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April 6, 2014 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Review of This Rugged Beauty, devised and performed by Binge Culture Collective

Regular Wellington theatre-goers know what to expect from Binge Culture Collective by now. Their specialty is devised theatre; that is, theatre put together by the performers themselves in a collaborative process that is at once rehearsal and creation, without the guidance of an authoritative script. Their shows have a high quotient of audience participation, breaking down the distinction between performer and spectator and abolishing any idea of a fourth wall. Gone also is any sense of narrative structure, at least in any conventional terms.

Presented as a cringe-inducing corporate presentation that left me squirming in my seat on a number of occasions, This Rugged Beauty is intended as a satire of the confluence of national mythos with tourist-brochure marketing-speak that has passed for this country’s national identity over the last ten to 15 years. Mixing the factual with the fictional, soldiers departing for World War I with Frodo’s departure from the safe Shire for the perils of Mordor, this production asks the question: ‘What is real in New Zealanders’ conception of themselves and their history?’ Juxtapositions such as this make us question received versions of our history; a national identity at once self-congratulatory and deeply insecure is shown to rest on foundations in reality as flimsy as J. R. R. Tolkien’s own idealised vision of the (English) countryside.

But the show also seeks a level of emotional authenticity that is meant to jar against the broad parody of contemporary management- and marketing-speak. In a highly effective sequence, the performers play out an all-too-real-seeming family tragedy in front of us, breaking completely free from their characterisation as marketing managers at a corporate event. The effect is to ask us to think on what is real and what is fake, in performance as well as in life, and whether there can, in fact, be a separation of the two, whether our own authentic memories are as much an artefact as a glossy travel guide is. On this, as on several other occasions, the audience has been asked to close their eyes and imagine a scene in their own minds, filling out the performance on the stage with their own memories and imaginations as the performers provide the sound effects.

This is the strongest and most dramaturgically interesting aspect of the show. It is precisely when we are not watching that the most effective theatre plays out in front of us. Binge Culture have found yet another way to draw the audience into the action, and make the drama as much a creation of the audience as it is of the performers.

As always with Binge Culture, this is a production full of sound and fury, but one signifying a whole lot more than nothing, and with not a dull moment for the audience. Long may they continue to find ways to push the medium of theatre to its limits.


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  1. brahlifter says:

    Excellent review, however reads a bit like an academic essay at times. B+

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