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Review: SHEPHERD at Howick Little Theatre

Review: SHEPHERD at Howick Little Theatre

Shepherd is a contemporary NZ play about the flock we never knew about.

SHEPHERD is a contemporary NZ play, set in remote and isolated Fiordland, but in a world that doesn't quite match our reality. The "farm" is worked by the Shepherd Family got MAF (Ministry of Atypical farms). The weather is almost a character - it's very wet and cold all of the time. NZ is a nation of pioneers - familiar with isolation - who often stepped away from comfortable lives to challenge themselves. Something has happened though to make this a different world than our own; we are now in a world where immortality is possible - but at a huge ethical cost. As an audience, you are asked to question your own ethics, what you might be able to do in a similar situation as that presented. This is a world where "the flock" being fenced and farmed is silent - on whom human survival depends.

The director, Nathan Hey, says that this play had many challenges: combining theatre and film techniques, props and set design, sound and lighting. There are undercurrents - data that needs to be carefully logged. The first half of the play is deliberately obscure - with a lot of unanswered questions. You will either love or hate that - depending on the way you like theatre. Those many challenges were not only met and mastered, but interpreted to unfold intensely dramatic internal and external conflicts.

The result is a well-directed, modern and provoking theatre experience with many layers to intrigue and captivate us. The technical aspects are particularly slick and integrated with creative flair. Congratulations go to David Blakely (Lighting Design), George Maunsell (Sound Recording - filming), Nathan Hey, Liam Hey, David Guthrie (Drone Construction Team). A special mention must be made of talented Nicole Ashley (Sound Design/DoP/Animator), who provided an outstandingly intricate and visceral soundscape, integrating videography, video editing, animation, and visual effects. She also integrated accurate cartography and aeronautical research to give us a real sense of the farm and its landscape, let alone authenticity.

The play's structure is episodic, with transitions well-handled, and obscure lines that finally become clearer in the second act. The scenes are multi-layered, and packed with nuances. On a character level, the characters are largely two dimensional, largely serving as a vehicle for the theme. However, they do capably provide clear contrasts and dramatic conflicts within a range of moral perspectives. Dean Leppen, captures Thomas Shepherd, the sullen son, frustrated and thwarted, not able to follow his chosen career path. Ruth Hyde is Ruth Shepherd, grandmother. Jane Larsen is Susan Shepherd, who wants to obey MAF's demands because the consequences are too frightening. "Profound social change is forever." Matthew Cousins, as Daniel Shepherd, has convincingly reached a point where the guilt of "euthanising the surplus stock" is paralysing his ability to do as he should. "When did we get the right?" We believe he would rather die himself than follow through with further exterminations.

Enter much loved daughter Victoria Shepherd, (Emily Briggs) and her university boyfriend, Jeff Garrett (Joshua Bruce). There's romance, and humour brought by these two - and there's a genuine sense of truthfulness in their performances. Charlie Hawke's (Rosheen Leslie) dramatic entrance in Act 2 is attention-grabbing and the energy of the play escalates from this point.

Full of surprises, and certainly a modern theatre experience, this production will make you think.

On until 1 October at Howick Little Theatre. Book online or phone 361 1000.

From This Author - Glenda Pearce

Glenda Pearce is a  porfessional speaker on #bodyworks #body communication # effective communication . She is also a specialist professional effective speaking coach and workshop faci... (read more about this author)

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