Im sitting naked on a beach enjoying the sight of a South American Rugby team, half of them striped off, nervously sitting in rows facing the sea. Im also reading The Stories of Frank Sargeson, a (closeted) gay New Zealand writer covering the 30s 60s, when my phone rings. Its a local Auckland number.
A pleasant young sounding man Is this Christopher Preston?
Im cautious Yes.
Im Mark from iticket.
I just bought a load of tickets from these guys for the Auckland Arts Festival. Whats gone wrong?
I noticed that you tried to book tickets for Revolt. She said, at the Basement Theatre.
Yes, it didnt work so I assumed its sold out.
No, no, its not, there are tickets left.
Oh, right. How did that happen?
I think you tried to click through on a Silo Theatre email that was faulty.
Oh. How did this guy get my phone number? Presumably all the data I entered is still floating around somewhere.
Would you like to book a ticket now?
Um Ill have to look on my diary. Do you think I can do that while you are on the phone?
Should be ok. I can take your credit card details.
My credit card is sitting in the pocket of my shorts next to my towel. I attempt this new manoeuvre with my phone. No, I cant do it. Im sort of on a beach.
Actually theres no sort of about it, I am on a beach.
Giggles from the young man.
Ill have to do it when I get home what availability is there for Wednesday or Friday?
I thank the young man and note that the Rugby team have relaxed and are now standing around with arms folded chatting to each other some on the beach, others knee deep in the sea. Reg, a local in his late seventies, is watching with admiration. I return to Frank Sargeson whose writing hints strongly of homosexuality. We were in those days, illegal.
Its Wednesday evening and the tiny foyer of the Basement Theatre is filling up with anticipation. Increasingly, my approach is to avoid too much research beforehand. By experiencing a work without expectations Im more easily taken by surprise. It is enough that one of my favourite companies, Silo Theatre has produced Revolt. She said. Revolt again, but a number of my professional theatre associates have recommended this show on facebook, including my trans friend and theatre critic Lexi Matheson.
The stage area is scattered like Tracey Emins Bed and props are visibly on display, encouraging speculation. The stage managers desk is also visible as there are no wings in this auditorium. The last few late-comers are ushered over the stage as the cast enter in overalls and clear up the mess and proceed to set up for the show. Its all frantic activity, choreographed, watch-able and exciting. My expectations are aroused as backdrops are hung and a floor-cloth unrolled, ready for the show. It begins gently, with a scene where the token male expresses his sexual desire to a woman. Its about gender language and when the woman joins in, his penetration conflicts with her enclosure, so he has to adjust his vocabulary or its just not going to happen. The scenes progress with him increasingly not able to understand or adjust. Polynesian actor Fasitua Amosa looks like a gentle giant and shows just enough of his feminine side to make you think there might be hope. He feels like the failed protagonist, the antagonist in fact. But with the scripts that Silo Theatre produce, you can expect the unexpected. Failing to understand that his female employee really does just want Mondays off, he proceeds to receive a No to his marriage proposal in the third scene. Confronted with a melon-eating woman sitting in a supermarket trolley in the dairy isle, he retires from the fray. A mother, carrying her damaged daughter, visits her cave-woman mother to confront denial of female history. He makes a brief appearance as a loin cloth wearing cave man, hardly reaching the stage before being dismissed. The structure breaks down to a chaotic and exuberant ending so that the three women might also be failed protagonists. There are strong performances all round from Sophie Henderson, Michelle Ny and Amanda Tito. I also enjoyed the performance by stage manager, Eliza Josephson-Rutter, who casually sits at her visible station, looking at her phone and eating snacks. She throws costumes and props on stage with indifference, leaving actors holding props too long and with impeccable timing runs her cues to the wire. The stage really is a mess at the end, but with it all rolled up in the floor cloth and backdrops torn down, the stage is bare for the bows.
Im used to no satisfactory ending these days were supposed to think about it. Grabbing a programme on the way out gives me reading material on the ferry back to Waiheke and the first thing I noticed is that Alice Birchs script was first performed by the RSC at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2014. That at least explains the bluebells. Her inspiration for the play comes from the story of radical feminist, Valerie Solanas and her self-published SCUM Manifesto. She then shot Andy Warhole and book sales went crazy. Um does this mean with a camera? So, typing Who shot Andy Warhol into google, I find that he refused to make her film script as it was too dangerously radical, even for him, so she shot him with a gun. He was seriously wounded and never really recovered. She went to prison and was diagnosed (conveniently?) as schizophrenic.
All this on International (at least in the western world) Womens Day – a day in New Zealand when the news is full of a facebook post by Senior Wellington College school-boys, claiming that true WC boys should take advantage of unconscious drunk young women. We pretend to be shocked, some try to excuse but deep down we know there is a problem raising boys to men. I wish I could remember and distill my mothers method raising us. She claimed she always knew I was gay – I wonder if that influenced her. She was certainly always interested in diversity and difference.
Its the small steps on a long journey which bring about change and there will be setbacks along the way. The courage of a Rugby team to go naked on a beach or attending thought-provoking theatre are such steps, but how do we erase phobias from human conditioning?