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February 21, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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back/words

Theatre

back/words is an exercise in verbatim theatre. Verbatim theatre being based entirely around attempts by actors to totally recreate the ‘performances’ of interview subjects. Repeating them word for word with the same inflection, reflection and physical performance.

The bare hunt collective who put on back/words draws specifically from Alecky Blythe’s school of verbatim theatre which involves the interview subjects being videotaped. Those videotapes then form the basis of material from which the actors rehearse, and while they perform on stage they listen to the audio from the interviews through iPods so as to get the inflection and delivery exactly right.

Personally, the iPods for me pose a problem. They, in my opinion, show a lack of trust. It creates an unneeded barrier between actor and audience. They seem largely to be there to constantly demark the veracity of the piece. “Look,” say the iPods, “this really happened! Trust us!” This feels oddly condescending to an audience. Couldn’t the performers simply trust us to trust themselves?

Beyond the somewhat philosophic issue of the iPods, back/words is a success, if one that has to be be qualified by a few statements. The main one being that back/words is a lab, a workshop. It is a group of proving that they have a technique, a system and that it works (more or less). This can’t be the end of it. back/words is the seed from which a greater theatrical work will grow, it cannot be the end of this.

I would be very interested in seeing them step away from the more episodic, collage-like nature of this work—the one uniting factor of all the interviewees was their residency in Wellington—and looking more into works around a united theme or event. This would bring a greater coherence and emotional heft to the work. back/words purports in the programme to be an exploration of firsts and lasts, but this theme is not as present as it needs to be in the finished work.

For verbatim theatre to be fully pulled off the cast need real acting chops. Merely being okay is not enough to get you by. This is because the very nature of the form risks an artificial airlessness and it demands an actor to push past that to unleash a greater honesty. The cast of back/words reveal mixed results. All five of them are clearly talented performers, but several seem markedly uncomfortable within the style. There are several points where it is hard to tell the difference between the people played by the same performer. Also, while interesting, the idea of cross-casting some of the interviewees only really becomes obvious when you have read the programme. Things like that simply need to be clearer in performance than they were in back/words.

One cannot help but note the lack of a director in the crew listing. While not direly lacking due to one’s absence, it’s easy to see that a directorial eye would have shaped the staging and transitions of the show to alleviate a somewhat stilted and awkward theatrical arrangement.

All that being said, back/words was far from a disappointment. It’s exciting to see a young group of people trying something new (admittedly something they studied together at Otago). In back/words the bare hunt collective have built a very solid base for future work.

Future work that is to be awaited with baited breath.

back/words
by bare hunt collective
with Jackie Shaw, Catherine Wright, Victoria Abbott, Chris Dawson and Scott Ransom

At BATS, 1 Kent Terrace
17 – 21 Feb 2010
book@bats.co.nz / (04) 802 4175

Part of the 2010 Wellington Fringe Festival.

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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.

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