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Arts Festival Review: 360

Arts Festival Review: 360

Review by Rory MacKinnon

360
A Nightsong Productions and Theatre Stampede collaboration
12–14, 16–21 March
Te Whaea: The National Dance And Drama Centre

The crowd murmurs in the darkness, huddled in the centre of the theatre like a stripped-down planetarium. Then suddenly, Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture. A girl in cape and leggings. A lanky strongman. An aging ringmaster. A dancing seal. A portentous cannon; and with peals of laughter and applause the show begins.

360 looks back on the life of Gee, a young man who ran away from the circus to pursue more conventional ideas of fame and fortune. A collaborative effort between Chapman Tripp recipients Carl Bland, Ben Crowder and Peta Rutter, the play swirls around weighty themes of separation and reunion, reinvention, perception and mortality, but rarely loses its light touch. The result is a visually stunning and whimsical performance which only occasionally dips into mawkish sentimentality.

360's circular surrounding stage has attracted plenty of hype, but John Verryt's set design ensures it goes well beyond a gimmick: his impressionistic approach uses simple props and sleight of hand to imbue the surreal world of the play with real spatial dimensions. A single setpiece of a swan feeding amongst the reeds is simply breathtaking and almost worth the price of admission alone.

The story itself is secondary and a little piecemeal, couched as it is in a series of flashbacks - Gee leaves home, Gee grows up, Gee goes home - but there are some wonderful performances by Bruce Philips as the serene elder Gee and Ray Henwood as his zen vaudevillian father. Olivia Tennet has a pitch-perfect performance as a seal-obsessed little sister whose touching monologues deserve a play of their own. And puppeteer Rosalie van Horik's seal will easily steal the show for anyone under twelve.

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The play's only shortcoming is its melodramatic epilogue: less inspired shows might need such a payoff, but the dream-logic that pervades most of 360 makes the final act look like a cheap and unnecessary stab at emotional manipulation.

Don't let that turn you off though. 360 is a highly enjoyable pastiche of comedy, music hall, Wes Anderson, meditation and meta-analysis which, true to the show's name, doesn't really go anywhere and doesn't need to.

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World Premieres for New Zealand Music and Theatre
Arts Festival website: 360
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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