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If you managed to see Small Metal Objects by the Australian company, Back to Back, as part of the NZ Festival you were one lucky person. This production has toured the world, and has been performed in a range of public spaces including railway stations and in the middle of streets.
I arrive at TSB Bank Arena at peak lunchtime with no idea as to how the performance was going to pan out. Nevertheless, I spot a pop-up seating arrangement on Queen’s Wharf (the stage). The audience are equipped with quality headphones, ready to watch a performance featuring not only the actors with microphones but the general public doing their daily 12.00pm lunchtime routine. It was like an audience watching another audience.
Small Metal Objects is a simple narrative about two best pals, Gary and Steve (Sonia Teuben and Simon Laherty), doing their regular drug deal. The performance begins with a random conversation we hear through the headphones of the two boys: the audience sit there searching for them in between all of the public walking around. Gary is interrupted by a phone call from Allan (Jim Russell) wanting to buy some “top shelf” drugs. The searching for characters between the public became a fun game for the audience.
The drug deal does not go to plan, as Steve decides he does not want to proceed with the deal. Gary stands by him. This causes frustration for Allan and he becomes more and more desperate. He calls up his psychiatrist ‘friend’ (Genevieve Morris) to help do some ‘professional’ convincing. Again we are sitting there trying to match the woman’s voice to character. This game never gets old.
What I found most powerful was the loyalty in the friendship between Gary and Steve, and the use of public in a strong but subtle way. In a way, the public’s reaction to the performance creates a second level for the audience to enjoy. There were moments where the actors were so natural the public could just walk past without noticing there was something happening or feeling they were interrupting a performance.