Based on New Zealand poet Dennis Glover’s The Magpies, this one-act, two-hander play tells the story of the enduring love and life of Tom and Elizabeth on a South Island, New Zealand farm. Last time round it received rave reviews – here, original cast member Jed Brophy returns as Tom, with Danielle Cormack taking on the role of Elizabeth for the first time at Wellington’s Downstage Theatre.
It’s clear from the outset that this is not to be a comfortable ride through words and manners. An intensely physical opening scene finds Tom and Elizabeth play-fighting on a minimalist stage consisting of crash mat, two metal farm pails and a matching bath. Stacks of side lights succeed in focusing attention on the small acting space and complete the minimalist interpretation as original music emphasises speechless moments.
As their interaction shows as much as the words of the script does, the couple are very much in love, but as the play progresses they find out more about each other – and some of this new knowledge is uncomfortable. Tom’s foray into a faraway war brought with it the realisation for Elizabeth that she couldn’t do without him – but only after she tried to. Yet as soon as she’s hurt his feelings, Elizabeth has the tools at her disposal to heal the wounds again.
The erotic tension between the two is palpable throughout. One scene involves Elizabeth with a knife in her mouth, another involves a spitting match. Tom traces the south island landscape on Elizabeth’s back – it’s little short of spine-tingling. The couple behave as though they’re alone and no-one is watching – never is the story directed at the audience. Keeping the dialogue focused on the stage is director Miranda Harcourt’s best decision. The audience feels voyeuristic as it watches a relationship that’s as raw as the landscape evoked in the couple’s words as they recall halcyon days on their sheep farm.
By the end of the short play, both are naked and at ease with each other. Yet if it’s for this reason that the show is selling so well, it would be a pity – for this is one of the most energetic, passionate and furiously physical productions I’ve seen on any stage.