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September 28, 2014 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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An Unauthorised Audio Tour of Te Papa [Review]

4.5 stars

Binge Culture are well known among Wellington theatre circles for producing unorthodox yet thoroughly entertaining theatre. Comprised of Rachel Baker, Joel Baxendale, Simon Haren, Fiona McNamara, Claire O’Loughlin and Ralph Upton, they are currently aiming to raise enough money to take some of their work to a New Zealand performance festival in New York next year.

The work Binge Culture makes often subverts what one would expect when they see theatre. The passive element of simply sitting back and watching a story unfold in front of you vanishes. Their theatre is interactive, challenging, and requires a certain amount of confidence to really enjoy what you’re both watching and, in a lot of cases, interacting with. In Whales, one of their most well-known works, they require the audience members to actually bathe the ‘whales’ to keep them alive.

This time, Joel and Ralph have created an alternative piece of theatre called An Unauthorised Audio Tour of Te Papa. It requires the participant to do all of the work. They narrate the listener through a 40-minute walking tour of floors four, five and six of the national museum. The great part about this work is Joel and Ralph have subverted what one would expect with an audio tour – to passively stroll around, match up the required listening to the corresponding exhibitions and nod if you find something interesting.

The listener doesn’t focus their attention on the actual exhibitions, but instead towards the more mundane aspects of the museum. That may not sound like something that would be funny, but it really is. Joel and Ralph’s wonderfully deadpan commentary guided me through the tour. I found myself doing things that I would have never have contemplated if I wasn’t obeying their instructions.

I found myself laughing out loud as I walked through Te Papa on a Tuesday morning, with the café full of parents and senior citizens, and the lobby full of children. I wasn’t even near any of the works and exhibitions. In fact, I was completely ignoring what they had on display. I must have looked like a fool to anyone who was watching me. However, at that point, I didn’t care. I was enjoying the audio tour too much to care if anyone found me strange for laughing out loud in random spaces. That is what is required with most of Binge Culture’s work. If you’re too afraid of what people will think or doing it wrong, it detracts from the experience.

As I said before, a large amount of confidence is required to really appreciate Binge Culture’s work. They push the boundaries of theatrical production and audience interaction and throw the audience members out of any perceived comfort zone they place themselves in when watching a show. They require you to participate and experience theatre rather than simply observe it. If you are going to download and take their unauthorised tour of Te Papa, be prepared to run around the exhibitions, stare at the tiles on the observation deck and take more interest in the facilities than the content of the museum. But if you do, An Unauthorised Audio Tour of Te Papa is hilarious and brilliant. Binge once again prove why they are worthy of their many awards and accolades by creating a piece of interactive theatre that requires the participant to do all the work, yet gain the most enjoyment out of it.

Like all of Binge’s work, don’t be afraid to take part. The experience is far more enjoyable if you do. Don’t forget: if you see something on the ground, pick it up. And watch out for the red shirts.

To download the Unauthorised Audio Tour of Te Papa, visit Binge Culture’s website. The suggested koha donation is $10. If you want to help get New Zealand theatre all the way to New York, visit and donate.

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