Review: The Race (BATS Theatre)
"We can't fix racism in 50 minutes." "No, but we can try." Hobson Street Theatre Company's "The Race" has not set low ambitions for itself. Based in a classroom teaching Te Reo, the devised piece is broken up between various characters learning, along with the audience, some basic phrases in the native language, and between each character giving monologues of their experience of life and racism.
The stories told in these monologues are well delivered and on occasion quite moving, obviously told by a cast who care about what they are discussing. Mona, played by Shadow, tells a particularly touching story of meeting his grand daughter. Unfortunately the way these stories are told leaves a lot to be desired. In an awkwardly comedic scene the cast, who frequently dip into meta humour, decide to demonstrate a change in scene by all moving seats. An awkwardly long transition in itself, each and every time it is done, this technique was evidently used to try and use the space a little more fully than just sitting in their chairs and standing up occasionally to give a monologue, but it does not save the piece from being exactly that. "The Race" is unavoidably visually boring and static.
It is an impression not massively helped by the writing. The characters are quite thinly written - their one-note characteristics momentarily described (including "the dick", which no matter the value of your themes is lazy writing), but still deliver heart-felt monologues with challenging ideas. Those monologues are the meat of the show, but their emotional and intellectual impact is undermined by its poor narrative structure and the unengaging classroom scenes in between, with a few random scenes added on at the end.
While the performances are obviously given with passion, in particular Belinda Pollett as Zondi, they still lack urgency and direction. "Sticky Fingers", which performed at the Scruffy Bunny Improv Theatre earlier in the festival, explored similar themes but had a greater sense of purpose in that it was answering the question of "what is a kiwi"? "The Race" struggles in comparison as though it centres on the theme of race it never feels as though it is answering a question, but just jumbling a collection of characters and experiences into a classroom.
There are some funny lines, moving stories and good intenions in Hobson Street Theatre's piece, but, as is true of many devised pieces, I think the creative process may have been more valuable than the final performance. Unlike other devised pieces, the lack of energy or theatrical creativity mean that the audience gains little more than an appreciation for the cast's wealth of life experience. Two stars.