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September 1, 2008 | by  | in Theatre |
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Grace

Peculiar in style yet standout in execution, Grace is a fine example of the way an original New Zealand work can present a highly skillful production which sheds light on those faults which define us as human.

Grace (played by Nicci Reuben) is married to Harold Oakeshott (Brian Moore), and together the pair have worked long and hard for the socialist cause of England in the early 1900’s. Her sister Amber (Jo Lees) is pregnant to the science fiction writer H.G. Wells (whose brief appearance is played by Michael Downey, who also plays numerous other parts). But Grace falls madly in love with Dr. Walter Reeve (Andrew Waterson), and shortly after being elected to the London City Council she fakes her death and elopes to New Zealand with Dr. Reeve. What’s coolest about the whole setup is that it is a true story, based on the actual experiences of writer/director Sophie Dingeman’s great-grandmother.

The play offers an excellent critique of freedom and liberty. Grace’s staunch ambitions to be elected as a socialist member of London’s City Council coincide with the issue of women’s suffrage, another crucial social concern at the time. Yet Grace’s golden aspirations cover a more selfish disposition, which is belied by her actions in faking her death and eloping to New Zealand. What right does one women have to take freedom at the expense of those who love her? How can we justify Grace’s selfish expression of happiness and true love when she has cruelly abandoned those who have worked so hard for her all their lives? The show does not excuse or apologise for Grace, but deliberately challenges us with these ethical questions.

The performances in Grace are solid and enjoyable, and each actor executes their part with conviction and skill. Stylistically, Grace would best be described as entertainingly strange. The show’s use of props and furniture was rarely conventional. Barefoot actors clambered about tables and chairs as though this were the most normal thing in the world, despite the show’s 1907 setting. I spotted characters smoking from teapots as if they were pipes! This strangeness did the production no harm, but served to make it all the more intriguing.

Despite its round-the-board quality, I did feel that the themes of freedom and liberty could have had greater credence were Grace’s husband, Harold, presented as a more threatening patriarch. He came across as something of a push-over, and were he to have governed Grace with a more iron fist it may have elevated the feminist aspect of the show as well as given the audience more reason to support Grace’s decision. Also, the show could have been a little shorter – I felt that it had achieved everything it was going to well before the final sequence.

Overall, however, these few criticisms did not damage the production, which was a fantastic effort by The Rebel Alliance. This is a company which holds much future promise.

Grace
Written and Directed by Sophie
Dingemans
At Bats
August 19 – 23

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