Review: Wings

Uther Dean reviews Wings at BATS Theatre

I have not seen any of Auckland playwright Jess Sayer’s work before. But Wings (which she wrote in 2011 and is currently running at BATS under the direction of Tabitha Arthur) I have seen before. I have seen it all before and read it all before to the degree where some parts of its running time feel like what a computer would come up with if you fed it the last twenty years of contemporary fourth-wall theatre and then asked it to average it all out.

Quinn and Bambi are sisters driving to their mother’s funeral. Quinn is uptight and straight-laced, Bambi is a hippie. After playing some games, getting high and chatting through some backstory they pick up youngest sister Mo (The Quiet One With A SecretTM). It’s been ten years since they’ve all seen each other (which goes some way towards explaining how much of the running length is the characters explaining things to get each other that they already know for the audience’s benefit) so secrets abound, things are not as they seem and by the end of this road-trip the truth will come to light. Just because, it seems, those are the kind of things that happen in a play.

Sayer is clearly a talented wordsmith. Her wit is remarkably sharp and she has a really fine hand when it comes to defining characters (even if they are the Holy Trinity of The Hippie, The Stuck-Up One and the Normal, Quiet One With A Secret). But those talented words don’t add up to anything.

The cat’s cradle of twists that make up the ending feel unearned and lack foreshadowing. Revelations the scale of which Wings aspires to need to feel both surprising and inevitable. They are surprising but their lack of bedding in the world we are shown means that while they may surprise they never seem logical or inevitable, making them feel schlocky and the worst kind of soap-operatic. That a majority of said twist reveals are also hoary standard tropes exacerbates things somewhat. The high point of the script - where all three sisters sing along to a B*Witched song - fails to truly soar for the same reason. It isn’t built to, it seems to just happen because that’s what Sayer has decided will happen next.

There is a sense that the writer who wrote the beginning of this play didn’t know its end and then wasn’t that bothered to go back. It’s just a bunch of stuff in order. I’ve already mentioned the games the sisters play along the way, while at times these allow moments of real insight into Sayer’s deftly essayed characters, they also recur so many times (and with so little rhyme or reason) that it begins to taste very much of filler. Most damningly, for me, is the fact that I can think of no reason for the first twenty minutes of the work to happen. Nothing, on reflection, in that opening third of the show introduces anything that pays off at the end. Sayer has written many plays since Wings’ premiere and I have had it on good authority that she is a talent worth watching but I struggle to see why this is the show to bring her to Wellington as it shows no real sense of who she is as a playwright.

I still have no idea what Jess Sayer’s work is like. I still feel like I haven’t seen one of her plays. I struggle to hear a distinct voice in Wings, and can only trust that it’s her later work that has shown it. Wings as a piece of writing is - at it’s best - anonymous and amusing. At worst, it's a playwright simply filling pages.

It has to be said that those are all the thoughts of someone who has seen too much theatre (always the worst audience member to be writing a play for). I felt the weight and blankness of Wings' trope-overdose much more than the audience I saw it with, who seemed (to my embittered over-theatred eye) to not largely consist of theatre regulars and enjoyed it much more than I did.

But what of the production? Tabitha Arthur, as we have come to expect, brings a beautifully detailed aesthetic to the work, filling new old BATS’ Propeller Stage with what must be nearly a hundred suitcases (the metaphor of which I still don’t a hundred percent grasp if I’m honest but I get the feeling that’s more a problem with me than with this staging). Her eye for detail also extends to the crisp and direct performances given by the cast (Hannah Botha, Lydia Buckley-Gorman and Victoria Seymour) who have clearly worked and reworked every moment of the show. This precision of their workings does make some moments more cold and distant than the intimate and affecting they are striving for. This is especially clear during the denouement when their heightened emotions of grief and fear are far too rehearsed and plastic to feel close to genuine. Don Blackmore’s sound and lighting design paints many beautiful pictures but the repetition of similar states and scores without development or extension over the course of the work does tend to wear on the patience a bit. But, all in all, this production gets a lot more right than it gets wrong. It does good work of living up to its script.

None of the people involved in this work are untalented by any stretch of the imagination, that is what makes it, on the whole, so frustrating. And that is not the frustration of seeing good people make bad work. It is the much more palpable frustration of very good people making merely okay work.

Wings plays at BATS Theatre
from May 26 - May 30

Read by Category

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

Your Order (0)

Your Cart is empty