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March 29, 2010 | by  | in Theatre |
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I have previously talked about the overriding feeling of this year’s Fringe being one of the workshop. The work in progress, the trying out. It was a Fringe of shivers of excitement as toes were dipped into theatre-flavoured waters, rather than the sudden high dives and belly flops of previous years. This is not in anyway an endemically negative thing. It is a change of gears, a change of focus. Which is fine. It just left one hungering slightly for the future work, for the promise shown to flourish. In no Fringe show was this more obvious than in back/words, which is back for an illustrious second season as part of the Pick of the Fringe.

is a very good seed, a very good provocation. There is a lot to like about it, the potential show is great and powerful and will no doubt echo through the dark alleys of Wellington’s theatres like the desperate cries of a wounded dog very soon. But back/words is just not there yet. It’s still just a workshop.

It is an experiment in the verbatim school of documentary theatre, specifically that invented by Alecky Blythe. People are interviewed on video, the video is then edited and the performers learn from the video’s every element of the person’s “performance”. When they perform the actors listen to the audio of the interviews through iPods, speaking with them so as to precisely and totally recreate every pause, breath and tone. The success of this technique varies in back/words with a broad range of levels of acting ability being present in the cast. The increased scale of the world imposed by the move from BATS theatre to Downstage only further emphasises some of the weaker performances as we watch them struggle to fill the much vaster depths of Downstage.

The changes to the show itself are largely superficial, with the most major modifications being made around the show. It now begins with a very direct introduction of the work and its form and ends with a mandatory (and it really shouldn’t be) Q&A session once again focusing on the process. This only serves to make the work feel much less complete, it makes one feel that it has to be explained to them. It is as if the company does not trust the show and that they need to explain themselves, which makes it much harder to judge the work on its own terms. It also further stresses the feeling that the work is little more than a workshop, an attempt at a form.

There is so much potential here. So much to be worked with. I personally hope that for their next work the bare hunt collective choose a much more focused subject rather than the rather scatter shot ‘first and last times’ idea that lumpishly rolls through back/words. That would be one big step towards a much more complete work.

Pick of the Fringe – back/words
by the bare hunt collective
with Jackie Shaw, Catherine Wright, Victoria Abbott, Chris Dawson and Scott Ransom
at Downstage
18 – 27 March 2010
Booking details at

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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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