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October 24, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Genepool

A naked man wakes up in a tube. He is mute and child-like. Over the forty or so minutes of Genepool he explores his new found surroundings. This is a clone and maybe the last person alive in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. He struggles to understand his surroundings just as much as he struggles to walk just as much as the audience struggles to connect to the work.

Created by a company rather deliciously named Hoi Polloi, Genepool is a play of almost-but-not-quites. It is almost but not quite without dialogue – relying as it rather annoyingly does on that old easy exposition dump of the radio montage and answerphone. It is almost but not quite a solo show – with a set as central and meticulously integrated into the work it is hard to separate setting and performer. It is almost but not quite ‘avant garde’ – a term that the makers have assigned the work in press for the show – because, well, maybe I’m just getting a little jaded but it takes a little more than non-existent costume budget and no speaking to make something ‘avant garde’.

Genepool contains a rather traditional, if a little hard to get to and a lot hard to care about, narrative. It is a STAB show in name, funding and season but only almost but not quite in content. STAB, in case you didn’t know, is a yearly programme where Creative New Zealand gives BATS theatre $80,000 to fund two or more shows. STAB is experimentation on a big budget. It is allowing people to activate and actuate ideas that wouldn’t work on smaller budgets. I am not sure that Genepool really does that. A lot of their budget clearly was spent on the set, and what a set it is, designed and build by WETA workshop, it is a motherhood metaphor made real. A steam punk uterus complete with birth canal through which the clone emerges. It dominates BATS’ space, commanding much attention and much praise – both of which are more than due. But having an expensive set is, in my opinion, not enough to be a STAB work.

Maybe the makers of Genepool would disagree with me, but it strikes me that there is something awfully well… vanilla about this show. It would have been a different show without the set but it would still have been a show. This is not helped by how thrown together the action that takes place on the set feels.

Francis Mountjoy is the clone and as the sole performer he does a perfectly fine job. He is never boring to watch but there is nothing really ever that profoundly gripping in his performance. The sheer physical endurance of his performance should be highly praised however. The very fact that he gets what must be a physically exhausting forty minutes at all is an achievement in itself.

The biggest problem with the content of Genepool (that is everything that is not the brilliant design) is that it feels under cooked. It feels like a very interesting beginning of something. The slightly too long opening scene of an otherwise interesting play. Also, there just isn’t enough ideas or plot to sustain the already short running time. It feels like something thrown together at the last minute to complement their brilliant design. While I am sure that isn’t true, it doesn’t stop that it feels like that.

The makers of Genepool speak in the programme about how they already have plans on expanding and extending the work. The question that the work poses is – why didn’t you do that the first time round? Because if they’d spent a little more time of the show rather than the set (one cannot help but conclude that this work would operate much better as an installation) it would rise above being almost but not quite good enough to recommend.

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Genepool
at BATS theatre, 16 Oct – 6 Nov (No Sun/Mon), 8pm.

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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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