As I rushed to find a seat in the dark and rifled through my bag for my glasses the last thing I was expecting to see was nudity. But through the course of the one hour and forty minutes that this play ran for, all four of the cast got naked and had a bath on stage. The play starts with the return of The Man. He has spent six years walking in Asia. We are unsure of his relationship to the rest of the cast but it is clear there is a terrible secret being hidden. New Zealanders love to write about the seedy underbelly of rural New Zealand, and parts of this play felt very familiar.
The first thing that struck me about the production was the amazing set. An entire house had been constructed with a fully functional bath and stove. It looked like a typical Kiwi rural house/bach and as such it was half way through renovations. The walls were still in frame form so it was only a few steps from the loo to the fridge. It felt like I was peering through a window of a stranger’s house as the play followed in real time the actions of one evening. A fish was gutted, dinner was cooked and eaten, a hole was dug, luke warm baths were had and awkward silences lingered just that little bit too long. Of course the very detailed set completely suited the naturalist acting and script.
Simon Smith played the slightly slow Ian who cries for his canaries and wants everyone to be nicer. I saw Simon earlier this year doing energetic Theatresports and was surprised to see how well he suited this subdued and sensitive character. Kylie O’Callaghan and Ryan OKane played Juliet and Leon, the weirdly incestuous brother and sister. OKane had a very threatening presence as he wielded his shovel and threatened to pee in the bath water. O’Callaghan was equally tough; despite her small stature it always felt like she was three seconds from injuring someone with her boots. Brian Hotter played the smooth worldly traveller brilliantly, rattling off yarns about his experiences and stirring up trouble within the house.
The play was littered with little anecdotes that revealed more about the characters and acted as metaphors for their situation. And as the bath water got colder and dirtier it mirrored the rising tensions in the house and the relationships between the characters (Ian had to sieve out Leon’s ash).
The play captured the feeling of being trapped and isolated and yet not alone as the paper thin walls allowed no privacy. It has been a long time since I’ve seen such a completely naturalistic play and at times it felt very slow. I found myself waiting for the dark secret to be revealed and was not at all disappointed with its very dramatic uncovering.
The co-writer of the play is Jo Randerson. A Vic Film and Theatre graduate, she has been a prolific writer and performer since her first play Fold was staged in 1995 for The Young and Hungry season at Bats. Randerson wrote The Lead Wait with the Wellington Theatre Troupe Trouble and it was first performed at Bats in 1997. The Director Harriette Cowan was attracted to the script because of “its humour and how it conveys something of the darker hidden aspects of rural New Zealand”. She chose The Lead Wait as her major project for her Master of Theatre Arts in Directing and has successfully created a very rich and chilling portrait of a group of Kiwis in the countryside.
Written by Jo Randerson and Trouble Theatre Group
Directed by Harriette Cowan
At The Garage, Te Whaea
From 6-11 September