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May 28, 2007 | by  | in Theatre |
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Enemies

Wednesday 30 May – Sunday 3 June, 7.30 P.M.
Studio 77, 77 Fairlie Terrace
$12 / $8
Bookings: Theatre@vuw.ac.nz / (04) 463 5221

Murder, seduction, intrigue, tension…politics

If you are considering attending one exciting ensemble play this year, let Enemies tempt you. Originally banned in 1907 by Russian censors, Victoria University third year Theatre students are bringing to life a play that director David O’Donnell considers relatable to present-day New Zealand. Enemies was the first play to really consider industrial relations and trade unions, and Gorky’s discussion of the relations between aristocratic factory owners and the workers is portrayed fairly as a complex struggle. With the passing of the Employment Contracts Act and last year’s strikes, the arguments considered are relevant, despite the original play being one hundred years old. As David O’Donnell points out, the fact that two excellent playwrights, Britain’s David Hare and New Zealand’s Dean Parker, have chosen to write versions of the play within the last year shows its timely significance to contemporary audiences.The design of the third year company theatre course is for students to form a theatre company for the purposes of assembling a production. Part of the course’s intention is to prepare theatre students for the reality of composing a professional theatre production. Students have had to learn to combine production roles with acting roles, as almost every member of the twenty-two person ensemble has the responsibility of performing as well as being responsible for the production’s marketing, stage management, lighting design, costuming, or stage construction.

As an actor in Enemies and one of the show’s publicists, theatre student Sophie Prebble tells me that, “Enemies has been a lot of work, and has demanded a lot of time, but it’s definitely starting to pay off.”

One of the most demanding and rewarding aspects of the course is that, despite there being two professional directors and an in-house designer aboard, a substantial amount of the decisions involved in developing the show are made by the students themselves, creating the strong sense of responsibility and student ownership of the piece. They have studied the text, considered the background relevance of the historical, political and social context of Russia at the time the original text was written and with award winning playwright Dean Parker’s adaptation they are considering it as a new New Zealand play and examining it as such.

James Davenport, Studio 77’s in-house designer, designed the set with the aim of finding “the kernel of the piece”, drawing inspiration from Asian and Japanese art and sharp, angular stylised lines to utilise both the vertical and horizontal space available. Despite the relatively small space of Studio 77, the design has managed to reflect the expanse of Russia and consider the magnitude of the country.The play is a great choice for this theatre course’s production; not only is it a classic but it is a play that New Zealanders may not otherwise have the opportunity to see, at least on mainstream theatre programmes. Despite being a play on serious political issues and the underlying impending revolution, it is very funny. As with navigating a Chekhov, rehearsals continue to reveal the humour and subtle satirical commentary on human nature and relationships.

What I enjoyed about interviewing these students and director David O’Donnell was the feeling that despite the amount of energy that the production has demanded of them, they are enthusiastic and excited about what they are preparing to unveil to Wellington audiences.

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