Review: The Contours of Heaven (TAPAC)
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
Theatre made about and for a specific area are always a labour of love. They are made in a debt to its setting to represent it accurately and affectionately. "The Contours of Heaven", a devised piece performed by Ana Chaya Scotney and directed by Puti Lancaster, aims to bring the lives and stories of six young people from Hawkes Bay to the stage through movement, sound and verbatim theatre. The stories are harsh and honest, creating a pressure to make something that has depth without being exploitative.
The performance starts with a vocal canon being gradually being made by Scotney of sounds of the wind, sea, birds and her singing, and moving expressively, drawing on similar natural inspirations of swimming and flying. These images are repeated and interwoven between each story throughout the performance and gain symbolic meaning in the process, while the stories themselves are delivered and performed in distinctive style that differentiate them and give each personality.
On occasion these stories are interrupted by movement and sound tying it to the performance interpretation of Hawkes Bay. Though this adds a surreal element to the stories that embody their emotions more than words alone, it at times feels a little like it is trying too hard to create a piece of theatre using multiple type of performance, and it can feel slightly jarring. Scotney's performance does capture your attention, her command over her body when performing is remarkable and creates distinctive characters and flowing physical theatre, though I could not help but feel that the overall performance felt like a showcase for her talents. The direction too contributes to this and it begins to feel that there is a little too much focus on Scotney then the young people of Hawkes Bay.
Lancaster's direction definitely has its strengths - her use of space and direction of Scotney's body language to convey the mental states of the young people is brilliant. It goes without saying that this piece of theatre is not for me - it is for the people of Hawkes Bay and for those who relate to its themes of unmet ambition, reputation, depression, destiny, but ultimately it feels too grounded in itself to be reflective or relatable.
"The Contours of Heaven" has a great deal of ambition in covering so many themes, and could have achieved them with a little more time given to each story. It feels as though each one is owed a little more time for their story to be told. Make no mistake this is a very strong piece of work, and it serves a purpose as a showcase for a very talented performer, but did not reach its potential of being as challenging and insightful as it wanted to be. Three stars.
P.S. While my review is solely for the performance itself, I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention the post-show discussion that seemed to be compulsory. After the show Lancaster came on stage and asked the audience (after asking for another applause after already receiving a standing ovation) for a discussion about what in the show they found challenging. While the performance was quite clearly loved by the audience, it felt preemptively self-congratulatory, and stood out as something that indicates perhaps this performance could do with a little humility before predicting and asking for its audience's response.