor poppet. Let’s give him a million bucks to cheer him up

  13. Gibbon says:

    Nigel,
    It’s getting pretty clear that you won’t respond to any of my points, so I won’t even bother trying to convince you that addressing them would be a more constructive use of your time.

    HOWEVER,
    You are most welcome to respond to your work – but in doing so, you must realise that you are invited others to respond to your response. That’s natural. No one has said you can’t respond.

    Michael Oliver was clearly referring to myself as an unwashed novice – not you – so why are you complaining? Novices, too, are allowed their opinions.

    As a practitioner, you ought to know by now that a play’s dramaturgy is what makes it tick. The audience is interested in the lighting, the sounds, the themes, the metaphors, the space, and so on, and how they come together. Licensing costs, rehearsals costs, time, hire and so on, are NOT relevant to the play’s dramaturgy. This is a REVIEW OF A PLAY. The finished work was what was being analysed. I can’t see what you expect from the review? The audience saw what the audience saw, no matter how much well-intentioned hard work went on behind the scenes.

    Nigel, you began the personal attacks: “unobservant and vaguely sophomoric” and “minimal practical experience but occasionally writes about shows” ring a bell? You can only expect to get back what you give, and I feel I have been more than reasonable to you. It is your persistent desire to ignore everything of sense that I have said, and instead choose small irrelevancies to discuss, that is frustrating me.

    I knew I said I wouldn’t say it, but please, please, consider addressing some of my comments. Find me a definition of review without the word ‘opinion’, show us some of your facts and figures from BATS, justify your design decisions. Do something! Don’t just whine and complain.

    I have reached a disturbing conclusion while writing this post: That you, having received poor reviews all over town, have responded to this Salient one because you felt University students were an easy target. I notice you don’t complain to John or Laurie, because you fear that they will be unhappy with you.

    Well, let me tell you – I’ll be sure to be at your next show, with or without comps, and this Theatre MA student will ensure he writes and honest and blunt review of your work.
    Look forward to it.
    Ryan

  14. Dish says:

    you may be a theatre MA student but do you have 200 years of performing experience like niogel does?

  15. Gibbon says:

    “Michael Oliver was clearly referring to myself as an unwashed novice – not you – so why are you complaining? Novices, too, are allowed their opinions.”

    Sorry – typo – I meant *himself* not “myself”.

  16. Gibbon says:

    “Michael Oliver was clearly referring to myself as an unwashed novice – not you – so why are you complaining? Novices, too, are allowed their opinions.”

    Sorry – typo – I meant *himself* not “myself”.

  17. Dish says:

    novices may be entitled to their opinions but I would be more inclined to turn an open ear to a croaking 200 year old sarcophagus with that much acting experience under his gauze

  18. Uther Dean says:

    Nigel –

    Just take the note.

  19. Livi says:

    *Claps Nigel* I, myself thought the piece was stunning, and it shows that NZ does not need the crappy old Andrew Loyd Webber musicals that STILL seem to be all the rage. Give me an off-broadway piece any day. L5Y has been one of the musicals I have wanted to see for years, and Nigel brought it here. Jason Robert Brown is an exceptional composer and writer, and his work deserves to be shown around the world.

    Set design is NOT all it is cracked up to be – a lot of the time it distracts from the piece, the song, the story, and the deeper meaning of a piece.

    This past week I have had the opportunity to see some VERY professional musical productions here in Melbourne (Wicked, for one, Boeing Boeing for another), and it makes me sad that these kinds of shows are not as professional in the New Zealand stage. We have the talent, and we have the people to put on these amazing shows.

    Give me In The Heights, Gypsy, Next To Normal, and any other amazing ORIGINAL pieces of work, that haven’t been thrashed to death by bad performers any day – and that’s what Nigel Edgecombe did, L5Y is something to be celebrated, bringing an amazing musical piece to the Wellington stage is what needs to be seen more often.

    Bravo Nigel, I enjoyed the show very much, and there needs to be more shows out there that focus on the SOUL of the show rather than the spectacle. Well done.

  20. Gibbon says:

    If I wanted Soul, I’d read a play.
    If I wanted Spectacle, I’d watch a play.

  21. Jackson Coe says:

    The review is actually very complimentary towards the show.

    ‘Now don’t get me wrong, they are good – both Edgecombe and Lineman sing beautifully, and they act their little hearts out’

    and

    ‘The performers sang beautifully, Lisa Maule contributed some very pretty lights, transforming the mood of the minimal set, particularly during the wedding scene. And the six piece band (under the musical direction of Tom McLeod) was fabulous’

    How could a reviewer be more positive about the talent in the show?

    Musical theatre’s a tricky one – I had a pretty good anti-MT rant a short time ago, but have since decided it may be a little more worthy of attention than what I thought. I think that musicals are a subjective experience, and for many comes under the ‘take it or leave it’ category.

    Anyhow, sweeping claims about the good the show has done for Bats theatre are of no concern here – what a reviewer sees on the night is what matters. I think Hannah has done a great job with this review.

    Mr Edgecombe, while you certainly have a right of reply – such is the beauty of the internet and the forum format – you need to understand that Salient was not the only publication to criticize the work and find it flawed. Salient stands by its review. Sometimes reviews suck, but trust me, we’ve all had them and you will get over it.

    Thanks for contributing.

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