Thought-provoking play on stage

By REVIEW By ILONA HANNE

Add a comment

"You get in the mind of a character. THAT'S the magic."

In her role as a high school drama teacher, Helen Cloke speaks these words to one of her fellow actors in the play, Eugenia, coming to the TET Cue Theatre later this month.

It may be ambitious, but this cast has risen to the challenge and brings an amazing story to life beautifully.

If getting in the mind of a character is magic, then be prepared to see plenty of magic in this ambitious play which explores the subject of gender identity.

Director Sharren Read says she is aware the play, written by Lorae Parry, is ambitious, and the actors have to cope with playing more than one character in it while singing, dancing and dealing with more than 60 costume changes each time.

It may be ambitious, but this cast has risen to the challenge and brings an amazing story to life beautifully.

Parry wrote her play based on a book by Suzanne Falkiner, Eugenia - A Man, which takes a fictional look at the life of Eugenia Falleni, an Italian-born immigrant to New Zealand who was born female but identifies as male. Eugenia marries a woman without revealing his true identity and the play explores the struggles faced by all who become involved in Eugenia's life, not just his wife, but his other lovers as well as his enemies.

While much of the play is set in the early 20th century, the audience is also brought forward to the present as they watch a group of high school students and teachers consider the play. With each actor playing at least two parts, this requires some very quick costume changes, and some amazing transformations.

As Violet, Helen manages to bring the audience with her as she falls in love with 'Jack' and then copes with the discovery of Jack's real identity of Eugenia.

Helen Cloke, playing Violet, an Irish girl who marries Eugenia, manages to switch not just costume but accents fluently as she moves seamlessly between Violet and Iris, the high school drama teacher who wants to have her students perform the play.

As Violet, Helen manages to bring the audience with her as she falls in love with 'Jack' and then copes with the discovery of Jack's real identity of Eugenia. As the audience watch Violet grapple with who she is in love with, and what that means, they gain a great empathy of the struggle within not just Eugenia, but also Violet.

This may not be your average or standard piece of theatre, but if you go to see one play this year, make it this one.

Playing Eugenia was obviously going to require an actor of great skill, and Cue Theatre have this in Kijiana Pene.

Kijiana manages to make the audience, along with Violet, Rosa and Ruby, fall in love with Jack.

When in character as Jack, Kijiana walks, talks and behaves as a man, just as Jack would have, and she manages to do this while still showing us glimpses of Jack's inner struggles, his own weaknesses as he fights to be who he truly is, in a time when acceptance was unlikely.

Sharren has cast this play well, with each character well portrayed. The lighting, by Julie Gillespie, moves the audience between the centuries in an effective way, and the staging is brilliant in its simplicity.

As this review was written, the cast were still a full two weeks out from opening night, so the (very) few faults such as words spoken slightly too fast or softly are hardly worth mentioning.

The only jarring note for me was the end dance. It felt too jolly, too happy to end Eugenia's sad tale and I really wish it had been left out. In contrast, the song which the characters sang is still haunting me (in a good way) and I could listen to it time and time again.

I felt as conflicted as each character was. I wanted to drive back in silence, thinking about the issues raised while struggling to keep myself from singing out loud that haunting melody.

This may not be your average or standard piece of theatre, but if you go to see one play this year, make it this one.

It isn't just good (or rather great) theatre, but a thought-provoking piece that will make you think.

Eugenia, by Lorae Parry. TET Cue Theatre, April 26 - May 6.

WIN: The organisers have given us a double pass to this fantastic play to give away to a reader. To be in to win, simply email editor@stratfordpress.co.nz with your name and contact phone number. Put 'Eugenia' in the subject line please.Or call us on 06 765 5471 to enter the draw. Competition closes April 24 at noon and the winner will be contacted that afternoon.

- Stratford Press

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 22 Oct 2017 11:51:17 Processing Time: 745ms