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May 21, 2018 | by  | in Theatre |
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Still Life with Chickens

Still Life with Chickens is a little slice of Mama’s (Goretti Chadwick) life. Set in her garden where she seems most herself and most at peace (i.e. away from Papa, her husband), it’s a one woman show, with interjections from Papa (Ene Petaia) within the house, and also a rebel chicken which she names Moa, puppeteered expertly by Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson.

The play opens on Mama burying her cat, Blackie. Throughout the forty-five minute play, we see Mama doing laundry, and eventually talking to Moa the chicken as well, revealing some dark secrets she’s kept for over fifty years. Mama talks frequently to the vegetables in her garden – her pumpkin will make a nice pie for her granddaughter, her spinach will make her grandsons strong – showing her pride and care for food and family.

The play surrounded itself with themes of family, love, and loss but I felt these could have been driven home more. Furthermore, the role of the audience was never really defined. Shakespeare, for example, always included the audience, characters speaking directly to them during their soliloquies (and other dialogue). As a result of not having a defined audience, there was no flow of conversation, and I was constantly taken out of the world of the play, being reminded that I was in a theatre, watching a show. It would have made more dramaturgical sense to cast the audience as Barbara, Mama’s nosy neighbour, through lighting cues, seeing as the audience is indeed listening into Mama’s life and thoughts. However, the lighting was not sharp and presented a missed opportunity.

Just as Hamlet speaks to Yorick, Mama speaks to Blackie and Moa. However, since Moa is her own character (as demonstrated by the way Fa’avae-Jackson was not dressed in theatre-camouflaging black) yet speechless, it doesn’t entirely allow for the emotional openness the audience yearns for, because Mama is preoccupied with the chicken and not herself. At one moment, Mama walks onstage in tears and spends a good few minutes crying before wiping her tears to focus on Moa – a missed opportunity for emotional truth.
If the show engaged more with the audience, maybe Mama’s emotional reveals would have felt more natural and pulled my heartstrings more. This directorship by actor Fasitua Amosa makes for a light but ultimately forgetful show.
Still Life with Chickens runs until 2 June. Tickets are available at circa.co.nz.

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