if anyone should be blamed, it's somebody else
Thursday 31 March - Saturday 9 April 2005
BATS Theatre, Wellington
Erin Banks (Marlene)
Kate Fitzroy (Rosslyn)
Alex Greig (Felix)
Laughton Kora (Hayden)
James Stewart (Gareth)
Hadleigh Walker (Ace)
Sonia Yee (Elliot)
Lighting and sound design Joshua Judkins
Producer Louise Rae
Directed by David Lawrence
Okay, so technically speaking Hate Crimes is not officially a Bacchanals show. But it's the closest any non-Bacchanals show has come to being a Bacchanals show - it was directed by David, lit by Josh and featured James, Erin, Hadleigh and Alex (and after Measure For Measure Kate counts as a Bacchanal as well) and, as at least one review pointed out, it was staged following the same ideals The Bacchanals hold dear. The world premiere of this brilliant play by Paul Rothwell (winner of Playmarket's Young Playwrights' Contest and nominated for a Chapman Tripp for his 2004 Fringe play Golden Boys) was produced by Bovine University in association with The Bacchanals in March 2005 at BATS Theatre and played to jam-packed houses throughout its short run. There has been much debate as to the status of the play in terms of this 'site, but we thought it was high time it got a page to itself with some photographs, maybe some reviews, and anything else we could get around to doing.
Gareth is a tragic loner outcast teen who attempts suicide and ends up a vegetable, starting a chain of events of increasing ludicrousness and violence amongst his family and friends as they struggle against the stereotypes that bind them together in the big family feud of society. Marlene is the battered wife turned emancipated mother who finds that her freedom brings consequences and responsibility she doesn't enjoy. Hayden is a homosexual music teacher who fights prejudicial attitudes that have labelled him a pervert and kiddie fiddler for his whole life, but can't keep his hands off his newly brain damaged student. Rosslyn is a former disabled rights activist reduced to homecare nursing in her retirement-age years who resents such undeserving beneficiaries as Marlene getting privileges she fought so hard for. Tired of being treated like a second class human, Elliot the Chinese exchange student re-enacts Gareth's suicidal behaviour in a bid to punish those who bullied him also. Ace is a confused right-wing extremist who hates minorities and finds love in the unlikeliest of places. But the love that builds him up nurtures the hate that eventually brings him down. Felix, the school bully blamed for Gareth's suicide attempt, rises up to take his rightful place as the white, male heterosexual hero of the play. Hate Crimes is a misleadingly controversial take on race relations, gender politics, activism and the way society evolves, illustrating the biblical instruction "Before you stoop to take the speck out of your brother's eye, remove the log from your own."
Most theatre trades in truth. Regardless of genre, style or content, most
plays seek to explore or exploit some reality of human experience. And
sometimes the truth is hard to take.
Paul Rothwell's Hate Crimes begins with playground bullying. Over the next two inexorable hours he explores the capacity for everyone and anyone to vent hatred on other people. The hated become the haters. And he tracks the inevitable outcome. In the hate game, no-one wins.
But the play is not a lecture, although most of the characters are given to cobbling moralistic justifications, both before and after events have turned them into haters. And what they say is every-day currency in the real world. We sometimes say or think it ourselves.
To start with it's easy to empathise with the bullied Gareth and Chinese fee-paying student Elliot who boards with his family. Even their tormentor Felix prompts sympathy as he wrestles with the unexpected consequences of his actions. Gareth's car smash suicide attempt is all too credible and one can only feel for his separated mother Marlene and be grateful his professional caregiver Rosslyn is there to help.
The very 'out-there' gay Maori schoolteacher Hayden, Marlene's best friend since school days, seems to have a sound sense of justice and good strategies for turning around antisocial behaviour. Even Rosslyn's son Ace seems capable of growing out of the hate group he's joined as a way of expelling his inner angst.
When love blossoms between Marlene and Ace, the future seems rosy. But everyone can succumb to hatred and act on it. It's just a question of what would release that impulse.
What if Hayden was exploiting the brain-damaged and physically helpless Gareth? What if Elliot was physically harming himself to garner sympathy then blackmailing Hayden for cold hard cash? What if Rosslyn's good works hid an inveterate hatred of human weakness at all levels?
The undeniable truth of Erin Banks' Marlene makes her metamorphosis into violent hatred as compelling as it is shocking. Hadleigh Walker's tunnel-visioned Ace is especially unnerving when he exhibits the values of a good family man in the home.
James Stewart and Alex Grieg realise the complexities of Gareth and Felix with great authenticity. Sonia Yee's Elliot and Laughton Kora's Hayden demand the audience confront their own hidden prejudices, and compensating tendencies, by transcending stereotypes to individualise their self-serving characters.
On opening night Kate Fitzroy's intelligently observed Rosslyn had yet to compel belief and empathy.
Director David Lawrence premieres Rothwell's challenging work with a vital integrity. As both play and production develop, I'd like to hear less text and see more texture in the non-verbal dimensions of human behaviour.
Even so, as an investigation into the human capacity for committing domestic, suburban and urban atrocities, I find Hate Crimes more effective than its recently produced counterparts, A Clockwork Orange (Silo) and Bedbound (Bats). Rothwell is definitely a playwright to watch.
- John Smythe, National Business Review
The satirical newspaper The Onion sells a t-shirt bearing the legend,
"Stereotypes are a real time saver". If Paul Rothwell's dark and timely
comedy Hate Crimes has any sort of
straight moral, then perhaps that's it.
The twenty-three-year-old playwright has produced a work that scores a direct hit to the bleeding heart of the new brand of right-on liberalism and forces an audience accustomed to having its views propped up by simple, faux-agitprop fare (like Badd Company's anti-Destiny, pro- um, flatting? Bad Manor) and we-are-family community events to call into question their own assumed convictions. At the same time, it remains oddly apolitical, and can be easily digested by anyone who believes that actual issues are more complex and interesting than slogans. It shows a level of maturity absent from most fringe-dwelling productions.
Fifteen-year-old Gareth Boyd (James Stewart, perfectly cast despite being over twice Gareth's age) is a sensitive, awkward kid who's bullied at school and ignored at home by his mother, Marlene (Erin Banks, who looks the part despite being about a dozen years younger than Stewart). Marlene has left Gareth's father and now devotes most of her time to working at the photocopier's.
After a decent ribbing from Alex Greig's Felix (a school bully who sneers at fags and gooks) and a brush-off from his preoccupied mother, Gareth decides to kill himself, but fails and ends up a vegetable, confined to a wheelchair and in need of constant care. As well as the solo mother, the school bully and the debilitated ex-social reject, the cast features a gay music teacher, a blue-collar white supremacist, a Chinese student and a professional care-giver, who, like a walking Levin Council meeting, seems to stand for all that is boring and necessary about community life in New Zealand. Kate Fitzroy is superb in the part, employing just the right amount of exaggerated concern and wilful ignorance.
In the play's early stages, the audience seemed ready to let their sympathies lie with Gareth, his mother, the music teacher and Elliot, the impish Chinese student with whom they live (Sonia Yee). After all, they're traditional victims. Hayden, the gay Maori teacher (Laughton Kora in a highly camp but highly credible performance) has even been up on paedophilic charges before, for crying out loud. Just cos he's gay! It doesn't take long for the machinery of fear and loathing Gareth has unintentionally put in place to whirr into action, consuming everyone around him as he grunts, cackles and gibbers in ignorance. That's when we get uncomfortable.
It may sound grim, but there are moments of real hilarity to be found in Hate Crimes. At times, though, it was difficult to say why the scenes the opening night audience found so amusing were funny at all. Occasionally we were laughing out of low-level shock and unease (it reminded me of how the packed cinema I was in had giggled when Robert De Niro shot Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown). As well as these dubious pleasures, straighter scenes are mined for comedy, and the characters' costumes alone are able to raise small, slightly superior chuckles from the trendier urbanites in the crowd. (And it was a crowd - a full house on opening night.)
The set is sparse and functional (though orange), and Joshua Judkins has a mammoth job in the lighting box, as the play is made up of many disparate scenes with different requirements. He's up to it. And whoever made the decision to incorporate Pixies and Belle & Sebastian songs gets a thumbs-up from from me.
In his dialogue, Rothwell chops between commonplace, confused New Zild ("You can't do the Haka, you faggot. It's for real men," explains Ace, Hadleigh Walker's racist repairman, to Hayden) and heightened, ideological oratory (as part of his punishment for bullying, Felix addresses the school thus: "As privileged young white heterosexual males we can sometimes become complacent about our situation in society, and we exclude, or relegate to less significant positions, some who are also more than capable of contributing."). On occasion, the two approaches merge to justify a particular hatred or agenda, as in this pearl of talkback wisdom from Ace: "Racism. Bigotry. They're just words hypocrites like him made up to denigrate views they find threatening. But what if our "prejudice" is born out of truth? What then?"
The writing rarely hits a false note, and it's easy to not only connect with the characters themselves and the ideals they (often fleetingly) hold, but also to feel the frustration of the playwright. "Be angry" may be the most telling line in the play. In his profile in the Dominion Post the day after opening night, Rothwell admitted to having a good deal of hate within him. If his creations are anything to go by, then it doesn't really make a difference where he chooses to direct it. I'm sure glad he put some of it into this though.
- Jonathan Potts, studentz.co.nz
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