Penguins, prostitutes, shearers, soldiers, and activists are all a part of New Zealand’s relatively short colonial history, as featured in Arthur Meek’s new play, Sheep. Written especially to be performed by the talented young folk at Long Cloud Youth Theatre, Sheep is a series of seven loosely connected short plays that tell a fragmentary story of our national history.
Sheep got off to a slow and uneasy start as the cast attempted to tackle themes that were a smidgen beyond their years of experience and clashed considerably with their youthful looks. The cabaret-inspired song and dance that accompanied the provincial shearing competition was rather peculiar, if not slightly amusing for its incongruity with the apparent realism of the piece.
The swift scene changes and significant jumps in time were detrimental to the success of the early segments. They lacked enough depth and clarity to come off convincingly and perhaps were what caused the actors to appear as if they did not believe in the scene. This in turn made it difficult for the audience to buy into it too.
The play gained some much needed depth during the intense Dresden, 1945 war scene. It was very daring to have the characters speak almost entirely in German and most certainly paid off. The actors revealed their talent for engaging the audience despite speaking in a language most of us did not understand. Freya Sadgrove and Nathan Mudge in particular were outstanding on opposites sides of the political divide.
The send up of nineteen eighties political theatre was an absolute highlight and had the audience bursting with laughter. Meek has a knack for writing strong women characters which was great to watch, especially as they gained more stage time as the play unfolded into the more recent periods of history.
Two different casts are performing Sheep, having over a week-long run of shows each. It would be well worth going to see it twice to get the full experience. Some of the performances were not polished enough to be on stage yet and they needed some more rehearsing to get it up to standard and to work out the flaws. However, with Sheep running for almost three weeks, the show is bound to improve immensely with time.
by Arthur Meek
25 May – 11 June at BATS