Strange Resting Places is a collection of stories based around the exploits of the Maori battalion in Italy during World War II. Centering around and spinning off from the core story of an unlikely meeting between a solder from the battalion and a deserter from the Italian fascist army.
These stories are about communication across languages and cultures. Riffing heavily on the absurdities of war, the actors play out war as a game. Guitars become guns, poi the propeller of a plane. These LePage-inflected sequences are perfectly pitched to both make their thematic point but never undercut the seriousness of their associated symbol. When a guitar-gun—or “guntar”—fires, it stops being a toy and a game, and the horrible realties—and unrealities—of war are pulled into sharp focus. Director Leo Gene Peters is, and always has been, master of space, pace and tone, and here his talents are put to great use. He doesn’t put a foot wrong.
The performances by Rob Mokaraka, Maaka Pohatu and Paolo Rotondo are all of astounding quality. All flitting between multiple characters, sometimes in little more than the blink of an eye, they all demonstrate enviable technical performative ranges. Every role seems fully formed and lived in. Mokaraka’s performances as both a chicken and a goat were of particular delight to the audience.
Strange Resting Places has a very open relationship with its audience. We are lit at all times, making the evening seem much more one of shared experience and storytelling, as opposed to the oppressive ‘Sit down, shut up. Theatre is about to happen to you, whether you like it or not’ motherfluffer-demarcation that pervades so much of the mainstream. It’s nice to feel welcome, everyone knows that, but it is a fact so often seemingly forgot by the larger theatres in Wellington, and Strange Resting Places marks a change for the better.
Very rarely is there theatre that I can acclaim and recommend unreservedly. There are no ifs or buts to Strange Resting Places’ quality. It is a triumphant work that anyone can and will enjoy. Not to be missed.
Directed by Leo Gene Peters
Written by Rob Mokaraka and Paolo Rotondo
With Rob Mokaraka, Maaka Pohatu and Paolo Rotondo
At Downstage, 16–21 March 2009, 8pm
Abridged Child-friendly version 21 March 2009, 2pm