Downstage’s brand is one of participation: look back through the theatre’s history and it’s been about innovation and democratization. The clue’s even in the name.
Live at Six, the new production currently on at Downstage, embodies its ethos beautifully. Theatregoers are expected to bring their smartphones to film an incident that takes place in the half-hour drinks before the play kicks off, with the footage then incorporated into the story, kicking off the plot.
Originally performed at Bats Theatre in 2009, Live at Six, by Leon Wadham and Dean Hewison, has been enhanced and brought bang up-to-date, with people encouraged to live-Tweet, and two of the actors actually editing images and video from the night live on stage while delivering the lines in the script.
At no time are you really distracted, in an age when we are used to screensavers and video projections, by the glimpses of Adobe Première on background screens, because the Wadham and Hewison script is genuinely funny, delivered with plenty of panache thanks to Conrad Newport’s direction. The technological side—which is very clever, thanks to the likes of Hamish Guthrey, Stu Foster and Johann Nortje—never overwhelms proceedings.
Skype calls, YouTube clips, TV1 and TV3 news bulletins and the like are worked in to a story that is very much of our times: how a disgraced anchorwoman on TV1 becomes the subject matter for TV3, interested in ratings and skirting the grey area of ethics and putting TV1 on the defensive.
Jessica Robinson has the most work to do, with her role of TV1 anchor Jane Kenyon starting in the pre-show drinks, while Nick Dunbar carries off his quieter Derek Fontaine character very ably. Dunbar gets the prize for the subtlety in the way he carries out his role, though particular mention must be given to Tim Spite as TV3 talking head Gordon Miller—Live at Six’s own Ted Baxter, faking reaction shots for a television interview as though he were participating in a male fashion shoot.
While there was plenty of entertainment and humour—and lots of colourful language—Live at Six still prompts one to think about how the media portray and distort events. Through satire, Live at Six itself creates its own versions of the culture of the two networks and even of some of the other players in the New Zealand media space, such as Stuff.
This run of Live at Six concludes April 28 at Downstage, 12 Cambridge Terrace, Wellington.—Jack Yan, Publisher