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September 14, 2009 | by  | in Theatre |
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Where Are You, My Only One?

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Where Are You, My Only One? is a new New Zealand work. Written by Vanessa Rhodes, it is, at the end of the day, a love story. Robert ‘Bob’ McLean (Gavin Rutherford), a simple farmer living near Hamilton meets, through what seems to be a slightly less sinister kind of mail-order bride business, Yulia (Andrea Tutt), a Russian single mother searching for a place in the world and a man to fill the hole in her heart. Yulia lives with her cantankerous and fiercely patriotic mother Ludmila (Donna Akersten). Yulia and Bob exchange letters, phone calls and packages and the connection between them grows. They hit somewhat of a road bump when Bob buys Yulia a ticket to New Zealand and she is torn between her family—as her son is called into the army and her mother emotionally blackmails her with the hurt of the past—and her heart.

And, well, that’s kind of it.

Only One manages, with lots of effort, to distend that plot out to one hour and twenty minutes and, really, its ability to make it last that long (and feel much longer than that) is the only real thing I can praise about this production.

This is what they call the deadly theatre. Empty, boring and ugly. The script is an exercise in wheel-spinning intercut with some highly questionable, and probably unintentional, messages about gender and politics. The direction is lazy, trudging murderously along, threatening to send the audience to sleep at any moment. The acting is serviceable, though the accents frequently slip to a ridicioulous comic degree, and Rutherford is simply rehashing the same nice simple harmless country bumpkin performance he has been wheeling out for the past year or so. Each design element on its own is fine if deeply unremarkable. But they clash. Horribly. Jennifer Lal’s coloured lights make John Hodgkins’ curved set garish, and Paul Jenden’s costumes stand out mainly due to how little they match anything around them.

Overall there seems to have been no thought into what this production might be like to watch. It is awkwardly staged, the actors seem unfamiliar with the set that encroaches onto their space and leaves little room for the dances that occur in what I suppose were intended to be ‘dream sequences’, but thought they had the potential to be a welcome break from the monotony of the main storyline. Their staging is just lazy and uninspired, with no real attempt to understand what function they might serve in the script or even to make them at all interesting or enjoyable to watch.

Where Are You, My Only One? is a failure. A damp squip, puttering out to a cloud of indifference. As I sat in my seat, one thought kept hitting me, over and over, like a Newton’s Cradle made of fists. ‘These people just don’t care.’ There was no feeling in this production. No love. No need. No inspiration. It was simply hollow and empty.
Disappointing. Deeply disappointing.

Where Are You, My Only One?
Written by Vanessa Rhodes
Directed by Susan Wilson
With Donna Akersten, Andrea Tutt and Gavin Rutherford
At Circa Two
5 Sept–4 Oct 2009

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

Comments (17)

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  1. John Smythe says:

    I disagree profoundly and would say our difference of opinion is fine and healthy if it were not for the arguably actionable insults you fling at dedicated professionals. Allow me to be ageist and assert that you are simply not old and experienced enough to understand what this play is really about, and therefore you are unable to appreciate why the production and performances are pitched as they are.

    For other views go to: http://www.theatreview.org.nz/reviews/review.php?id=2482

  2. Uther Dean says:

    I agree that my young age influenced my reading of and reaction to this play. I understand that in a lot of ways it was simply not for me or the audience I review for and I tried to keep that in mind while I reviewed it.

    I genuinely, fully and abjectly apologise if any of the, as John says, dedicated professionals involved feel that I was directly attacking them. I had issues with the production, not with the people involved. Offense was not intended, honestly. I have seen much of these makers work before and know them to be craftspeople of a very high caliber. Again, sorry.

    I also agree that I was quite harsh, but that is, quite honestly my opinion of the production. I was aware that with the extremity of my view I could go somewhat off the deep end, so I made sure to have my review checked through by several other people who saw the work (including my co-editor and several friends) and they all helped me reign it back in. Clearly not enough.

    Again, apologies, if anyone involved has taken offense. The work was simply not to my taste at all. And I recommend anyone reading this to read the reviews at John’s link.

    I hope no one takes me too seriously. I am but a young theatre reviewer, bumping a few knees as I learn the lay of this land, I don’t mean to hurt anyone.

    Thank you, John, for calling me out on this.

    I’ll try not to do it again.

    Promise.

  3. Mark says:

    I dunno. Your review was pretty harsh but if you honestly thought those things and weren’t just trying to be clever in insulting people I reckon you’ll be fine. No one likes a bad review of themselves or of a play they like I guess. Just don’t become one of those people who always bitterly reviews everything.

  4. John Smythe says:

    Just to be clear, my “arguably actionable” point relates to impugning the professionalism of people by saying their work was “lazy”, etc. Whatever you think of the result – which I happen to think came from highly professional and well focused commitment – you need to have pretty good evidence before making such accusations.

    I doubt anyone would sue for libel in this case but it’s worth remembering that about 40 years ago the theatre critic for The Australian was successfully prosecuted for calling an actor’s performance of Othello “dishonest”. I disagreed with the verdict at the time and would do so again if it came to legal proceedings. Even so, I think it is a very serious matter to suggest a professional practitioner is lazy / sloppy / incompetent / dishonest … etc. (rather than just taking an approach you disagree with), and clear evidence should be offered.

    That said, it is of course essential for a critic to be honest and if they are bored by a production or find the content mundane, disagreeable, offensive, etc, or the staging pedestrian, irrational, confusing, etc, they must say so, then explore why. If they conclude the play makers were misguided, lacking in taste, too esoteric, etc, that can be stated as a perception or raised as a question – which is different from making an outright accusation.

    Enough from me …

  5. Hank Scorpio says:

    Yeah yeah yeah but the play was rubbish.

  6. Steve says:

    Fuck, if young people won’t like the play, the play folk shouldn’t invite a student magazine to review it. Fuckwits.

  7. John Smythe says:

    Oh goody, we are back to irrational undergraduate outrage. I was getting worried there for a moment.

    Given the playwright is a graduate of VUW’s Institute of Modern Letters, it would have been remiss for Salient not to review it.

  8. Steve says:

    You mean, would have been remiss for Salient to give it a negative review. If it was good, they wouldn’t have said it was shit. Suck it up and try harder next time Smythie

  9. Matthew says:

    Allow me to be ageist and assert that you are simply not old and experienced enough to understand what this play is really about, and therefore you are unable to appreciate why the production and performances are pitched as they are.

    I think any validity contained in your comment, John, flew out the window the moment you decided not to discreetly email Uther or his editor with your thoughts, rather choosing to publicly air them in what I can only presume to be an eye-rollingly condescending attempt to ‘put those young, shortsighted scallywags at The Salient’ to shame.

    There’s professional courtsey, and then there’s this.

  10. John Smythe says:

    How interestingly conservative and anti open communication. Uther and I have exchanged private emails. The thing is – as with my Theatreview site – the review is out there for all to see and the Comment field is there to allow alternative views to be aired.

    When the integrity of people has been publicly questioned, it stands to reason the response must also be public.

  11. Hank Scorpio says:

    “Enough from me… except for all this other stuff I have to say.”

  12. Michael Oliver says:

    Hey John, I was wondering if you could explain further what makes this particular production beyond the apprecative scope of someone in their 20’s, and at what lily pad of life will someone have to reach before being able to, well, get it. Thanks.

  13. Sando says:

    @Mathew “I think any validity contained in your comment, John, flew out the window the moment you decided not to discreetly email Uther or his editor with your thoughts, rather choosing to publicly air them in what I can only presume to be an eye-rollingly condescending attempt to ‘put those young, shortsighted scallywags at The Salient’ to shame.”

    Kind of.

    The point of an open commenting system is so we can engage in dialogues like the one we are having now. John Smythe disagrees with Uther Dean’s criticism, and provides what he thinks is a good reason. By providing it publicly he is able to have an official comment on this article in a neatly accessible place. It’s much better for him to respond in public than via a private mail.

    That being said, you’re right as Smythe’s agist argument is hilarious. While the length of a person’s beard can change the personal reception of a play, there was nothing in the advertising or text suggesting that it was aimed at only an aged audience. In regards to experience, Dean’s attended theatre from an early age, produced his own feature works, is the magazine’s arts editor and is in his final weeks of one of the most gruelling academic/production theatre degree’s in the country. He’s got more than enough experience theoretical, practical and critically to criticize this play and well.

  14. Jemima says:

    this just got way too meta for me.

    Look. The play is a play. In about 4 weeks time no one will fucking care.

    A review is an opinion. uther gave his opinion. Smyth is entitled his opinion about uthers opinion, but that doesn’t make it less valid.

    Artists ans actors need to grow up when they get negative feedback. Listen to it, think critically about it but at the end of the day you’re reading a review in a student magazine, written by a student—3rd place in Reviewer catagory at the ASPA awards—for students.

  15. John Smythe says:

    Fair enough Sando – all valid.

    Michael, as a young man, very experienced in hands-on theatre at every level, training and learning at every opportunity, I found the likes of Chekhov and Ibsen boring in the extreme. Maybe they were bad productions I saw. More likely I wasn’t equipped to tune into the subtext; to empathise with the wants and needs of the characters. It’s not that I didn’t get it, I just didn’t care.

    That changed as I gained more life experience. The text and structure of Where Are You …? is pretty straight-forward. It’s what’s going on inside the three characters, and how it manifests in their external behaviour, that engages me. My companion and another couple (2f, 2m, all middle-aged) agreed afterwards it was riveting, in slightly different ways and with different intensities for all of us.

    That was our truth. Uther and others have expressed theirs. This is what theatres is all about: action, reaction, dialogue, discourse, energised by dramatic conflict. (To repeat myself, I doubt if I would have reacted if I hadn’t felt Uther had impugned professional integrities.)

  16. Boris Pissoffski h h says:

    It’s a play. You enjoy it or you don’t. John Smythe, if there are some ‘age’ issues, the problem is Salient is a fucking university magazine, and there are young people at university. Hmmm. Your argument is utterly retarded, and I’m pretty sure Salient should write for their audience – ie, students.

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